The Great Bible Reef – Is Green VBS Good VBS?
Religion & Liberty Online

The Great Bible Reef – Is Green VBS Good VBS?

This year’s hot vacation bible school package is called The Great Bible Reef – Dive Deep Into God’s Word. The folks at BretherenPress are advertising The Great Bible Reef this way:

Dive into the ‘Great Bible Reef’ for an incredible VBS! Kids experience Bible stories through an interactive combination of music, art, science, games, worship, and drama in an underwater adventure. The ‘Great Bible Reef’ will have your kids swimming with delight as they explore all of God’s creation under the sea. Everything you need to dive right into the ‘Great Bible Reef’ is contained in this fun, aquatic pack!

Is an ecumenical, eco-awareness-driven summer bible school going to make a difference in your kids lives? That’s the question parents should be asking before they drop Bobby or Susie off at the church.

VBS is a pretty familiar deal to most church-going kids. For me it was Kool-Aid on the floor of a sweltering University Place Presbyterian Church classroom the first week of August. Lots of arts and craftsy stuff. A guy with a guitar and a beard and sandals and a loud shirt. I vaguely remember a couple of Bible verses that we had to memorize (John 3:16, etc).

Let’s be honest here. All due respect to Mom, VBS wasn’t any more important to me than the stuff we did the rest of the summer like riding bikes or zinging dirt clods at my brother with an old tennis racket or wading in the frog pond near my friend Kevin’s house or crawling down the hill to put pennies on the railroad tracks. But it was a diversion, and a less mischievous one. It was sorta like Lucky Charms cereal. It had marshmallows that tasted good, and brown stuff that was probably good for us one way or another. Maybe the girls liked it.

VBS was more about having something to do on summer vacation parents making sure kids had something meaningful to do on summer vacation. As this article rightly notes, things have changed dramatically since we were kids as far as being able to wander around unattended. VBS is becoming a cheaper-than-summer camp alternative many families, even those who don’t attend church regularly.

The adults are well meaning. When picking a theme for VBS there’s a real effort to feed kids something valuable from God’s word. Something that will stick in the heart as much as the popsicle sticks are sticking to the bottom of the shoes.

VBS is also a popular way to evangelize – for those churches interested in such things – or to add bodies to the pews. If the right folks are running it, Bobby Smith will get a chance that last day to hear the Gospel and give his life to Christ. Even better, maybe Bobby will rave about 1st Bapticostaluthermethoderian Church of the Holy Cross and how cool the pastor is to his folks, and maybe they will start coming to church too.

The Great Bible Reef continues this proud VBS tradition. Ultimately it’s all about two things: Being ecumentical and being environmentally-friendly. Google The Great Bible Reef and you’ll see ads from every protestant denomination you can think of who are using it this summer, so from that respect it’s met the ecumenical mark. There’s a Catholic version too. Mainline denominations (American Baptists, PCUSAers, etc) are in to the whole environmental theme. And what kid doesn’t like fish and oceans and stuff? At $70 bucks a pop it’s a pretty cheap way to get some clever ideas, some coloring books, bible stories, a few science experiments, snack recommendations, and a CD with a bunch of kids singing in two-part harmony about God making all the fishies in the ocean. All you have to do after that is find a few unsuspecting volunteers, add Kool-Aid, and stir…

I SAID VBS WASN’T much more memorable to me than the stuff we did the rest of the summer. But there was one unforgetable thing every year.

That was when my dad would take the week off from work and take us backpacking. Sometimes it was in the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula. Other times it was up in the North Cascades around Mt. Rainier, or along the Pacific Crest Trail. Instead of singing jingles about nature, we lay quietly in our sleeping bags, holding our breath while brown bears rooted around our campsite and left the undigested remains of blueberries in piles near our tent. Instead of coloring pictures of fish in the basement of a church we caught fat trout from a lake so clear you could comb your hair in it, and so cold brushing your teeth in it took your breath away. Dad showed us how to make fires from squaw wood. We ate freeze-dried pears and trail mix instead of graham crackers, got blisters on our heals, and whittled our own, perfect walking sticks from a pine bough.

And later on there was that lazy day when I took my daughter, then about five, snorkeling in a sandy coral basin on Guam. She clenched my outstreched arm with both hands for support, held her breath with pouched cheeks, and dipped her plastic Little Mermaid facemask forward into the water to watch black and white stripped surgeons and bright blue damsels dart around the white coral heads. She squealed, and both of us came up spitting and laughing when our smiles let the warm sea water into our masks.

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t think I got a single thing out of VBS other than Mom’s peace of mind for one blessed week every summer. I do know I’ll never forget what I learned from my parents about God and His world, and what I learned from my own kids when I experienced both first-hand with them.

I write all of this not to criticize busy parents or vacation bible school. The Eco-Wife and I have participated in our share of VBS’s over the years. But I would like to remind you parents out there that as good as it is, a week of nature-themed summer bible school pales in comparison to the way God could use you to teach your kids about His Word and creation if you took some time off to share it with them.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist.]