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More than 6,000 receive Christ in Alabama during VBS 2004comment (0)

September 9, 2004

By Leigh Pritchett

Gone are the days of cookies, Kool-Aid and spray-painted crafts made of Popsicle sticks.

Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) are much more refined now, with themed refreshments, lively decorations and creative crafts.

The message presented takes on the flavor of each individual church. And if the churches use the Southern Baptist curriculum, there are even New Testaments with covers matching the decor, to give to participants.

Regardless of whether the Bible schools are done with newly purchased, borrowed or donated materials, it is a vitally important endeavor for churches, according to one Alabama Baptist official. In fact, more than 6,000 children have accepted Christ this year because of VBS, he noted.

“It’s the largest evangelistic effort we do as Southern Baptists,” said James Blakeney, associate in the office of Sunday School at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. More people, he explained, are reached during VBS than through other efforts during the year.

The most recent report from Blakeney, dated Aug. 30, revealed that 6,030 individuals accepted Christ as their Savior during VBS this year. Of the 1,537 Alabama Baptist churches who had submitted their reports, 1,266 had held VBS, enrolling 174,549. Of that number, 63,994 were in first through sixth grades. The VBS offerings totalled $308,929. Of that amount, $64,929 has gone to the Cooperative Program and the rest to other missions causes, said Blakeney.

One church he particularly called attention to is Pine Grove Baptist, Centre, in Cherokee

Association. “They do a big Bible school every year,” he noted, but in 2004 Pine Grove had nearly 690 in its VBS, more than its Sunday School enrollment.

In fact, Pine Grove numbered among the 33 chuches that served 500-plus in VBS. Six- hundred-forty churches enrolled fewer than 100. Still Blakeney pointed out that every VBS is important, no matter the size.

Although VBS is traditionally associated with the summer months, even that is not necessarily the case anymore. In one county that has year-round school, Blakeney said, some churches have VBS during spring break.

He also has heard of holding VBS during the Christmas holidays. Westview Baptist Church, Sylacauga, in Coosa River Association, was one that held its VBS during spring break this year.

“We’re a small church,” explained Carol Roberts, Westview’s Sunday

School director. During the summer months, the

church not only vies with others holding VBS with the same theme, but also finds itself in competition with youth sports.

Instead of squeezing VBS in between everything else, Roberts became burdened to find a way to emphasize it once more.

She presented the idea of a spring break VBS to her church, which readily embraced it.

“It was terrific,” said Don Graves, Westview’s pastor. “Parents were elated.”

The VBS was not just for young- sters, though. The church also held VBS for youth and adults the same week at the same time as the chil- dren’s VBS, which was during the evenings.

One of the advantages of this, said Roberts, is that it gave parents a place to go while their children were in VBS.

By scheduling VBS during spring break, “we were able to reach people in the community who were basical- ly at the back door of the church,” but had been seemingly unreachable previously, said Roberts.

Trinity            Baptist            Church, Scottsboro, in Tennessee River Association also chose to use Rickshaw Rally, adding its own per- sonal touches to the week.

This VBS was complete with rides in a rickshaw built and upholstered by church members and turns at climbing a rented “mountain” to remind participants of Mount Fuji in Japan, said Jenetta Hinson, the church’s VBS director.

Men in action

“I like to involve all the different ages,” Hinson said. The men’s class, for example, provided refreshments — from scratch — each night.

“They did just really good refresh- ments.”

Even using the SBC curriculum, Trinity took a different approach by having VBS from Sunday through Thursday and ending with family night on Friday.

That provided continuity, resulting in a larger family night turnout. Hinson finds family night to be a good outreach because some visitors to the event have returned to the

church after VBS was over. The sen- ior adults and youth also have VBS at Trinity, but at a different time.

Kirk Griggs, Trinity’s associate, youth and senior adult minister, said this was the second year for the sen- ior adult VBS.

“It was a great time for our senior adults,” he said. They participated in a worship service with a guest musician and special speakers each day and enjoyed a fellowship meal.

For crafts, the men put bird feed- ers around the church and the women made a quilt that was given to a youth confined to a wheelchair.

The three-day VBS culminated with a performance by ventriloquist Geraldine Ragan and her sidekick, Ricky, setting a church attendance record for a Wednesday night serv- ice, said Griggs.

