Today is the first day of Vacation Bible School at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and it’s bringing back some memories.
I remember going to VBS when I was a little boy. I remember hearing Bible stories, and going on nature walks, and eating those cookies with the hole in the middle so you could put one on your finger and nibble all the way around. I remember cutting construction paper with blunt-nosed safety scissors and the smell of Elmer’s glue. I remember singing “This Is My Father’s World.”
I loved it.
Years later, when I became the pastor of a little church in Kentucky, I found that VBS was a community affair: our church would host Bible school and the kids from the other two churches in town would come, and then they would host Bible school and our kids would go there. You’d see the same kids at every Bible school in town.
At the church I served in North Carolina we began to make an intentional effort to reach out to the kids at a nearby trailer park and that was harder. Those kids didn’t know how to behave at Bible school. They didn’t understand the rules. But we believed that the Jesus we were talking about would want those kids to be there, and so we kept taking the church van over there, picking them up, and bringing them to church.
At First Baptist, Richmond, we seem to have had that tradition for years—opening up our Bible school to anyone who wanted to come and going to get some of those kids who needed to be there. But this year is a little different. This year, because we are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, we have invited some people from Waxahachie, Texas, to help us. Does that make sense?
Well, if you know the whole story, it does.
These are people from Park Meadows Baptist Church, and for years they’ve been going to Helena, Arkansas, in the summer to help out with a mission project called “Together for Hope.”* Well, so has First Baptist, Richmond. These two churches have worked side by side to help kids in one of the poorest counties in America, and over the years a friendship has developed. So, when FBC member Cari DuVal learned that a staff member from Park Meadows had written the very popular VBS curriculum called “Camp,” and that he had written a new curriculum called “Camp II,” she decided our friends from Waxahachie needed to come to Richmond and help us put it on.
But here’s the KOH2RVA twist: after putting on “Camp II” at First Baptist Church each morning, the VBS team is going over to Essex Village Apartments and do it there. I’ve written about Essex Village before: 544 kids, most of them living in single-parent homes. Don’t you know that having “Camp” come to them is going to be the best thing that happens all summer?
It’s not only “Camp” that will come to them; it’s the love of Jesus, shared by those missionaries from Waxahachie and those missionaries from Richmond. If those kids at Essex Village have a real experience of it—if they see it in the smiles, and hear it in the stories, and feel it in the hugs—they will want more and more. Maybe this will be the week when some of them start down a path that leads to life abundant, overflowing, and everlasting, and years from now they will be able to say,
“It all started at Bible School.”
*Launched in 2001 by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Together for Hope (TFH) is a long-term commitment to working with people in 20 of the nation’s poorest counties in order to affect change and break the cycle of economic disparity. The ministry is about establishing long-term relationships, listening, learning, and walking alongside local leaders. The hope is that communities will be transformed as will the churches and individuals who serve in focal counties.