What I Learned from Teaching Vacation Bible School

Vacation Bible School students take turns reciting the Hail Mary Aug. 1 at St. Bernard School in Green Bay, Wis. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass) (Aug. 6, 2013)
Vacation Bible School students take turns reciting the Hail Mary Aug. 1 at St. Bernard School in Green Bay, Wis. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass) (Aug. 6, 2013)

Every year, Vacation Bible School starts the same. I greet the kids with an energetic cry of, “Are you ready to start our awesome week?” only to be met by silence. Then I try again and receive a chorus of halfhearted “Yes’s,” when I know the kids are all secretly counting down the hours until they get to leave.  But somewhere along the way, something changes. At the end of the week, the children before me are no longer the bored ones whose parents dragged them to VBS. Instead, I see a crowd of excited students shouting and singing about Jesus’ love. Hearing them reminds me of the true power of that love. Looking back, I may have grown just as much as the kids.

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I take my job as the drama teacher at VBS seriously. Our mission is to instill faith in those who might not have any other way of learning about God. We have one week to teach kids Catholicism 101: the sacraments, key stories from the Bible, and basic prayers. More importantly, we try to impress upon them the importance of staying connected to God.

How do we do this? Well, in my class, I use interactive Bible stories and songs. The children “walk on water” across a blue tarp and into a boat made of cardboard and packing tape to learn that Jesus gives us courage when we need it most. By the end of the week, children have learned that Jesus gives them hope, courage, direction, love, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

One day, we asked the kids to write their own prayers. At the end of the class, we looked through the prayers that students left behind and chuckled at the requests for God to help catch Pokémon or deliver a new phone charger. These prayers seemed more like letters to Santa, but the next one in the pile made us silent.

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A girl wrote a prayer asking God to heal her father’s cancer. I was shocked and also embarrassed because two seconds earlier we had been laughing about how the kids didn’t take the activity seriously. Most of all, I was struck that the girl decided to share such a personal prayer with us. Suddenly I realized that for some kids, this week of VBS wasn’t a joke. That for some, Bible stories about love and hope actually mean something. Sure, there were kids who were only there because they were forced to attend, but if that little girl learned to trust in God while going through such a terrible time in her life, then maybe we were doing something right.

As a head into my junior year of college, I find myself worrying about where the future will take me. When I’m stressed about tests or anxious about interviews, it can be easy to forget that God knows my worries and will take care of me. That little girl knew that she could turn to God during hard times, and she reminded me that I should too.