VBS: not just for kids

By Janet Lou-Hing

A personal story of coming to Christ

As the summer comes to an end, I’m sure there are so many faith-building stories from Vacation Bible School (VBS) camps held in churches all across Canada and beyond. I have a story to share that reminded me of the impact VBS had on my own faith journey.

Grace Presbyterian Church in West Hill, at the east end of Toronto, has had a huge community outreach through VBS every year. This year, I was leading the opening session each day where all the campers and staff gather for a great time of singing, drama, an intro to the Bible message and sharing the Gospel. Some parents or caregivers stay for this part and sit up in the balcony of our sanctuary to watch the excitement unfold.

As a church, we haven’t just prayed for the children coming, but for all the staff, youth, adults and families who are impacted by our VBS. This year, we had the joy of hearing a special way that God touched a young mother’s heart for Jesus.

Janet Lou-Hing leads the opening session of the 2018 VBS at Grace West Hill
Janet Lou-Hing leads the opening session of the 2018 VBS at Grace West Hill

At our closing barbecue celebration, a Christian mom from our community, but not from our church, came up to me to thank us. She had invited a friend to come to our VBS and bring her children. This Christian mom had been praying for her friend to come to a personal relationship with Jesus and so she also invited her to stay up in the balcony for the opening session. She prayed that the words shared and the songs sung would have a real impact on her.

On Thursday of our VBS, this mom said to her Christian friend, “I now know why Jesus had to die for me and I’ve been going to church all my years and never understood this!”

What an encouragement to hear these words! I told this Christian mom that our church had been praying for everyone at VBS and she said to please thank them. She said to me, “Your church has answered my prayer for my friend, and I am so thankful.”

We continue to pray that many from our VBS will also be on a new faith journey, especially as the fall begins.

Sowing the seeds: parents watch from the Grace West Hill balcony at VBS 2017
Sowing the seeds: parents watch from the Grace West Hill balcony at VBS 2017

All of this reminded me of my own faith story. Growing up, I had a wonderful childhood, but in our family, we never talked about God, and church just wasn’t a part of our life. In my late teen years, a close relative tried to push her faith on me continually and I resented it. I felt my life was great and I didn’t need God even if He was real. I was fiercely independent!

I had such a wall built up against anyone talking to me about faith that even when my dad was dying of a brain tumour and that relative asked me to pray for him, all I felt was anger toward her for that. I felt if there was a God, He was some distant power who had nothing to do with my life.

When my dad died, I was devastated as he was my hero who I adored. For a couple of summers before his death, I had been drawn to Grace Church’s VBS for our boys as it seemed like a great fun camp for them. Little did I know that God was going to use VBS for me too and from that my whole family! As a young mother, I stayed during the opening session and loved seeing all the children singing and enjoyed what was shared from the front.

What I also noticed was the incredible joy the staff had. I can still picture those smiling faces. I was watching them for sure. Now 30 years later, I can tell our own VBS staff, “You never know who is watching you …whose heart God is touching for Himself!” There was something I was being drawn to but I didn’t know what it was.

We returned to VBS the summer after my dad died and to my surprise, I decided to join the women’s group. I remember the leader saying, “Sometimes you can just feel God’s arms wrapped around you to comfort you.” The tears came in my grief of losing my dad. From that point on, I began searching to find out about this God I heard women in the VBS group talk about like they knew Him, like they had a personal relationship with Him.

Being independent and also needing to be convinced, I did most of my searching on my own first with the Bible, Christian books and Christian TV programs. I heard them explain what it really meant to be a Christian to invite Jesus into your life to accept His free gift of eternal life, etc.

I learned that Jesus made this possible when He died on the cross to take the punishment for all of my sins — all the wrong things that I have said or done or thought.

I still thought I was pretty good though — good enough to make it to heaven if it really existed and so I still didn’t see why I needed Jesus.

I had also become friends with the leader of Grace’s VBS. God knew I was stubborn when it came to faith and needed a lot of help! She invited me to a Bible study in her home. Again — surprising myself — I said yes. I told them I was still sitting on the fence regarding my faith as I wasn’t convinced yet. I had a happy comfortable life — great family, great friends, great job — but something inside me had been leading me to find out if there was more to this life than what I was experiencing. Having a relationship with God seemed strange but also might be amazing.

God used all of these different situations in my life to bring me to the point where I was ready to say yes — I needed and wanted a relationship with God through Jesus. I finally realized that I wasn’t as “good” as I thought I was when compared to God’s perfect standard. If God’s standard was as high as from the earth to the moon, I realized I was falling into the same group as everyone else on earth — we all fall short. I prayed to invite Jesus into my life to be my Lord and my Saviour — the most important and best decision I have ever made in my life. I thank God for how He used that special time of VBS to get me on His path for my life with Jesus. In sharing this, I pray that the story of the young mother at our VBS this year and my own faith journey, beginning 30 years ago also at VBS, will encourage churches in all the work they put into their own VBS and other outreach programs. We never know how God will be working through us in wonderful ways! God calls us to share His love and share the Gospel near and far. With that in mind, we can all pray together that He continues to guide and equip us in our local churches to help bring people young and old to Jesus. Bless you in all you are doing in and through your local church! God bless.