Overnight VBS

As for the youth, they went on an overnight retreat for their VBS, Griggs continued. On the Friday night of the retreat, the youth were involved in five Bible studies con- centrating on the “Roman road,” Scriptures in Romans that outline the way to salvation in Jesus Christ.

“We had one child saved,” said Griggs.

After the Bible studies, the youth spent the night in homes of church members. The next morning, the senior men treated the youth to breakfast before the young people went whitewater rafting in Ocoee, Tenn., said Griggs.

VBS, he said, should not be con- fined just to children. Even youth and adults need that time to grow stronger in their Christian walk.

“Jesus talked about a childlike faith,” said Griggs.

VBS is a great way to refocus on that faith. It presents a time to get back to the basics in a relationship with Christ.

Hepzibah        Baptist            Church, Renfroe, in Coosa River Association has seen the importance of VBS for younger youth, this year including the sixth, seventh and eighth grades in its endeavor.

Linda Haynes, the church’s VBS director, said including these ages filled the gap between being able to participate in VBS and being old enough to serve in VBS.

The young people received sepa- rate instruction, using Southern Baptist curriculum, and had a differ-

ent recreation time than the younger children. “The attendance didn’t slack off. It increased,” said Haynes. “I was tickled.”

Though NorthPark Baptist Church in         Trussville       (Birmingham Association) used the Rickshaw Rally materials, “there (was) always an element of surprise” in each day, said Amy Lachina, the church’s min- ister to children.

Instead of beginning with a wor- ship time, the day ended with it. That time also included a band and a drama team with characters that interacted unscripted with Lachina.

More than 615 (workers and chil- dren) were enrolled in NorthPark’s VBS and approximately 50 made professions of faith, said Lachina. “We had a great, great year.”

Southcrest Baptist Church in Helena (Bessemer Association) wanted an alternative to Rickshaw Rally, said pastor Scott Bush.

So Gladys Schaefer, a homeschool mom, began to pray about what the church could use for VBS. One night, she was awakened with an outline based on the Kay Arthur book, “Lord, I Want to Know You.”

The book concentrates on differ- ent names of God, which became the focus of the VBS. Highlighting about five different names, such as King of Kings and Emmanuel, the VBS material was completed in three months.

Teamwork helps VBS

“It was just beautiful how it all came together,” said Schaefer. She said many others, such as Cereta Lanier, the children’s choir director, and Roni Ezell, co-director of VBS, contributed finishing touches. Then, many creative people came up with innovative decorations, crafts and even refreshments.

This VBS did not make its debut at the church, though. Instead, its unveiling came on a North American Mission Board missions trip to Brunswick, Ga., that a group from Southcrest went on in early summer. About 50 children attended the VBS held in a park and 28 were saved, said Schaefer.

Then, when the Bible school was held at Southcrest in late June, nine children accepted Christ, said Schaefer.

“There were more decisions than usual,” said Bush, explaining four or five is the normal response.

For two churches, VBS was an opportunity for missions right in their own back yard.

One was in Fort Payne, where Rickshaw Rally took on a decided- ly Latin flavor when it was presented at a Hispanic church.

For several summers, First Baptist Church in Fort Payne, DeKalb Association, has had two Vacation Bible Schools — one for the church and one as an in-town mis- sions endeavor to assist Primera Iglesia Bautista- Histina de Jesucristo, said Doris Elliott, educa- tion and missions coordi- nator.

The VBS at the Hispanic church, held from 3–5 p.m. each day, brought in more than 45 children, some through a bus            ministry,         and required nearly as many workers. Elliott said the youth of First, Fort Payne,members        of Primera Iglesia Bautista also helped with the VBS, during which inter- preters sometimes were needed.

Those who work with the missions VBS find it uplifting, said Elliott, noting that the Hispanic people are receptive and “enjoy anything you do with them.”

She said her church’s “second” Bible schools through the years have been as far away as Bolivia and the Philip- pines. “We love to do it,” said Elliott.

First Baptist Church, Dothan, in Columbia Association also regard- ed VBS as a missions avenue this summer, as its community ministries held a VBS for 118 inner-city children.

Not only did the chil- dren participate in the normal fare of crafts, recreation, music and Bible study, but they also were fed breakfast and lunch.

Forty-nine children prayed and asked Jesus to be their Savior.

Stan Sanford, the church’s minister of community ministries, and 43 other volunteers were so excited and invigorated by the week that they already are planning another com- munity VBS for 2005. (Cynthia Walker Watts contributed)

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