Katie Massey, 5, sat at a table at First Baptist Church of Denham Springs with vacation Bible school classmates Blayk Smith, 6; Bella Bernard, 6; and Alena Thibodaux, 5, working on a coloring craft.
“We have a different craft for each class every day,” said Laura Dunlap, who was in her sixth year of running the VBS, along with co-director Jennifer Harris.
The Bible school has been steadily growing — this year First Baptist logged 272 students between the ages of 2 years and fifth grade, she said, and a large part of that growth came because of their decision some years ago to move the VBS from daytime to evenings.
“We scheduled it at 6 so people would have time to get home from work and bring their kids up here every evening,” she said.
But it also had another, unexpected consequence that has been a great benefit to the quality of the program they’re able to present, she said.
“We have 145 adult volunteers helping us out,” she said.
Not only are parents able to pitch in, she said, but all the working adults at the church who otherwise would be at work were swarming around the church and education building on July 16, pitching in wherever needed.
Dunlap said she had volunteers organizing and coordinating carpools for both drop-off and pickup, volunteers to help out with each group of students, volunteers to coordinate and rehearse the closing program, and volunteers who work on food, decorations, songs, and general child-wrangling.
Dunlap said the VBS is truly a community effort — and she means more than just the church community.
Businesses like Chili’s and Chick-fil-A in Denham Springs provided sponsorships or support of some kind, she said.
But the true blessing their church has today, she said, is in human capital.
Everybody is willing to contribute in their own ways. Church member Betty Delire commandeered the kitchen and has been helping coordinate potluck dinners provided by church members each night, along with snacks and beverages for all volunteers, teachers, students and parents who want to eat.
“We wanted to make it as easy as possible to be here and stay here,” Dunlap said.
But what truly has set their VBS apart, Dunlap believes, is the Rev. Leo Miller’s addition of a Gospel Missions Rotation station.
Every student above third grade spends a portion of their week at VBS in the Gospel Missions classroom, where church members put on age-appropriate plays to illustrate the ideas behind their faith, Miller said, and once the class has heard the Gospel story, he said, any child who would like to talk to someone about faith is paired with a counselor privately.
“If a child accepts Jesus as their personal savior, we go a step further, and we call their parents and let them know, too,” Miller said.
The rotation is meant to reinforce the spiritual experience they hope to create at VBS, which is important, as much as having fun is important, Dunlap said.
“I think a lot of us accepted Christ at Bible school,” she said.