Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007

They’re flocking to the Bible instead of the beach

Summer vacation gives faithful a chance to renew, reinforce their religion in classes geared toward fun

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Eleven-year-old Malik Stewart of Rockville talks about his drawing of a Bible verse while Roger Pope, another 11-year-old from Rockville, checks out Stewart’s work recently during vacation Bible school at Viers Mill Baptist Church in Wheaton.
At Viers Mill Baptist Church in Silver Spring, the theme during last week’s vacation Bible school was Game Day Central.

Organizers handed out foam fingers that read ‘‘Jesus is #1” and conducted activities weaving sports and religion, including a cheer: ‘‘Run, run, run the race! Keep, keep, keep the pace! Run the race, keep the pace. Keep your eyes on Jesus!”

Every year, religious area residents — children, teenagers and even adults — leave a week open for vacation Bible school, where activities are often based around a theme while keeping the overall focus on serving God.

Rodney Severance of Silver Spring brought his 5-year-old daughter, Ashley, to Bible school but said he would participate in the weeklong events as well to support his daughter’s involvement.

‘‘She enjoyed it so much last year,” he said. ‘‘We learned new things and it was a reinforcement of old values.”

Severance said the school also offers a reinforcement of what he and his daughter gain through regular church services.

Plus, he said, she can meet new children since the family does not normally attend Viers Mill Baptist.

For Viers Mill Baptist and numerous other Baptist churches in the county, the Game Day Central theme was repeated because the Southern Baptist Convention has supplied the churches with the curriculum.

In other congregations, themes are different, but the message is still very similar. At St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, the theme was the Great Bible Reef and the mission project focused on raising money for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for tree planting and oyster restoration.

‘‘We listened to what was going on both from God and the world and we care about that and we try to help in that,” said Mary Ann Summer, one of the coordinators of the vacation Bible school at St. Stephen Lutheran.

Summer also said that providing information to children in a more enjoyable format than Sunday school helps to engage them more.

‘‘[The goal is] to provide a really concentrated, joyous experience for children that it is not just a sit-down like a Sunday school lesson where you don’t have enough time to get into it as more than a story format,” she said.

Howertine Farrell Duncan, director of the Bible school at Viers Mill Baptist, said the focus there was on evangelism and learning about the primary Christian heroes. One of the main focuses also happens to be mission work, which Duncan said is very important for children and adults to learn about.

Pastor Robert Wilson of Viers Mill Baptist led a missions session with a group of adults and teenagers July 31 and discussed the opposition Jesus faced when he was alive. Just as Jesus persevered despite opposition, Wilson said members of his congregation also should persevere when spreading their faith to other people and other parts of the world.

‘‘It’s a challenge,” Wilson said. ‘‘Even here where we have freedom of religion ... we face opposition, too. The challenge is how to overcome opposition.”

Bible school directors also try to attract youth and parents from the neighborhood who may not go to church and want to learn more.

‘‘I guess we want to reach community children and that’s all community children and especially the ‘unchurched’ children,” said Bonnie Durant, director of vacation Bible school at Colesville Baptist Church in Silver Spring.

Ana Caceres, 11, of Silver Spring said one of the reasons she liked coming to vacation Bible school at Viers Mill Baptist was because she could bring a friend.

Caceres and her friend Janet Vasquez, 12, said they enjoy Bible school and were very energetic during the group’s music session when they learned a short dance routine while praising God.

‘‘It’s a lot of fun but you learn a lot,” Caceres said. ‘‘The teachers here are really energetic.”

In their class, teacher Catrina Williams introduced the idea of a clutch player on a sports team and explained how Jesus Christ was a clutch player as well.

Adults who participated at Viers Mill said the school provided a supplement to what they had grown up learning in church or at home.

‘‘I think the way they bundle everything up, it’s a good way to refresh,” said Tanya Castro, 33, of Gaithersburg.