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By July 24, 2014 5 Comments

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. –Psalm 46:1

Last week my congregation, Trinity, had our annual Vacation Bible School. It’s a big deal here and something we do up right nicely. We’re a small little church and on any given Sunday we’d be happy to have a half dozen kids in Sunday School. But for one week each summer our entire building is transformed to what ever the theme is for the year—this year it was “weird animals” so there was a jungle motif—and children from all over the community—this year, just under 90—come to learn about Jesus and God’s love for them. This incidentally is no humble brag but an outright honest-to-goodness brag. I love how well my folks work together alongside a variety of partners and young people who return as volunteers once they’ve aged out to put this event on. I just wish we did other aspects of our church life, ministry, and mission as well…

A friend on facebook, a colleague whom I have IMMENSE respect for was ranting the other day generally about Vacation Bible Schools complaining that they are a huge volunteer hour sucker, are a sanctified competitive expression between neighboring churches, use shallow theology, and that parents use them as free babysitting. She added the caveat that her attitude was coming from a particularly heavily churched environment (one could read here suburban west Michigan); given a different population demographic and/or geographic location, perhaps these elements would be different (and her cantankerous disposition be abated). I get it and agree. We spend a lot of time and energy that I wonder if it could be used better. The theology can definitely be shallow and often needs tweaking. And certainly, parents do use us as free babysitting. One good we have going for us is we aren’t especially competitive in our locale with VBS as most of the churches don’t offer it. I too worry whether the fun of a week of VBS actually helps form young disciples or merely entertains. Are seeds being planted and faith being nourished? I hope so but I do wonder.

All that said I couldn’t help but be moved myself and have my own faith encouraged by that week working with the kids and volunteers at the Vacation Bible School. It was for me a refuge.

It was a rough week in the world, and I think particularly rough on children. It seems they need a refuge too. Kids playing soccer are being bombed on Gaza beaches. Kids are being shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Kids are running to bomb shelters in Israel. Kids are living in refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan fleeing civil war in Syria. Kids are escaping violence in Central America to be met by welcoming Tea Party members here in the US. Kids are escaping hardship and turmoil in Africa crossing the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe. Obviously, not just kids, but still. And this doesn’t even include the regular everyday issues of domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, etc. So in a world like that I think I needed VBS for myself. I needed to see kids learning about God and having fun, playing silly games and all. We all need a refuge.

Even with the constant barrage of media of despair and disaster it can still be easy to tune out, to think of it as “over there.” But over there is connected to over here. In the small talk moving between “Bible Adventure” and snacks a young attendee (he’s probably 10 or 11) was sharing with me about making friends here, and by here I mean in this country. He’s been here about three years coming from Egypt, his family escaping the violence and persecution that much of the Coptic community has experienced in the recent political upheaval. This has been a refuge.

In the middle of the week I had a funeral for another refugee. He and his wife were both from a little village in Yugoslavia but following the turmoil of World War II became refugees, first fleeing to Czechoslovakia, then to Austria, eventually through Germany, and finally here to the States. He was an old man and lived a long and good life.

Where am I going with this? No where in particular. I’m just grateful for refuge, grateful when the church can be a refuge, grateful for God as our refuge.


  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Here is a link to a favorite poem, introduced to me by my friend Susan Felch. It's great stuff!

  • Jessi says:

    As a person who has spent my entire adult life working with children, I respectfully disagree with your friend. While each is entitled to her own opinion, I have to say that I think VBS is vital. The praying, planning, and co-leading that happens leading up to and during VBS has formed relationships that I treasure. There's something to be said for being part of a team, especially a team of VBS volunteers. You have to be a little bit crazy and have a lot of passion to want to give up part of your summer to be outnumbered by little people who are probably smarter, louder and stronger than you. And I truly do believe that that these small hours that we spend at VBS change lives. It's a great opportunity to serve your community – yes, even if that just equates to a few hours of free babysitting. It's not just songs and popsicle sticks, it's an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus…to smile, to be welcoming, and to hug some people. The greatest reward is when they smile back. Then you know that, even if they remember little else that you taught, they will remember that love exists in that space. I'm okay with just starting there.

  • Tracey says:

    Refuge: why not?!

    As to VBS naysayers: I don't think anyone wants to saddle neighborhood kids with Heidelberg Catechism for a week. How about plain-and-simple discipling, building relationships, and modeling community, for a few good reasons instead.

    VBS was no small event for me and my brother as children growing up. Our unchurched Italian family moved into a Dutch RCA neighborhood in the Chicago area back in the 60s. My parents had no idea what they were getting into! I have no regrets, as those neighbors introduced me and my brother to VBS, and we introduced mom and dad to that church (which we joined within that first year), and that church informed us of the Christian high school (which my brother and I went to), which led me to Calvin College, and . . . you get the picture. [I'll never forget the very first Bible verse I learned, which was during that first VBS when I was 9 years old: Romans 8 v.28.]

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Having just finished N T Wright's Summa on the Apostle Paul, I would say that the Apostle Paul would agree with you wholeheartedly.

  • Kathy D says:

    This is terrific Tom. YOU are terrific.

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