When Moses parted the Red Sea in Henderson one late June evening, it marked the end of one early iteration of what has become a sure sign of summer — vacation Bible school.
Neither the children nor the myriad volunteers wanted the experience to end. And that, as much as the lessons the youngsters learned, is what has made vacation Bible school a summer ritual that crosses otherwise rigid denominational boundaries.
While some may dismiss all summer schools and camps as exercises in getting tykes out of the home for extended periods, the enthusiasm of parents and volunteers tells a different story.
Vacation Bible schools offer fun, exercise, camaraderie and a healthy dose of religion to break up the long summer recess — all at no cost. That is unless you factor in the value of long hours donated by volunteers. (Voluntary offerings also are accepted by many programs.)
Vacation Bible schools are labor intensive in their execution. They also require a keen eye for finding an engaging format. Pastors interviewed for this story reported they find it difficult to compete with video games, TV, DVDs, telephones and movies. They see vacation Bible school as a great outreach to their communities and a way to connect with families.
Finding the right format to engage the kids is vital. A handful of national companies supply all the makings of programs. The “secret sauce” lies in the hands of the local parents.
At First Henderson United Methodist Church (609 E. Horizon Drive; www.firsthendersonumc.org ), the Rev. Jim Robinson and Beth Runkle, co-director for vacation Bible school, chose “Wilderness Escape — a trek back in time — where you’ll explore what life was like for the ancient Israelites — where God guides and provides.”
Pastor Robinson said he hoped the children learned “church can be fun while they learn about God. It’s an exciting place to be and makes a difference in your life and others’.”
The children enjoyed passing from station to station to try crafts and sample intriguing foods the Israelites may have eaten, such as grapes, olives, almonds, quail (chicken nuggets) and snake (hot dog).
The high point was Moses, in full regalia, delivering the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. Of course, parting the Red Sea took a little special staging. Blue sheets were hung along a hallway with volunteers misting the kids with water as they passed through.
On the last evening, children and parents enjoyed a barbecue picnic. On the following Sunday, vacation Bible school graduates and their families attended services; the children sang, and the volunteers wore their costumes.
Here’s a look at what early sessions reveal about what lies ahead for attendees in remaining sessions:
Foothills Baptist Church (6405 W. Cheyenne Ave.; www.foothillsbaptistchurch.org) used a program entitled, “Agency D-3, Discover, Decide, Defend,” where the child as an agent, traveled from station to station to complete his investigation of that day’s concept. Last year’s theme was a roller-coaster experience, mirroring the ups and downs of life’s challenges.
The Rev. Hoyt Savage explained the program was chosen to “broaden understanding of Christianity by discovering what the Bible says, deciding what it (religion) will be in their life … and communicating that to others in a noncombative way.” Programs have changed over the years. Each day’s activities now flow into a holistic concept.
Midweek, the church hosted a carnival with sloppy Joes, games and a water slide so the church community could meet the 200 attendees’ families.
Foothills Baptist keeps a 2-to-1 student-to-volunteer ratio so kids can talk, ask questions, be listened to and receive lots of attention.
At Green Valley Presbyterian Church (1798 Wigwam Parkway, Henderson; www.greenvalleypres.com ), the Rev. Dr. Kenneth C. Harper offered “Weird Animals: Where Jesus’ love is one-of-a-kind,” handling the idea that even if you feel left out and even if you are different, Jesus loves you.
The children split into groups with junior and senior high volunteers honing their leadership skills.
Children’s ministries director Julie Dorse said vacation Bible school is an interactive “come to Jesus” outreach to their community.
“I am blessed with a congregation that wants to help,” Dorse added. “They are willing to step up and decorate, sing, act, read … whatever is needed.”
Upland Bible Church (920 Upland Blvd., Las Vegas; info@UplandBibleChurch.org ) is a nondenominational independent Christian church. The Rev. Richard J. Olsen and vacation Bible school director Jamie Vertrees preferred a traditional program with a curriculum and all activities home designed and crafted by church members. That included Bible stories, singing, crafts, snacks, puppets, plus playtime and water balloons in the park across the street.
Vertrees said, “The children beg to come, and can’t wait for the next year’s session.”
All children older than 8 received a Bible.
Vertrees said she hopes the children leave with a knowledge that, “once you’re saved, you’re always saved … and they have a fun time associated with God and the Bible.”
Desert Hills Baptist Church (4401 S. Nellis Blvd., Las Vegas; deserthillsbaptist.com) will offer “Son Treasure Island — Seeking the Lord and finding the Prize (Jesus) on this island (Earth) we’re on,” in August.
“It’s kind of Gilligan’s Island. We are all stranded, we need to find a purpose and Jesus helps us find our purpose in life,” explained the Rev. R. Scott Hocker, senior pastor.
“Our VBS may really be baby-sitting for Mom, but for us, it’s to introduce Jesus to children in a fun setting,” Hocker added. “That’s why our ladies went onto Pinterest and found a recipe for a see-through dessert that looks like a desert island.”
The church also coordinates an adult Bible school in the same time period, using the same Scriptures the children are learning, for their parents.
“We pray the adults and children see we love Jesus with the amount of love we put into our program,” Hocker said.
Here are some vacation Bible schools scheduled in July and August.
Tuesday-Saturday: First Baptist Church, 4400 W Oakey Blvd.; Shadow Hills Church, 7811 Las Vegas Drive
July 28-Aug. 1: Summerlin Community Church, 2100 Snow Trail; Lamb of God Lutheran Church, 6220 N. Jones Blvd.
Aug. 13-17: Mountain View Presbyterian Church, 8601 Del Webb Blvd.