by Cori Hilsgen
Fifty years after American astronauts landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, Vacation Bible School participants and volunteers were busy traveling “To Mars and Beyond” Aug. 4-8 at Resurrection Lutheran Church.
While Americans remembered the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, 80 Vacation Bible School participants were busy learning about scripture stories that included “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” “Queen Esther Takes a Stand,” “The Good Samaritan,” “Jesus Heals 10 Lepers” and “Jesus Comforts Friends on the Way to Emmaus.”
Organizers and children, ages 4 years old through sixth-grade from the St. Joseph area gathered for the ecumenical event that has been taking place for 36 years.
Vacation Bible School organizers Marian Bach and Laura Gorder from the Church of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Rachel Kuebelbeck from Resurrection Lutheran Church and the Rev. Bruce and Joy Tessen, husband and wife from Gateway Church, coordinated the event with between 35-40 volunteers to make it a fun, faith-filled experience for the children.
Bach said the group did some “power launching” and discovered what it means to “go beyond with faith, boldness, kindness, thankfulness and hope.”
“We are discovering wonderful things just as the astronauts did 50 years ago,” she said. “God’s wondrous creation. We, too, are taking ‘one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’ Each child at Vacation Bible School is learning about being filled with faith, going boldly with courage, kindness, thankfulness and hope for all the world.”
Children learned by daily rotating activity stations during the five days. Activities included Bible stories, music, snacks, games, crafts and science experiments relating to the theme.
On the second night of the event, participants learned about Queen Esther.
“Although Queen Esther lived thousands of years ago, her bold and courageous actions still inspire us today,” Tessen summarized. “In her new position as queen, Esther took a very risky action in standing up against evil Haman, the king’s second in command. Risking her own life, she informs the king of Haman’s evil plan to kill her and all of her people. Her act of bravery and boldness saved all of God’s people from certain death.”
He commented about how participants can be like Queen Esther in their own lives.
“At times, we have been given the opportunity to stick up for someone else, or to speak up about a situation that’s unjust,” Tessen said. “In seizing the opportunity to do so, maybe our bold and courageous action will inspire someone else years from now – like Esther’s example has for us today.”
Second- and third-graders wrote the following words on pieces of paper “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.” They were then instructed to crush those pieces of paper into a ball, stand on opposite sides of a line and throw snowballs of paper at each other.
Participants giggled at the thought of throwing snowballs in August and then tossed the words back and forth at each other.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were busy eating snacks of brightly colored fruits, which reflected the jewels that Queen Esther wore on her crown.
Kindergarten and first-graders were busy drawing and creating a galaxy to remind them that God created the Universe.
Other participants were busy listening to Tessen tell the story of Queen Esther, practicing some of the songs of the week or doing other activities.
This year’s theme song was “On Our Way To Mars and Beyond.” Other songs included “Even when the Lion’s Roar,” “Safe Inside Your Love,” “God of Wonders,” “We Thank You,” and “Love that Makes the World Go ‘Round.”
“This year’s ‘vector verse’ or theme is from Ephesians 3:20 ‘Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us…'” Gorder said.
“Our crafts, games (and more) all focus on teaching children they can accomplish tasks that seem impossible by asking God’s help to use the courage and strength he has given us,” she said.
Gorder said each year Vacation Bible School asks for help and by “God’s grace,” they get everything they need and more, much like Ephesians 3:20.
“We ask businesses of St. Joseph to continue to support this wonderful ecumenical endeavor in a way that works for their business as well,” Gorder said. “Monetary donations are always welcome, but we also welcome help with finding boxes, food, craft supplies for the week.”
She said they have the support of Vacation Bible School volunteers from the St. Joseph, Sartell and St. Cloud area. Some of these families are not members of the sponsoring churches but love the program and come back year after year. This year, in particular, the program had three people returning for their 27th year as volunteers or participants in Vacation Bible School, along with at least four volunteers who are new to the program.
Kuebelbeck said this year’s theme verse is very symbolic of the St. Joseph Vacation Bible School program.
“Participants come from different backgrounds and with differing understandings of God, but with God more is possible than we can imagine,” she said. “For over 35 years, St. Joseph has hosted a community religion program that is a fun place to learn about God with friends and caring adults. Everyone is welcome. We focus on our similarities and not our differences. Every year our outstanding volunteers plan and carry out brilliant ideas that build community.”
Gorder said there is not a person involved with the event who is paid.
“Each and every one of our volunteers give of their God-given gifts and talents to share with Vacation Bible School.” she said. “This is how they show the children the gifts God has given them as individuals and their call to responsibility to share those gifts with others.”
Many area children have been attending the event since they were 4 years old. Some of them continue to return as volunteers when they are in seventh grade and older.
Gorder said she watched her daughter play with another student after the program ended, while everyone was cleaning up, and said many new relationships are formed before, during and after the five evenings together.
“If it were not for the volunteers and kids, those children wouldn’t have built such a great friendship,” she said. “We are a very blessed community to be able to share this week together with the help of businesses and the people of our local community.”
This year’s service project for the week involved collecting books to be donated to Anna Marie’s Alliance and Place of Hope Ministries in St. Cloud, first-year teachers at Kennedy Community School (to help build their classroom libraries) and local Little Libraries.