By: Bethany Brown
Production Editor | Lifeway VBS
Last year, I got to research VBS history for the book, It’s Worth It. I loved literally getting my hands dirty with dusty, old documents and reading the words of VBS pioneers all the way back to 1898! For weeks I drove my coworkers crazy with stories about how these men and women set out to make sure kids had a safe place to go in the summer, and a more thorough education about Scripture and the gospel. Then the project ended, the book was published, and my teammates breathed a sigh of relief. But I came away with one lasting impression. VBS is a resilient force—surviving epidemics, economic depressions, and wars alike.
The most remarkable data I came across was from World War II. I pulled those papers out again this week, wondering if they held any wisdom for these unusual times. Not surprisingly, I found plenty! Here are six lessons gleaned from wise thinkers of the 1940s.
Lesson 1: We Will Have to Change
My initial response to the recent quarantine was to hope all this craziness would disappear and we could get back to normal. I even waited two weeks before I bought a monitor to help me work from home, because I didn’t want to admit things had changed. But those doing VBS during WWII understood that a “normal” VBS wasn’t going to be possible for them, and they adapted. If we exercise our God-given wisdom and follow the guidelines of the authorities, we won’t be able to do VBS as usual this year either. We’ll likely have to change to later dates or reimagine what VBS looks like. Our team at Lifeway has developed a free eBook to walk you through some of those possibilities. Check that out HERE.
Lesson 2: Be Flexible and Creative
Homer Grice, head of Lifeway’s VBS at the time, wrote a list of possible changes to VBS in 1942. He mentioned challenges ranging from a shortage of craft supplies to a shortage of teachers who might be working in wartime jobs. I was surprised to see he didn’t write about how to find substitute supplies, or how to convince new teachers to volunteer. Instead, he told people to adjust to what they had. If they couldn’t do crafts, then extend other rotations. If they didn’t have enough teachers, double up on assignments. What areas of your VBS might require some flexibility or creativity this year? Will you need to equip families to host a neighborhood VBS or provide a fully digital option? It’s OK for things to look different, so widen your thinking!
Lesson 3: Work Together
Grice suggested churches having VBS the same week share available cars to transport kids and conserve gasoline. In a day when churches often compete for kids, what would it look like to drop the competition this year and cooperate? Is there a church doing a backyard VBS in a neighborhood where some of your kids live? Do you have technical resources smaller churches around you don’t? Ask God to show you ways you can work together with the whole body of Christ to make sure kids hear the gospel this summer!
Lesson 4: Think Bigger
VBS didn’t just happen in the U.S. during World War II, but internationally. For many years the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible Schools maintained a network for accomplishing VBS worldwide. Their report from 1940 shows many VBS organizations were still operating, and many were forced to think beyond VBS to care for kids. Consider this amazing story from France’s VBS organization, and ask how you could reach out to touch your community in practical ways through VBS. Maybe it’s as simple as adjusting your crafts or missions project to support medical professionals and delivery workers.
“We are passing through severe trials. As you know we have done our best to take children far from danger and at the end of May we gathered 200 children in seven houses here in the South in the mountains. We have provided them with Christian leaders. But most of those children were obliged to flee and often in dangerous conditions. And now, for a certain number of our children we do not know where are their parents, for it is forbidden to write from the invaded France to other parts of France.”
Lesson 5: Trust God
The same 1940 report had a section from Germany that gave me goose bumps. It said, “an illuminated card with the following message has been received, ‘Christ is powerful among you and whether He is crucified in our weakness yet He lives in God’s strength, and if we are also weak in Him, yet we live with Him in God’s strength.’” The grammar may be garbled from translation, but the message is clear. Even from the center of the worst situation imaginable, we can trust God to be in control. He had a plan in 1940 Germany, and He has a plan for us in 2020. We can trust Him. He is faithful.
Lesson 6: It’s Worth It
I keep coming back to the title of that book. In the course of publication, we clearly found that VBS is still worthwhile. But is it still worthwhile during a pandemic? The answer to me is as clear now as it was during WWII: “[Children] have never needed the Vacation Bible School as much as they need it now” (Homer Grice).
“In a world at war, this organization has a great responsibility,” stated the 1940 international report. “We are pledged to world children to place ‘Christ in the heart of every child.’ Children themselves challenge us … when grown older, they must rebuild the world.”
I believe we have the same responsibility toward children today. We must share the gospel with them, and we must equip them to handle an uncertain world the only way we can, by helping them build their lives on Jesus.