VBS again and again

June 16, 2021


In her tiny six-year-old voice, she bubbled over and shouted, “I love Vacation Bible School! It’s the best part of my whole year!” The other little girls chimed in with, “me too” as they flapped their hands in the air and twirled in circles to punctuate their joy. In the class next door, you could hear little boys screaming, “Bugs! Tigers! Monkeys!” It all meant the same thing. They love VBS. 

An hour earlier, I stood in my kitchen and told my husband, “This is the last day I’ll ever help with VBS in my life. I’m worn slap out.” A week of hopping up and down off the floor and dancing to jungle music had taken its toll, so I finished my coffee and popped Tylenol in my mouth and headed out the door in the sweltering morning air. My husband called out, “you say that every year!” He was correct. The dancing and giggling little girls made me think, “I want to do this for 80 more years — if not more.” 

I know every trick to making popsicle stick disciples and can close my eyes and make the ten commandments out of homemade clay while singing “Baby Moses was a basket case.” 

From the time I was too old to attend Vacation Bible School, I became a teen helper, then a teacher. I’ve covered every aspect of the program in a half dozen churches, one foreign country, campgrounds, city parks and underneath a house on stilts in a remote coastal town. Friends from six different churches merged together at an apartment complex a few years ago to produce one of the most amazing Vacation Bible Schools I’ve ever experienced. 

The simplicity of hearing the message that God loves you is soaked up by the children, and yet, hearing it again in this setting somehow refreshes even the most theologically sophisticated adult. Along with the children, the teens leading the games, popsicle moms, Dads dressed like cowboys and grandmothers passing out water bottles, all love hearing the stories again and again. 

Often, new visitors hear about God’s love for the first time, and it may in fact, be the only time they ever hear about the bravery of David or Joseph’s colorful coat.  

When these children, who have been scared to death by the pandemic and a volatile social climate, grow up to be our future leaders, I want to make sure they understand the concept of, “be ye kind, one to another —” among other things. 

When a grinning snaggletooth child recites, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . .” everything in the world feels right. There’s hope for our future politicians, parents, business owners and educators because someone took the time to teach them love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If our current world leaders had learned these things while making a little lost lamb out of a toilet paper roll and cotton balls, we may just live in a happier world today.

If we don’t captivate our children now, the world will surely pull them in later. In the years to come, I may only send cookies, cut out nametags or pass out craft supplies, but somehow, someway, I’ll always help with Vacation Bible School. With strong coffee and Tylenol, all things are possible.

 This story first appeared in AL.com

To read about past VBS experiences, click:

Pop up VBS

Why I teach VBS

  • Living in Biloxi,, MS and Daddy driving my sister, Diane, and I to VBS & Sunday School on Keesler A.F.B., makes me still smile. My Daddy faithfully dropped us off each time, while I now realize my Momma got a breather from everyone. My goal was to earn that VBS pin, in which, one had to have the required number of stars for each attendance. I worked hard for those pins, but thanks to my Grandma, Carrie Bertha, in Asheboro, NC and a faithful United Methodist attendee her whole life, my Daddy knew he had to equip his kids with an early desire to learn about the good Lord! That’s why I am who I am today and so thankful to VBS, Sunday School, and my Daddy!
    (I am reading “Exploding Hushpuppies” & love it! Thanks for signing it & meeting you at the Page & Palette in Fairhope when Patti Callahan, “Surviving Savannah” was there! ?)

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Hi Debbie! I remember meeting you and thinking the two of us could talk for hours! So glad you like the book and I love hearing your memories of VBS. We never had pins, but how I wish we would have. I love a little “bling” and would have behaved better if promised something shiny! – ha! Hope you are having a great summer.

  • Loved your column about VBS… brings back lots of memories- and thanks for keeping on keeping on.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Thanks so much Susie. I appreciate each and every note! VBS never really leaves our hearts, does it?

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Thanks Margaret!Amen!

  • Roxanne Bernard says:

    Some of my happiest childhood summer memories were VBS! 5 years when we were a small church plant the AME church down the street invited our church to attend their VBS, including adults. I met the most wonderful woman there named Sister Gwendolyn who said, “Sweetie, come sit by me.” Every single Friday since then for FIVE years, she has called and prayed for me over the phone. What a blessing Gwendolyn is in my life.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      That’s just cool. What a blessing! I’m convinced the “helpers” get as much out of it as the children. Actually, I know of a church that has Vacation Bible School for senior adults. They have music, a short sermon and even a craft. I’m sure they have snacks. But all have precious memories of a childhood experience.

      • Roxanne Bernard says:

        Leslie Anne, you are a blessing in all those children’s lives. They will remember you forever! It’s ironic I read this as Claudette was coming in …the VBS song I still remember is “the Lord said to Noah there’s going to be a flood-y flood-y, get those children out of the muddy, muddy”! Praying you all are safe.

        • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

          Thanks so much Roxanne. We did have a floody-floody here today, but nothing too bad or too severe. Brewton Alabama had a tornado and got the worst of the Tropical Storm, so we’re praying for them. Keep singing those VBS songs. They never get old!

  • Our church is starting Children’s Church again. It was so wonderful to see those little faces in a group last Sunday. We learned Jesus Loves Me in sign language. Our world is getting back to “normal”.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Those little faces are the hope we need! So glad for you and your church.

  • Thank you for the hope and promise of tomorrow

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Thanks for reading!

  • Savan wilson says:

    Loved Karyn’s comment. I did more VBS as a teen than anytime else. So glad it is still part of our church calendars!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      I’ll bet the children loved you — they always like the teenagers. Yes, glad it’s a priority for many!

  • Karyn Tunks says:

    Yes, I DO VBS! Growing up, my family did not attend church. I don’t mean we didn’t attend church regularly. I mean we were not allowed to attend church! So when a neighbor convinced my mother to let my sister and me attend VBS at a neighborhood church, it was a very big deal. My mother must known that all it takes is a seed being planted to grow a little girl into a fierce, Jesus-loving woman because that is exactly what happened at that summer VBS.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Oh, how I love this. Don’t we all want to be that neighbor who loved you enough to invite you to VBS?

  • As I prepared last night for 1st graders in next week’s VBS, I said NEXT year I’ll volunteer for snacks—I teach adults for a reason (it doesn’t involve popsicle sticks!). Then I read your words this morning, cried and prayed for those sweet children and realized the message and the love that goes with it are what count. Thank you!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Oh, thanks Karen. Go get those children, love them and have a great week!

    • Karyn Tunks says:

      {crying heart emoji}

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