When in Rome: Cape vacation Bible school uses first-century market to teach

Saturday, August 15, 2009
Carmen Tapley, left, Madison Weston and Lucie Lewis sing a song called "For Unto You" in a class for 2-to-4-year-olds during a vacation Bible school Thursday at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau.

Lynwood Baptist and Fruitland Community churches traveled back to first-century Rome through the churches' vacation Bible schools this summer.

Kenn Riehn, Lynwood Baptist's children's pastor, said the church's vacation Bible school in mid-July was themed "Rome Marketplace: Paul and the Underground Church." Hallways became tunnels and rooms were transformed into a cave that housed the underground church.

"We went back to Rome during the days of Paul, and Paul was under house arrest. The kids would go into the underground church that was fixed up like a cave," Riehn said.

The 95 children enrolled at Fruitland Community Church's vacation Bible school last week also paid a visit to an imprisoned Paul and a makeshift underground church. Pastor Mike Parry said they had 67 staff members, many of whom dressed in costume and led the children to the different stations.

"It was just fun for the kids to get to be part of that and create a first-century atmosphere," Parry said. "I think it takes the kids back to the Bible times and has some real hands-on learning. They begin to see through the skits, interacting with Paul and the first-century Christians, so to speak."

A class for 7-to-8-year-olds paints hand bags during craft time at a vacation Bible school called "Going to the Promised Land Thursday at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau. (Elizabeth Dodd)

Outside both churches, the children could visit the Rome marketplace. At least 95 participants enrolled in Fruitland, where they learned to do scroll writings and helped build an aqueduct. At Lynwood Baptist, the children talked to merchants and bought materials to make crafts. Riehn said the children made everything from togas to head-wreaths to candles.

While the activities were designed to be fun, they all carried a definite message.

"Of course, Rome back in those days worshipped thousands of gods. So the merchants would ask the children about worshipping only one god," Riehn said. "It was all about defending their faith this year. In a skit, I was chained to Brutus. When Brutus made fun of me, the children would get in his face and tell him how Jesus was a good man and defend the Christian faith."

Each morning at Lynwood, a skit would introduce the day's theme. Riehn said one drama focused on a man caught stealing bread from one of the stands in the marketplace. He was arrested and taken away, but the bread shop owner forgave him and got him out of jail. The theme for that day was forgiveness.

"We set the theme for the day and tried to reinforce that throughout the days through sights, sound, smells and everything," he said with a laugh. "We even had animals."

Rick Doan teaches 8-to-13-year-olds about Jesus by telling the story of a man who witnessed Jesus heal his daughter. The class was held during a vacation Bible school called "Going to the Promised Land" Thursday at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau. Another vacation Bible school in Cape Girardeau recentlyhad a Roman marketplace theme. (Elizabeth Dodd)

Although the session was aimed at school-age children in fourth grade and younger, Riehn said fifth- and sixth-graders could volunteer as helpers.

"We make them leaders at our VBS, and they really participate and do a great job. It keeps them in VBS," he said. "For a lot of them, if we didn't have them in a VBS role, they probably wouldn't come out because they would think it was kid's stuff."

Riehn said 396 children, parents, church staff and volunteers participated this year.

"We try to draw as many people that want to help. It takes a lot of people to put that on. We try to get everyone in the church involved. It really is a team effort."

Parry agreed that vacation Bible school is a team-building experience for everyone involved.

"It does bring camaraderie among the staff and the kids. I just think it's a great event for the whole church," Parry said. "Folks often talk about kids being the next church, the next generation. That's true to a point, but we think they are a very important part of the church now. I can't imagine the church without youth. It's very significant and important in the life of our church."

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