Vacation Bible school – a community effort
In Merced, California, through a cooperative effort involving 20 churches, vacation Bible school (VBS) simultaneously takes place in six city parks, with goals including teaching children about God, involving them in their community and introducing them to their neighbors—all with a safari theme. The Salvation Army’s Merced Corps, led by Major Glenda Berko, participates in this weeklong VBS outreach.
The following is part of an article published in the June 21, 2005 Merced Sun-Star, by Minerva Perez.
This is the fifth year that Merced’s Vacation Bible School has been organized by volunteers of Children’s Outreach Ministries and several churches throughout Merced. Along with learning more about God, every child receives a T-shirt and Bible along with other goodies like safari toys, snacks and stickers; and at the end of the week the child that collects the most points in the various safari games wins a bicycle.
All of the materials are donated by The Salvation Army, which also provides tents and snacks for the week. Major Glenda Berko, Merced corps officer, was at Stephen Leonard Park teaching children how to make “critter keepers” for the free toys they receive. “We want to make this as exciting as possible,” she said. “Hopefully, after the week is over, they will be encouraged to go to Sunday school.”
Scot Violette, assistant pastor at the Merced Corps, held a similar program at the corps and decided to join the cooperative VBS after Jan Sorge, volunteer coordinator, convinced him it would build unity among the different churches. “That was the biggest draw for me personally,” he said.
While working as a school secretary, Sorge heard of vacation Bible schools that run throughout the country and wanted to bring the concept to Merced. After she retired five years ago, her idea became a reality that now includes 20 churches and between 600 to 800 children and six parks. The appeal of the program, she said, is that children and adults who don’t ordinarily attend services can come and learn about religion in a fun, safe environment that is in their neighborhood. “It’s fun,” said Sorge. “Everyone makes friends and learns, and they don’t have to travel far.”
Sandy Hicks, children’s coordinator from First Baptist Church, agrees and adds that it is the event her church looks forward to all year. “Several kids who get too old come back and work as volunteers,” she said. One of those volunteers is 11-year-old Gabriela De La Cruz who began attending VBS when she was 8 years old. De La Cruz, a member of Templo del Hermosa, came back this year as a volunteer. “It was fun when I was a kid,” she said “It gets you up and out of the house and you want to learn more about God when you are having fun.”
Reprinted with permission