"Big Apple Adventure" is the theme for this year's Vacation Bible School material produced by LifeWay Christian Resources, and children can explore one of the most exciting cities on the planet while learning to step out in faith, connect with Jesus and share the message of Christ with the world.
More than 1,500 people from churches across the country and as far away as South Korea gathered earlier this year at LifeWay in Nashville, Tenn., for two VBS preview events.
"People who have attended the VBS preview events here at LifeWay and the ones we hosted at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center and in Texas are so pumped about this year's theme," said Jerry Wooley, LifeWay's VBS specialist. "It's been fun to see the enthusiasm for the New York setting.
"What thrills me the most, though, is how excited they are about teaching the children, teens and adults about Jesus," he added. "I think this VBS is probably the most evangelical one that I ever remember. I pray that we will have more VBS participants learning about Him and receiving Him as their Savior than in any year past."
Preview guests were given the opportunity to attend dozens of breakout sessions on crafts, refreshments, decorating, age-group teaching, organizing and follow-up. They also were able to learn music and motions from VBS music creator Jeff Slaughter.
The worship rally time began with an overview of the Big Apple Adventure VBS. Slaughter then took to the stage, along with audience volunteers, to teach the Big Apple Adventure theme song.
While VBS is high energy fun, it also is unapologetically evangelical, using a missions element to show VBS participants how missionaries are proclaiming God's love to people around the world.
In Nashville, two special missionary guests from New York who are featured in the missions rotation overview video were able to attend.
Andrew Mann and his dog Proof were there to meet event attendees and answer questions about their work at Graffiti Community Ministries in the South Bronx.
Mann serves as pastor of Graffiti 2 church and leads a team of staff and volunteers in ministering to children and teenagers in the community.
"About 85 percent of the kids who come to our ministry center and church were born into poverty," he said. "This section of the Bronx is the lowest income area of the city. There aren't a lot of resources available to the kids."
One resource the ministry offers is after-school tutoring.
"We have about 50 kids who come to the center after school," Mann said. "We have volunteers who come in to help with homework. Plus, the 6th-12th grade students help tutor the 1st-5th graders. We also have a program called Parents Rock. We see the parents as the foundation of what we do with the kids. In order for the kids to be allowed to be involved, the parents have to volunteer one day a week at the center."
Having a certified assistance and professional therapy dog involved in the ministry may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Proof provides unconditional love for the children. She listens to them as they practice reading and doesn't judge.
"Proof, of course, is only one part of the ministry, but she is an important part," Mann said. "Kids all over the neighborhood know her."
The VBS preview also offered participants the opportunity to become better acquainted with "Club VBS: Beach Blast." This simplified VBS theme is sometimes called "VBS in a Box" with everything to make VBS for 50 kids included. Many churches use the Club VBS for spring break, mission trips, Wednesday nights and other times.
"VBS has historically been seen as the number one evangelistic tool for churches in the SBC," Wooley said. "For years, the number of professions of faith that are reported from VBS are equal to about 25 percent of the number of SBC baptisms. With that kind of influence comes a great responsibility. We work every year to make VBS the best possible tool for reaching children and their families with the message of Jesus and how they can receive Him as Savior."
Polly House writes for LifeWay Christian Resources. For more information, visit www.lifeway.com/vbs2011.
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