Every summer, groups of volunteers congregate at local churches, where they spend many hours planning and hosting vacation Bible school events.The focus of VBS programs vary depending on their yearly theme, but organizers at several different churches all emphasized that the main purpose is to provide a caring environment for young people to get to know themselves and God more, and to learn to reach out to others in need.
Bree Truax, youth and Christian education ministries coordinator at Zion Lutheran Church in Camas said regardless of belief, all are welcome at VBS.
“No question is too big or wrong,“ she said. “We come as we are, together, to share life and love. God’s love is expressed in countless ways in the world, and VBS is one vehicle for it as we play, seek, sing, explore and more.”
The church offered VBS for preschoolers through incoming sixth-graders for four days in July, ending with a musical performance for parents and friends the final day.
This year, young adult volunteers from Camp Lutherwood near Bellingham, Wash., came to help lead VBS. In addition, 26 other volunteers helped coordinate activities. Others provided host homes for counselors and donated snacks and supplies.
“A plethora of people prayed, and supported our general church budget, which covers all the costs that registration fees don’t,” Truax said. “We could not offer VBS without the volunteers and support of the congregation. They are integral.”
She added that VBS comprises approximately 6 percent of the church’s annual budget, with scholarships available for anyone who needs it.
“We want all to be able to attend,” Truax said.
This year’s focus was “God is here.”
“It means that God is active in lives and throughout the world today,” Truax said. “VBS is designed to foster opportunities for young people to know themselves, others and God more. Activities include art, music, games, nature, and Bible exploration.”
At Camas United Methodist Church, this year’s VBS theme was “Everywhere Fun Fair, Where God’s World Comes Together.” The focus was on neighbors near and far away. Children from preschool to fifth-grade attended.
“We learned about our neighbors in Japan, Zimbabwe, UK, Australia and Mexico,” said Lauralee Harkins, VBS coordinator. “We learned stories about neighbors in the Bible. We learned that neighbors are friendly, giving, bold, forgiving and welcoming.”
The theme was emphasized through music, puppetry and videos. Students were also encouraged to help collect school supplies for local children in need.
Like Zion, the program relies heavily on volunteers. This year, there were 20.
“I am so thankful for each one of them,” Harkins said. “They are so very vital with their individual talents and their care for children. We have a very dedicated core group who each take complete responsibility for their sections and then coordinate together to make it possible to offer this program to our children.“
Craft projects were themed by country, and were made to be given away to those in need. For example, while learning about Zimbabwe, VBS attendees put together bags of mixed bean soup with seasoning and a recipe, which was given to the Inter-faith Treasure House in Washougal. On the last day, children made yarn-and-stick ornaments to give to neighbors.
“The overall purpose (is) to introduce and guide children on their journey to know God through Jesus Christ,” Harkins said. “This particular lesson series emphasized that Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Journey Community Church held VBS soon after school ended in late June.
“(We wanted) to give kids a strong, Christ-centered launch to summer and to reach out to the community,” said Children’s Ministry Director Shawna Reed.
The focus this year was to share God’s love with others through worship, Bible study, crafts, games and snacks, she added.
“I like spending so much quality time with the kids,” Reed said. “They are so funny and amazing, and they say the most hilarious things.”
She had 12 volunteers helping during VBS.
“I couldn’t do it without them,” Reed said. “I have leaders for the areas of craft, snack and games, which then frees me up to lead worship and teach the Bible study.”