SHERRILLS FORD â€” Most of the time, Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church is a typical church: sanctuary, Sunday school classrooms, Christian life center.
But last week, it was transformed into â€œGalilee by the Sea,â€ complete with a Biblical marketplace and tents to house the 12 tribes of Israel.
â€œItâ€™s different than traditional vacation Bible school,â€ said Pastor Joe Westfall. â€œThe kids are actually supposed to live the past, not only hearing and seeing but experiencing.â€
To that end, the sanctuary became a synagogue, the Christian life center a marketplace.
The kids and volunteers all wore costumes inspired by Biblical times, and even the crafts the kids made reflected the theme.
â€œTheyâ€™re making sandals out of carpet and rope,â€ said Brenda Killian, one of the organizers.
They also made jewelry and pottery, among other things.
In an effort to make the marketplace even more authentic, the kids had to pay with gold coins at each station before making their crafts.
Outside, tents were set up as homes in which the tribe members ate together as families would have in Jesusâ€™ time.
This is around the fifth time the church has used this theme for vacation Bible school and the third year in a row, so the adults know just how much work goes into creating â€œGalilee by the Sea.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve put in many hours,â€ Killian said. â€œWe really started planning it the end of January.â€
Although many of the materials used in the vacation Bible school come from Group Publishing, Inc., the volunteers â€” including around 100 people, mostly church members â€” still had a lot of work cut out for them in getting everything ready.
Working with a $3,000 budget, $1,000 of which went to food alone, the church managed to have everything ready to roll by Sunday, June 24.
Unfortunately, torrential rains and fierce winds drove the 12 tribes indoors on that first night.
But by midweek, the tribes were able to reclaim their tents.
Itâ€™s obvious that the kids have plenty of fun as they learned about what it was like to live in Biblical times.
According to Killian, thatâ€™s the reason Mt. Pleasantâ€™s vacation bible school has become so big.
â€œI think thatâ€™s why the only type of advertising we do is a mass mailing in the spring,â€ she said.
There were around 100 kids last year and 50 more this year.
One might think it would be difficult to hold that many kidsâ€™ attention for two and a half hours, but the folks at Mt. Pleasant didnâ€™t seem to have any trouble.
Aside from the 12 tribes, which were made up of kids ages 6 to 11 or 12, the volunteers divided the 3, 4 and 5-year-olds into four additional tribes that met in a separate part of the building.
At the beginning of each night, all the kids â€” little ones included â€” gathered in the sanctuary/synagogue to sing songs and watch a short drama put on and recorded by volunteers.
After watching the video, a volunteer asked the kids questions about the message of the drama. They clamored to be the one to give an answer.
Next, the kids went outside to eat with their tribes in the tents.
Later, they went in shifts to the marketplace, where crafts took them back to Jesusâ€™ time.
Westfall says the idea is to get all the childrenâ€™s senses connected to that time.
As the night wound down, the kids came in groups to the â€œsynagogueâ€ for more singing and a short teaching session with Westfall.
Finally, it was back to the present time, as another evening in â€œGalilee by the Seaâ€ drew to a close.
According to Westfall, the kids typically ask about vacation bible school months before it starts. He takes this is a sign that they look forward to coming each year for fun and a learning experience.
As for the adults, while they enjoy making it all happen for the kids, Westfall admits the week does take its toll.
â€œWeâ€™re all exhausted by the time itâ€™s over,â€ he said.
Yet many volunteers come back year after year.
Dale and Billie Ayers are not even members of Mt. Pleasant and this was their fifth year volunteering at vacation Bible school.
Billie says she likes being able to teach the kids about Jesus.
â€œItâ€™s just such a joy to know you gave them that little bit of information that theyâ€™ll remember for a lifetime,â€ she said. â€œWhen you know it clicks, itâ€™s all worth it.â€
As for the children, the marketplace seems to be the biggest attraction.
â€œEvery year I love it,â€ said Zack Weaver, age 12 and a member of Mt. Pleasant. â€œI especially like the marketplace. I just like making things in it. And I like the farmerâ€™s market because Iâ€™m always hungry after lunch.â€
For 11-year-old Gideon Vaughan, itâ€™s a chance to have fun and gain knowledge.
â€œI have something to do and I can learn about God,â€ he said.
by Allyson Levine