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Spirituality and fun mix at Bible school

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It could easily be called a recipe for spiritual success: Take one part Bible study and one part summer camp, anywhere from 20 to 300 children, and mix them together for a week. When the ingredients are thoroughly blended, remove the mixture and observe success.

Vacation Bible schools have long existed in churches of every denomination in every state in the country. Through activities like arts and crafts, songs, dance, games and science labs, the schools have taught children Christian values and Bible lessons.

Jodie Palmer of St. Vincent Catholic Church in Holladay said vacation Bible schools teach children of all denominations about God and Jesus Christ on a level they can understand.

"(The schools) bring God's word in a fun-filled way using Jesus as our example to use in our daily lives," Palmer said.

Yvette Tani volunteered last week at St. Vincent's vacation Bible school. She brought along her two children to attend the school and follow the theme "God's Plan for You." Tani said the school provides a foundation for children to learn the messages of the Bible by using songs and themes the kids can relate to.

"When lessons are done with song and music, kids absorb that," Tani said. "The kids just really think 'There is a message that I learned today.'

"They'll come home and say 'No matter who we are we're special. God made us.' "

Pastor Dean Sisk of the Christian Worship Center in Ogden said vacation Bible schools have been around just about as long as anyone can remember. And while the message has always been the same, the way of teaching it hasn't. "The word of God never changes. The way we present church has to change."

Those changes often come in the form of technology. Videos are the biggest technological addition to most Bible schools, and many organizers say watching a video helps children absorb more.

The Holladay Baptist Church uses videos to visually illustrate stories of people in other parts of the world, Jan Rollan said. "Having a video in front is really good; the kids get to participate in that instead of just hearing the story."

Many vacation Bible schools across the state also follow some type of curriculum, which comes with handouts and banners, songs and music. Some, like the one used at the Abundant Life Assembly of God in North Salt Lake, even come with a CD-ROM and clip art.

"That was the first time we saw anything like that," the Rev. Greg Sheffield said. "That was cool."

Still others bring in guest teachers to follow a theme. Nearly 200 children at the Christian Worship Center and the Ogden Christian Fellowship, who teamed up last week for the third year in a row, were split into Indian tribes and listened to the teachings of traveling missionary Black Buffalo. The Yakima and Cowlitz Indian used American Indian symbols and stories to teach Bible lessons. Among other things, the kids learned that straight arrows used by the Indians symbolize truth, and shields represent the "shield of our salvation."

Pastor Sisk said vacation Bible school is "all about letting children know that Jesus loves them," and Black Buffalo does that by helping them escape the trials of everyday life and teaching them the word of Jesus.

"If children knew how much Jesus loved them, wouldn't they have a different set of values?" Pastor Sisk asked.

Children at many of the schools also play noncompetitive games, which teaches them to work with, instead of against, one another.

"There's enough competition in the world," said Pam Maxson of the Ogden Christian Fellowship. "We just want them to have fun."

As kids in Janeska Salazar's class at St. Vincent had fun making time capsules out of potato chip containers, they talked "about the Lord" and "about how God forgives you no matter what."

Ten-year-old Sam Kolesky learned about treating people like he would want to be treated but also that God would forgive him if he were to one day make a mistake.

"I've learned that when you are mean to people, God will always forgive you if you ask for forgiveness in your heart," Kolesky said.

"You just learn to love more and share more," Salazar said, which was reaffirmed with a room full of young heads nodding in agreement.

Schools across the valley encourage children of all denominations, or who have had no exposure to religion at all, to attend vacation Bible schools.

Barbara Boardman of Mount Olympus Presbyterian in Holladay estimates that 40 percent of the children who attend the church's school are visitors. "We want to make it an outreach effort," she said.

Pastor Sisk said vacation Bible schools are truly nondenominational. "The one true church is people. That's who we teach."

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com