Wednesday, July 16, 2008

(Long) VBS Update

Well, I've now worked 3 nights with VBS at the Intl. Salvation Army, and it's been eye-opening for the most part. I feel an inkling of what I think Jesus experienced while ministering to people: highs and lows, uplifting and disheartening. It's been an emotional roller coaster. But oddly enough, I don't want to get off, because I know that so much is at stake.

In my previous post, I mentioned the bit about doing "missions at home," i.e. the city where you live in. To most people, it sounds like a less exciting or less important missions trip than to Africa or India. Or maybe like me, it's a concept with warm fuzzies, but not all that impressive.

My beliefs about the "missions at home" concept have since completely been overhauled. Our city is not a large city, but even ours has a significantly diverse population mix. We have a fast growing segment of Hispanics in the area, and there's no turning a blind eye to it. Many restaurants, buildings, signs, etc. now have Spanish text displayed. And regardless of whether the parents of the children I've been interacting this week are legal immigrants or not, the children are natural-born American citizens like you or me. I've had the unique opportunity to witness how these children are assimilating into American culture, but yet are still trying to retain their Latin heritage and customs. On one hand, a child lives their public "Americano" life, and on the other hand they live their private "Mexicano" life where only Spanish is spoken. It's a tough world where we live; chastising immigrants for not fitting in, but not doing anything to help them either.

The issues these elementary-aged children are dealing with are fed with the same images seen in the video games that occupy their free time. Gangs, drugs, violence, and crime...these are the dirty seeds that have been planted in these childrens' lives. A week of VBS will not undo these problems, but it can help, even if provide a fun escape from reality for a few hours.

The first night of meeting the children, I loved their energy, humor, and openness. The second night, we doubled our attendance and all hell seemed to break loose with noise, action, and rambunctiousness. We had fun learning more names and faces, and I began to bond more with particular children. Last night however was more serious and disheartening. I arrived early before VBS and began to arrange chairs and tidy the room. I could hear all of the children yelling, laughing, and playing in the dining hall where dinner was being served just down the hall. I prayed throughout our classroom that God would provide no distractions tonight, that an overwhelming calm would pervade the air here. I knew in a half hour that the story of Jesus' sacrificial death for each one of them would be told. I only hoped the twenty or so students would sit still enough to catch wind of His love for them.

God knows when or if each of those children will come to love Him or reject Him. I prayed for Satan to be bound from that place. I knew that "random" distractions would try to infiltrate our sacred time together. Being the younger of the helpers in our classroom has allowed the children to be more transparent with me. I'm not some old stodgy woman who grew up watching the radio instead of television. But so much has already changed between my childhood and theirs.

Thankfully, these children are not hardened...yet. But conversations I've had with the boys mostly worry me. They flash gang signs, write names of gangs on dippy foam visors in craft time, and look forward to "dying first." How I wish like the Crane Game I could pick each one of them up in my metal claw and drop them safely in another place and time. I told them, "there's no future in that guys..." I asked them what they want to be when they grow older and an optimistic chorus rang out of "doctor," "fireman," and "soldier in U.S. Army." I sincerely hope that their dreams will come true. But the hostile environment that surrounds them with the lure of "power," "respect," and "brotherhood," will surely call to them like the Sirens' song in Homer's Odyssey.

Our group of leaders had planned a more intimate way of speaking with smaller groups of kids to talk with them about what it means to accept Christ and what that looks like. Our plans were slightly foiled when after praise and worship time, the Captain gave an open invitation for children to come to the altar if they wanted to accept Jesus. You'd think this to be an amazing high watching hoards of children walk forward; but I saw the segue. Of friends asking friends, "come with me!" "do you wanna go? I don't know, do you wanna?" And then the timid children who watched others, slowly stood up and confusedly walked forward. My heart was so heavy, I prayed over some of the girls from my class who walked forward at the altar, praying that "Lord, please let this be real and sincere. Do they have any idea of what's going on here?"

I'm fully aware that children at the very tender age of 5 even can grasp the Gospel wholeheartedly and sincerely. And I also know that there were children up there last night who were making a genuine profession of faith. But I also know that children aim to please, both adults and children. I stayed afterwards with kids who had made "decisions," to help them fill out information cards. Meanwhile, one of our other class leaders went back with those children who had not. She told us after VBS ended last night, that several children mentioned that they had gone forward 4 or 5 times before. Another had mentioned, "Yeah, I've already done that, but what do I do now?"

Folks, children are confused. And I don't think this is a culture problem or limited to a certain socioeconomic status. Honestly, it's not limited to children either. For whatever reason, it's not hitting home that accepting Christ is a one-time moment, let alone what you do after you've realized your need for Him. There are all sorts of methods and salvation prayers concocted to provide ease, but to me, it's almost doing more harm than good.

Evangelism has done a bang up job of playing the short game, but not the long game. Discipleship after accepting Christ has got to be a priority of the Church. It is crucial to having new believers forge friendship within the body, training, education, Bible literacy, and overall Christian development. Is it any wonder that from George Barna's 2007 survey concluded "More than half of those who attend a Christian church (56%) say that they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith, and another 33% say that they are moderately committed." Pretty sad. We have plenty of pew-warmers, not enough "sold-out" Christians. For more telling statistics, check out

Tonight however, our class will resume its plan with small group time and discussing our own testimony and probing deeper with the children and their beliefs. I mentioned earlier that there's a lot at stake, and there really is. I have two nights left with these great children, and I don't want to miss a thing. It's exhausting work, but it's worth it.

Please pray for them if you have a chance.

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