5 x 3 x 85 = 1,275 is my favourite sum of the moment, and one that came to mind after last week’s Vacation Bible School here at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman.
I grew up in a church that averaged 40-45 members throughout the 25 years I was there – a beacon of numerical stability, utterly unpretentious, and part of the majority of churches in England where you don’t have the luxury of volunteering to help only in those areas that particularly interest you. I do remember one holiday Bible club (there may have been more), but I only remember it because the teams were loaded to make sure the team with some non-church kids beat my team. And no, I did NOT see past the competitive disappointment to the spirit of the event. I’m pretty sure my personal let-down qualified as acceptable collateral damage though…
Which brings me back clumsily and conversely to my experiences here in Grand Cayman, where 6 days ago we finished the third VBS I’ve been a part of at FBC, and the second in a row that I’ve been responsible for.
We went the Lifeway (far too glitzy to be swallowed by my fellow-Brits back in the motherland) route again: ‘Colossal Coaster World’, with its focus on 2 Timothy 1:7 (“For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgement”) using events from the life of Paul. And as tired as a still feel from the week, and as happy as I am that it’s all done, I miss it and I treasure it. Here are a few reasons why:
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, NIV)
Now, living together means a whole lot more than ‘doing VBS together for a week’, but the VBS experience is a wonderful microcosm of what the psalmist had in mind. Unity of purpose (furthering the gospel), knowing our roles, wanting to do what we were there to do… I remember corporate away-days when we’d bond over a task of getting from point A to point B using only two barrels and a couple of planks. In it’s own way, it kinda worked in bringing people together who normally wouldn’t be in the same team – this was a real world, deep and meaningful, long-lasting version of that.
Enthusiasm of others
Asking people to do things, or having them volunteer for things, and then seeing them take those tasks
|Janique & Julie: full of energy even after VBS is over|
and responsibilities and run with them, is a real blessing. And having one brother who made his debut as a VBS-helper this year, tweet on Monday about missing the kids he was working with was a huge encouragement (not least because I know how challenging some of those kids…including my son…can be!).
Gospel passion of others
One of the Bible teachers spoke to me after VBS one evening to say that she was going to do the Bible story the following day as planned, but rather shorter, because she wanted to spend more of the time sharing her personal testimony and spelling out the gospel for the kids slowly, deliberately and pointedly. She said this with tears in her eyes, overcome at the urgency and importance of the situation. I can’t think of a better approach to a Bible teaching situation.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…” (Philippians 1:3-5)
Strengths of others
Sometimes you put people in roles because you think they’ll do a good job of whatever it is they’re asked to do. Or they volunteer for specific functions and you accept without having too much knowledge of whether they’ll be any good. And then time after time God surprises me (and sometimes them!) with his equipping.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise – after all, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Children retaining knowledge
Knowledge without application is useless, but without application without knowledge is lethal. By Tuesday a bunch of kids had the key verse memorised, and multiple volunteers came to me during the week talking about how the children were retaining large chunks of what we were trying to teach them – not just about the stories, but about what they mean and about the gospel.
Children engaged in all aspects
One of the great testimonies to the excellence of the volunteers we had running VBS, is that in large part through their efforts, the children were engaged and “into it” throughout all the activities, all the week long. And that – for those of you who’ve spent more than 15 seconds with a 5-11 year old, is no mean thing…
Events can sometimes acquire a momentum of their own, and the holding of events can sometimes boil down to “it’s what we do”, or “some people [sometimes I euphemism for “I”] will be disappointed if we don’t do it”, which are terrible reasons for doing…anything. But what we kept reminding ourselves of, and the single biggest reason I love (our) VBS, is the opportunity to share the gospel with a load of kids – many of whom rarely, if ever, hear it – time, after time, after time.
I worked out a little maths sum the other day:
5 nights x minimum 3 times per night hearing the gospel x average 85 kids per night = 1,275 instances at VBS of a child hearing the gospel.
I’m praising God for that, and praying he will continue the work he has started in the lives of all those who attended VBS last week, and in the lives of all their families.