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Bible pizzazz — Publishers’ cool kits make faith fun for children

SHARE Bible pizzazz — Publishers’ cool kits make faith fun for children

It may be the greatest story ever told, but these days you might want to add a pirate theme to make sure children are paying attention. Or, if not pirate, maybe arctic. Or something with the word "xtreme" in it.

Vacation Bible School is still first and foremost about the Bible message, but there's a whole "VBS" industry out there helping churches provide the kind of interactive pizzazz that children have come to expect from any educational encounter. There are a dozen Christian publishing houses producing scores of Vacation Bible School kits each year, with names like "Yo Ho Holy: A Pirate's Guide to Jesus" and "Xtreme Encounter: A Salvation Space Journey."

"The coolest way ever to introduce kids to the awesome and powerful 10 Commandments — all with a time-travel twist!" is the way Cook Ministries describes its newest offering. The "Time-Stone Travelers: Quest for God's 10 Commandments" offers a reproducible CD, T-shirt designs, sound effects, themed snack ideas, craft projects and directions to decorate each of five stations: a Mayan jungle, medieval castle, ancient laboratory, hawk's village and Hawaiian volcano.

"It's suited to what our kids have grown up with," notes Pastor Pat Edwards of Grace Baptist Church in Bountiful. "They're used to videos and games. In some sense it's the church keeping up with the technology in the culture."

At Grace Baptist's Vacation Bible School last summer, the theme was Kingdom of the Son. "You walked into the room and there was a tent and a mock fire. And the walls were decorated with huge African animals," Edwards says. "It can get quite elaborate trying to create the atmosphere."

Fifty-four years ago, when Gospel Light publishing company of Ventura, Calif. first started producing VBS materials, children got "a Bible story and a student work sheet and maybe some pictures, and that was about it," says Sheryl Haystead, senior managing editor at Gospel Light. That's how Haystead remembers her own Vacation Bible School days. "We definitely didn't have fun stickers, and T-shirts and water bottles and photo frames."

Churches can now get those things and more. Lifeway publishing's "Arctic Edge: Where Adventure Meets Courage," for example, offers a 5-foot inflatable moose, inflatable puffins, themed cookie cutters and zipper pulls. Generally, churches will just get a few of the extras, Haystead says. "No one church can afford all of them."

Gospel Light's 2006 offering, "SonTreasure Island," is being used by several churches along the Wasatch Front this summer. The curriculum is based on I Corinthians 13 ("the greatest of these is love") but is also a beach/sea/treasure theme. Each day of the one-week Bible school presents a different "treasure" of God's love: giving, kind, caring, forgiving and forever. The Starter Kit costs $69, the Super Starter Kit is $184.99.

Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church did a SonTreasure Island Vacation Bible School earlier this month. In preparation, volunteers spent weeks making a couple of dozen murals of palm trees, volcanoes and underwater scenes — then passed all those murals on to Grace Lutheran Church in Sandy for its mid-July Vacation Bible School. Grace Lutheran will pass the murals on to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

Grace Baptist Church in Bountiful will be taking the SonTreasure Island Vacation Bible School to Rwanda this summer, where Pastor Edwards' brother-in-law is a missionary. The Bible school will be offered to the children of English-speaking missionaries from all over East Africa, who will be gathering in Rwanda for a spiritual retreat.

At Grace Baptist Church itself, however, Vacation Bible School has been canceled this summer due to staffing conflicts. Like many churches across the country, Grace Baptist has moved to evening Vacation Bible School to accommodate the schedules of all the working mothers who no longer can help run the school in the daytime.

The evening schedule allows men to get involved, too, notes Edwards. "It's one of the blessings of women working; their husbands have to pitch in, too."

At Grace Lutheran in Sandy, Vacation Bible School is still held during the daytime, and this year has enrolled more than 200 children. Earlier this week children painted little treasure chests, played Bible verse memory games and relay races, ate "island cupcakes" and listened to Bible stories while sitting on beach towels. At the end of each day, the children gathered in the church's sanctuary to sing.

It was a 21st century sing-along. The lyrics were projected on PowerPoint, and the songs had been professionally produced, with enough instruments and recorded voices that the sanctuary was filled with an exuberant, reggae sound.

But, even with all the glitz, it is still the words that might change a life. "Love is patient, love is kind," the children sang. "Follow the way of love."

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com