I taught fourth-graders in my church’s Vacation Bible School recently. It was my first effort as a VBS teacher. I learned a lot and remembered things I had forgotten.
I learned children are a doorway to Jesus’ kingdom of love and light. We adults get busy with things we think are so important. In the mornings, I taught VBS. In the afternoons, I worked on seminary business: strategic plans, administrative tasks, balancing budgets, catching up on work. A few times every afternoon I looked up from my computer and thought, “I understand a little better why we enter the Kingdom as children or we don’t make it at all.” Children have a wonderful capacity to love, trust, believe and accept.
Andy (not his real name), who reads science-fiction books when he wakes up early in the morning (He goes to bed at 8 p.m.), listened intently as I told the story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream – skinny ears of corn eating fat ones, skinny cows gobbling up fat cows and looking no better for it. Andy didn’t blink an eye; he saw nothing unusual in the story at all.
Bill had no trouble believing God is with us all the time and always eager to listen to our concerns and prayers. With a big smile, Bill introduced me to his imaginary friend, Jim; he is tall and wears a vest. Jill used to have an imaginary friend but said she “outgrew her,” stating it as if she were talking about the setting sun. Strangely, Bill has not named his imaginary dog.
Carol sleeps with a sheet and two blankets, as does Sophie, who was absolutely thrilled to hear her name in our memory verse for the week. Well, of course, we read it in Greek. Three of the children set alarm clocks and get themselves up in the morning. Bill’s mom pulls the sheet off him every morning. And Jane’s alarm clock is her dog!
I learned children are better Christians than adults. Children are as honest as the day is long. They can be incredibly kind and generous. Years of living does something harmful to people. It tends to beat us down, diminishing our capacity to believe the best and trust others. While children have a lot to learn, we adults have forgotten a lot of really important things.
I learned again accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is a really big deal. I do not pressure children to confess their sins and accept Jesus, but it is a wonderful privilege to talk with them about becoming a Christian. It was a sacred honor to answer their questions about “being baptized” and explaining the definition of “profess.”
To a child, they all described themselves as sinners and could easily connect sin with doing wrong things. While clear on sin, they were not so clear on salvation or how one becomes a Christian. I gave them the best answers I could, which hauntingly reminded me of what I say to students, “If you can’t explain how to become a Christian to a 9-year-old, you can’t explain it to anyone else either.” God has a wonderful sense of humor. Even so, sitting on the floor with children talking about “opening one’s heart to Jesus” is about as good as it gets.
I learned again the utter importance of good curriculum material for children. As fellow VBS teachers may have figured out, my church used LifeWay material this year: I substituted Genesis 1 for the material’s Genesis 2 because I know why the writers wanted to talk about “woman taken from a rib of man.” I skipped the ABCs of salvation because salvation worth having does not come from a “can,” and I inserted Lydia in the lesson – else the only biblical woman in the curriculum would have been Eve, “who messed things up!'” Lydia is a much better example of one coming to faith in Christ than Zacchaeus, and she became a splendid church leader.
I learned today’s kids connect well with the internet. When I gave homework assignments (of course), they went straight to the internet. I printed internet pictures of sycamore trees: the kind I grew up with in Virginia, those in England and a picture of an ancient Israeli sycamore fig tree. The kids were fascinated with internet pictures of Jericho, the archeological site, and the birth of stars as seen through the Hubble telescope. Every other day, I have to remind myself the computer is my friend; children have no such problem. It really is a brave new world.
Though the kids were great, I learned again why VBS is only one week long these days. I can only imagine what I must have put my teachers through many years ago when VBS was two weeks long.
I learned I can still sit crossed-legged on the floor for 45 minutes with children – and get back up. It just takes my legs a lot longer to recover.