SPARTA — In its 224th summer, Island Creek Baptist Church joined in.
Vacation Bible School can be as identifiable as dinner on the grounds and communion at church. Like clockwork, it arrives every year with loads of children and, by the end of it all, tired volunteers. In addition, it seems to always bring results both immediate and long-lasting. Listen to a testimony and rarely is the impact from VBS not mentioned.
Over time Island Creek Baptist, located in a remote area in the southwest corner of Hancock County, settled into a routine. Folks from Conyers, Covington, and the Atlanta area bought retirement homes on the shores of nearby Lake Sinclair. They found a church home at Island Creek. What they didn’t find too much of, was children.
This concerned Pastor Arthur Gunn and others.
“We wanted to grow the children’s ministry because we believe they’re the future of the church,” says Gunn, who became pastor 18 years ago.
So why no VBS before now?
“We never felt there were enough children attending or leaders for a VBS,” he admits. “We’d been thinking for several years about having one.”
Things changed with a volunteer willing to take the lead. For Island Creek, that was Lisa Boone.
“She took an interest in the children’s ministry and began to work with them,” Gunn says. “She’d give children a ride to church if they needed one.”
So after a few months of planning Island Creek held its first-ever VBS over the course of a weekend, June 9-11. Each day from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. approximately 28 children learned about Christ through the theme “Campout: Getting S’More of Jesus.”
“I love children and wanted to help out,” says Boone. “I prayed about it. A lot of people talked to me over it.”
Boone counts among those who live elsewhere – two hours away in McRae, for her – but spend weekends at a home on Lake Sinclair.
“We have eight or nine children attending church regularly and I wanted to hold a VBS. So, in March I bought a kit before it was even approved by the church.”
Though a VBS wasn’t in the budget, deacons said things could be worked out.
Gunn’s wife, Vicki, had been encouraging her husband and the church to have a VBS for the past few years. However, he felt the volunteers weren’t in place yet.
“When I first came to the church, we only had a couple of children attending,” recounts the pastor. In addition, church attendees numbered around 13 when Gunn arrived nearly two decades ago. Today, that figure goes up to approximately 130.
“The church is isolated,” he admits,” but there’s a group around the lake we reach out to. Some started attending, then others after word of mouth got around.”
Boone, who attended sporadically, picked up her involvement through the children’s ministry and was recently named the church’s part-time children/youth minister. With grown children of her own, she picks up as many local children as she can with her Chevy Tahoe to take to Island Creek.
Take a chance
Gunn acknowledges some trepidation among church members about the VBS. Would any children show up? Did they have enough volunteers? Did they know what they were doing?
Out of the 28 children to attend, ten made professions of faith. Two will be baptized July 16 at Island Creek. A third, who was visiting from another church, will be discipled and baptized there. Around half of the attendees, Gunn figures, were local and the others visiting grandparents on Lake Sinclair.
On Sunday morning, participants’ last day of VBS coincided with the church’s regular worship. The experience was good for all involved.
“Those who had doubts were pleasantly surprised, especially when the kids came forward to accept Christ,” reports Gunn. “The volunteers were tickled pink at the way it turned out.”
He recommends churches in positions similar to Island Creek take the plunge and look hard at doing a VBS.
“If they have any children at all around, those churches need to try it. Kids absolutely enjoy VBS. Ours were thrilled with it and asked if we were going to have it again next year.”
Boone adamantly points to church members for allowing God to use them.
“I couldn’t have done it without that teamwork,” she points out. “Everyone worked together perfectly. I’ve helped with VBS before, but never put one together myself.”
Not long after church leaders announced the VBS, Boone placed a sign-up sheet for volunteers. At first, there were way more empty blanks than the ones holding names.
“One elderly couple called me and said they’d like to volunteer, but they just weren’t sure,” she says. “They thought they wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Boone convinced them otherwise.
“I told them they’d be perfect to help with the children,” she exclaims. “They volunteered, and they were perfect.”