What do you do with energetic, eager children over the summer? What will keep them busy and encourage faith development all at the same time? Vacation Bible school is something most children love: fun activities, stories, snacks, friends. What’s not to love?
Bible schools began around the turn of the last century when several denominations created summer programs that included worship, Bible stories, crafts, cooking, games, and other activities. According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), Mennonite Bible schools cropped up the 1920s in Wakarusa, Ind.; Hesston, Kan.; Elkhart, Ind.; Portland, Ore.; and Scottdale, Pa. Interest increased and there were 150 Mennonite summer Bible schools in 1938. By 1963 there were 835 Mennonite Bible schools attended by 100,786 children and taught by 11,033 teachers.
GAMEO notes that as Mennonite Bible schools increased, curriculum was developed by the Mennonite Publishing House (forerunner to MennoMedia). Writers, artists, and editors were hired to create experience-related materials that were centered on the Bible. This VBS curriculum was used not only in Mennonite programs, but more than two-thirds was sold to other denominations. It was translated into German and French for Bible schools in Europe, and into Spanish for Bible schools in Puerto Rico and Latin America.
Though numbers have declined and are no longer near the amounts cited for 1963, there are thriving VBS programs concerned with children’s spirituality and faith formation. MennoMedia continues to develop quality VBS materials that focus on the Bible and children’s experiences. Written from an Anabaptist Mennonite perspective, materials are appreciated by many. Approximately one-third of the purchases are by churches of other denominations.
MennoMedia’s VBS 2013 materials focus on an essential aspect of life—breathing. Take a moment right now and focus on your own breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Next time you breathe in, say silently: “Let everything that breathes” and when you exhale, say: “praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). You have just said a breath prayer that children who participate in VBS will pray.
Breathe It In: God Gives Life focuses on Bible stories of breath, air, and life. At the beginning of Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth. God takes dust, breathes the breath of life into it, and a person is created! And in Acts, God breathes life into a young church. These are just two of the stories covered in the materials, each one acknowledging God as the source and giver of life.
Veva Mumaw at Olive Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., appreciates the MennoMedia materials. She said, “This VBS curriculum contains Anabaptist theology and fits our view of instilling faith in our children. It is exciting and offers creative and flexible activities.” You can see learn more and see Bible memory videos at www.mennomedia.org/vbs.
We’re already hard at work on VBS 2014 materials, Welcome! Give and Receive God’s Great Love, which features stories of hospitality. It will be available in October so be sure to look for it for NEXT summer.
Get your church and community involved in Bible school and join the tradition of spreading God’s love during the summer months. And we’d love to hear stories/see photos from your church’s VBS program.
Mary Ann Weber
Managing Curriculum Editor