First Baptist’s Vacation Bible School is not like it used to be

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Catherine Timm needed no prompting when asked about her attendance at Bible school this week at First Baptist Church in Natchez.

&uot;We’re learning about Jesus in a fun way,&uot; the rising sixth-grader said. &uot;It is not stressful to come here every morning. It’s fun.&uot;

If you remember vacation Bible school from your childhood, you might smell the pungent-sweet aroma of grape-flavored Kool-Aid, hear the plinking piano keys roll out &uot;Jesus Loves Me&uot; and feel the plaster of Paris damp between your fingers.

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Well, not these Bible schoolers, who are spending the week on an imaginary trip to England on &uot;The Great Kingdom Caper,&uot; complete with drawbridges and moats, English villages created from cardboard cartons and even refreshments to mimic the famous British fish and chips.

To the rocking beat of taped music, children on Tuesday morning were swinging, swaying and dancing as they sang, &uot;We are on the great kingdom caper, cracking down the character code,&uot; as music leaders Carole Foster and Brandi Miller prompted them from the front of the room.

&uot;To live a life like God wants me to live, I must show humility and gentleness. In everything I think, speak and do, God’s character needs to shine through,&uot; the children sang, echoing the Bible theme that runs through the week.

Approximately 300 children, preschool to eighth grade, are attending the Bible school this week. The numbers grow each day, said the Rev. Bill Hurt, pastor.

&uot;And the kids do not have to be prodded. They can’t wait to come,&uot; he said. &uot;Yesterday at 11:30 after three hours of Bible school, they were saying, ‘is this it?’ They wanted more.&uot;

Working for almost 12 months prior to the one-week session of Bible school, church leaders have found in recent years that children require creativity from their teachers and planners.

That’s where the catchy music, engaging theme and elaborate sets come in. They are the backdrop for the focus, the real purpose of Bible school, which in truth has not changed.

&uot;This is really important for us, sharing with children, specifically with children, the truth about salvation,&uot; said he Rev. Dan Wynn, youth minister at the church. &uot;If you wait until their teen years, it’s too late.&uot;

For Wynn, this is the 23rd Bible school he has witnessed at First Baptist. He looks back at some of the youngsters whose lives were touched and changed during vacation Bible school.

Sherri Lambert, who took vacation days from work to be available to teach Bible school, said it is all about priorities for her and the others who dedicate many hours to bring the message to the children.

Her mother taught Bible school, and Lambert now has her daughter, 15-year-old Erin, assisting in her class of third-graders. &uot;Introducing the Bible is what we do, and it is a joy to do it,&uot; Lambert said, recalling what Bible school had meant to her from the time she was 4 years old.

Unlike during the old-fashioned Bible school, teachers now have niches to fill, not three hours with the same groups of children. &uot;There are Bible study teachers, music teachers, arts and crafts, missions and recreation and snacks &045; all separate, and the children move around from place to place throughout the morning.&uot;

The Scripture at the center of the week’s activities is Colossians 3: 12-14, with emphasis on words from those verses: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

&uot;Everything centers on the theme,&uot; Hurt said. &uot;Thursday we’ll learn the ABC’s of becoming a Christian.&uot; That includes A, admit your sins; B, believe Jesus is God’s son; and C, confess your faith.

&uot;Our goal is not to make children members of First Baptist Church. And we do have a lot of kids visiting who are not members of First Baptist Church,&uot; Hurt said. &uot;Our goal is to introduce them to Christ.&uot;

And what of all the elaborate props and sets created for the week? As is the custom at First Baptist, all the materials and creations will be passed on to another church for use during another vacation Bible school this summer.