ABC’s Vacation Bible School
by Pastor George Van Alstine
I think everyone involved in Vacation Bible School leadership planned to go on vacation as soon as it was over, so it’s left to me to give you a report. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough statistical information to make this a very detailed analysis or to list all the people who should be thanked. About all I can tell you is that approximately 70 kids participated, led by about 25 teachers and helpers.
The fact that I can’t snow you with a lot of facts and figures is probably OK, because it allows me to step back and give you a big picture overview. I’ve been watching VBS happen for the 39 summers I’ve been at ABC. In fact, when we drove into town on our move from Massachusetts in July of 1972, we couldn’t find anyone at the church. I asked around and found that Mike Guerrero, the Youth Pastor, was at a backyard pool side, with some of the church’s youth, planning for VBS. (Among them were Jill Boekenoogen’s big sisters, Sue Ann and Jan.) We went and introduced ourselves. This memory gives me a clue to the first reason why I believe VBS has become so unique at ABC:
ABC’s VBS has been led and energized by young people. This is not true at most other churches, where leadership comes from dedicated adults who have worked with children over many years. These people often have a wonderful ministry, leading children to faith and spiritual development. But the program they come up with lacks the spark, the creativity and the unreal enthusiasm that youth leadership can provide. About three-fourths of ABC’s VBS staff are under 25, and even those of us who are over-the-hill become young again under their influence. Youthful excitement dominates every aspect of the program.
ABC’s adults open their arms to this youthful leadership. The church changes dramatically as VBS approaches. The program’s annual theme (this year the seashore) affects the décor in every building space, from the basement to the sanctuary itself. Cartoon artwork in a place of worship might be offensive to some traditional believers, but I have never received a complaint about this from an older ABCer. Kid- friendly music creeps into worship services before and after VBS week, and bouncy promotional announcements are made, possibly through corny skits. Glenn Molina has labeled this open, accepting attitude on the part of our more traditional members “spiritual generosity.”
ABC’s VBS becomes an intimate family for that one week. People really care for each other. They cover for one another, rather than saying, “That’s her job!” They give each other rides, share their lunches and take care of each other’s kids. Seldom have I observed any jealousy or hurt feelings; on the contrary, people are always complementing and encouraging one another. Before-VBS prayer sessions feel like a family sharing concerns and holding each other up. This week-long spiritual family can be seen as an example of how the church should always operate, and the family connections made at VBS seem to carry over into our church life throughout the year.
ABC’s VBS has been one of the church’s primary arenas for leadership training. Our current VBS director is Ben Zobrist. He seems particularly called and gifted for this role. I’m sure while he’s in Nebraska visiting family this week, he’s also writing down ideas for next year’s VBS. But it wasn’t too many years ago that he was just one of the kids in the first-grade class. At that time Jim Hoelscher may have been the director, assisted by Glenn Molina. When Ben was in the seventh-grade class, the director was most probably Glenn Molina, assisted by Roland Wiley and Matt Bassett. All of these began their VBS career as kids, graduated to helper, then leader or director, and each of them has become a key leader in the church. Who among the current crop will emerge as future VBS director? I’ve got my eye on Emiliano Tellez.
ABC’s VBS has been the church’s most fruitful outreach program over the years. I can name several families, now part of the church, whose first contact with us was through VBS. Beyond that, I think we would be surprised if we knew how many children first understood the gospel of Jesus’ love and salvation during a VBS week. Some may be kids we remember only because they were discipline problems. There’s a feel about VBS that’s kind of like the atmosphere at a campfire testimony meeting, where young people learn from other young people how the faith-of-their-fathers can be relevant in their lives.