I grew up in a non-denominational church. This church was like a second family to me. Everybody knew everybody. We weren't a small church, per say, we just started out small. For most of my young, formative years, my church hosted Vacation Bible School every summer. It seemed like the entire church took part. From my experience with volunteering at my current church's VBS this year, I'm starting to suspect that volunteering was mandatory for the congregation and all who abstained from assisting in some way was excommunicated or something, because everyone played some part in making it happen. All that to say; the VBS that my old church put on was the bomb.
I can remember very little from my childhood, due to a crummy memory that I've mentioned before (I think...), but I can clearly recall, with fond memories, many aspects and details of this week-long summer "school" that were crazy-awesome, especially for small children. The theme for many, many years was something along the lines of the 12 tribes of Isreal and life in Jerusalem at the time of Christ. I'm not sure if this theme was concocted entirely by the elders/deacons/pastoral staff, or if, like all Vacation Bible Schools offered nowadays, the theme was selected from some catalog that many other churches ordered from, but I again suspect that it was the former, because I haven't seen another church do anything similar to it.
The effort, detail, and time put in to making this week-long event happen must have been phenomenal! I remember so clearly feeling like I had traveled back in time when I entered my room at VBS, because each individual room was decorated to look like a Middle Eastern nomad's tent or Jewish home. Each class a tribe, and each group leader went all-out when decorating! Sheets covered the walls, rugs covered the floors, cushions were set around for sitting on, and there was a menorah and mezuzah put in the proper place in each room and used in the proper way to teach children how the Jewish people lived when Jesus was alive. Not only that, but everyone dressed to part, too. Women and men wore long tunics and robes with appropriate head coverings, and little tunics were handed out to each kids attending. We were all given our own little leather money pouches with a set number of pennies in them for us to "spend" or give to the poor at our discretion. Once we were out of pennies, we were out.
Where did we spend our pennies, you ask? In the marketplace. Our sanctuary would be turned into a noisy, busy bazaar. Stalls lined the walls with crafts to make and wares to buy. And when I say "crafts", I don't mean making a sun out of paper plates, glitter and glue. I mean leather working, candle making, even paper making! I could spend a penny to make a belt, then go next door and watch a potter at his wheel make urns and pitchers and bowls, then I could drop a penny or two to make a couple of functional candles. You had to be careful not to trip over the crippled beggar that would beg for any pennies you could spare. Good, kind children would give the beggar some pennies. You also had to watch out for the wicked tax collector. He would make rounds in the marketplace, dressed in the fanciest robes, demanding your taxes and snatching pennies from careless kids. Once or twice, I even saw the tax collector steal the poor, crippled beggar's stash of pennies! I felt real outrage! Especially that time me dad was the beggar. Oooo, that tax collector had sinned the greatest sin by stealing my poor, crippled daddy's meager begging wages! Yeah, that marketplace was awesome.
I recall these fun memories now because I have just completed my first night working at my church's VBS. The theme is Climbing Mt. Everest. My church is all decked-out to look like a snow-covered base camp at the foot of Mt. Everest. The classroom that my friend and I are teaching in has a tent and some trees and sleeping bags and lanterns and snowflakes in it. The curriculum we're following is fun, simple, and full of Biblical truths. Many members of the congregation have dedicated a lot of time, effort, and energy in making this VBS a reality, including myself. Here I am, after one evening of co-leading the pre-school class, and I am exhausted!
I don't want to compare the nostalgic memories of my childhood with the responsibility of this present VBS week, but just thinking about the work that must have been put into setting up, running, tearing down, and cleaning up Jesus' Jerusalem must have been ridiculous! I can only hope and pray that the kids who are attending Sylvania's Mt. Everest VBS will hang onto the memory of the fun they had and the truths they learned with us for years to come. Also, thanks, Bethel Bible Church, for hosting some pretty crazy-awesome Vacation Bible Schools back in the day.