Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
For years, local youngsters have been keeping their faith alive by participating in summer vacation Bible programs held throughout Cherokee County.
And program directors couldn't be more excited.
“Our first goal as a church is to teach kids about Jesus, to know about him, to be changed by him … this is a great avenue for us to reach out to our community,” said Joanna Jordan, head of preschool/children's ministry at Jacksonville's Central Baptist Church, which oversees the program. “It gives kids a place to come on summer mornings, when they'd normally be sitting at home, doing nothing.”
The Central Baptist program traditionally kicks off the VBS programs locally, and is a popular one with children, Jordan said, because it incorporates crafts and music and games to get the gospel across.
This summer, “Colossal Coaster World” drew 160 youths in grades pre-K through sixth; that number was slightly down from last year's total of 174, but she attributed it to a similar program offered during the same time frame by the local First Baptist Church.
FBC assistant secretary Barbara Davis said their program – for children ages 4 years through sixth grade – attracted about 135 children. The theme of this year's program is “Kingdom Rock: Where Kids Stand Strong for God.”
Both women agreed that parents look forward to the summer program as much as their children do.
“A couple have spoken with me this week and said their kids are loving it, and that they (the parents) look forward to it, too,” Davis said. “It's a big event for parents each summer.”
Added Jordan, “Our parents' night is actually (June 13), so we'll get feedback from them (but) the kids are having an awesome fun time – they come in ready to go to sanctuary for the opening rally, and at the end of the day, they're still having fun.
“That tells me that we're accomplishing our goal and that (youths) are hearing the Truth, and they're receiving it,” she said.
And that, said Father Mark Kusmirek, is why the programs are so important: Youngsters can explore the relationship with Jesus” in a fun way that bring them “closer to Christ.”
His parish at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church is in its fourth year in offering “Totus Tuus,” a week-long, peer-based ministry led by college students that incorporates fun projects with the teaching of scripture and Catholic tradition.
“I had heard of Totus Tuus, that it was well-received by several other parishes in our diocese, and that priests recommended it highly” because it focused on the Catholic faith, he said. “It really looks at the breadth of human experience through scripture and and Catholic tradition – it provides a good focus and moral compass for life in the 21st century.”
“Totus Tuus” – Latin for “totally yours,” taken from the ministry of Pope John Paul II, whom the priest said the pope felt “the need to give himself completely to the service of God's kingdom” – will be held from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily, July 7 through July 12 at the parish hall.
A $10 registration covers lunch and a water fun day; scholarships are available.
High school-aged youths are welcome to take part in a weeklong Life Teen camp, held nightly from 6-8 p.m. July 29 through Aug. 2, also at the parish hall. Registration is $10 per person, with scholarships available.
Life Teen, founded in the 1980s by a group of Catholic faithful in Arizona “captures the enthusiasm of the young and their desire to be faithful to Christ,” Father Kusmirek said. “They use music, events, skits and crafts to explore their faith and have a great time.”
Contact the OLS church office, 903-586-4538, to learn more.
Summer Bible programs are open to everyone, regardless of what church they belong to – or even if they don't have a church home, the trio said.
“It is a great outreach,” Jordan said, adding that “the more times (youths) hear (the Gospel) – the more different ways they hear it, the more of a chance it's being set into their hearts.
“And that's what we really want them to hear … 'God's with us … he takes care of us,” whether they are newcomers or old hands at VBS, she said.