Allow me to start with a confession: as a kid, I HATED Vacation Bible School.
(pause for boos)
I thought the songs were very cheesy, the arts time was just an absolute open season, and the God sightings can take an eternity. Don’t even get me started on the games.
Hey teacher, is it lunchtime yet? No? Okay.
I know, that sounds rather controversial for me to say especially knowing my involvement in the children’s ministry programs the church offers – both VBS in the summer and AWANA for the rest of the year. But as a kid, I guess I just didn’t see the point of why my family would be willing to invest their resources to bring me into a local church during what is arguably the best time of the year. I reckon the eight year old me would’ve been satisfied being sat in the house all day watching reruns of Popeye: The Sailor Man and The Flintstones.
Fifteen years and three terms as a VBS staffer later, however, I’m starting to see why.
In the same way He is transforming the people I have had the privilege of walking alongside with in my five years of university ministry, God is in the business of transforming the lives of little children. But I must admit that it’s hard to see how that transformation is taking place knowing the nature of running a VBS the size of fifty-plus kids. Most of the time, I find myself losing patience over small things that add up – be it a participant who either doesn’t follow instructions or just chooses to flat out disregard our authority, a volunteer not doing what they’re told, or the equipment breaking on you right after you promised kids you’d show them The Lion King for after-hours if they behaved during the end-of-day sequences. It’s also so easy to get caught up in the processes: drive up to camp, lead morning worship, facilitate three rotations of God sightings, supervise lunch, supervise afternoon rotations, facilitate end-of-day celebration, clean up, go home, and do it again nine more times for the next ten days. I reckon the word ‘tiring’ heavily underestimates the toll it takes on me the further we get into the ten-day stretch.
It is during those times, however, that I’m reminded of how I’m merely an instrument in the sanctification of these little ones. Yes, when I was their age I hated going to VBS. I don’t remember a thing from my days as a participant, but I do remember how absolutely patient the staff was towards me and how they affirmed small victories along the two-week journey that was the camp in its entirety. That, to this day, has made an impact in my life and how I try – with the help of God and the Holy Spirit – to be just as patient and affirming to the kids I’ve had the privilege of knowing the last three years. Ultimately, I’m not the one in charge of their transformation. God is.
As with all ministry opportunities I’ve been involved with, you don’t get to see the fruit of your work immediately. Sure, there was once instance last year in which one kid that drew the ire of most of the workers for the first half of the camp became one of the most behaved down the stretch. I still remember the celebration this kid had when we gave out an award in recognition for their improvement – it was like they scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal or something. (Let’s go, Penguins!) Yet for the most part, we’re only given glimpses. I believe that down the road I’ll be able to see how God is at work in the kids that have come and gone, and I believe I will be mightily surprised. I reckon the only thing I’ll be able to say is that, “in the Lord, [my] labour is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
After three fun and meaningful years as part of the VBS staff, it is with sadness that I’m writing here that I’m no longer coming back this summer as I have completed my university degree. I will surely miss the environment the church office becomes during the weeks leading to the camp (sorry, Rev. Ng) and the relationships I’ve been able to cultivate over the years. However, I will forever remember what God has taught me in the ups and downs of being part of staff. That God is in the business of transforming the lives of people both big and small.