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June 27, 2019

“What is it? — a VBS Reflection

By Tony Tench

Community Vacation Bible School has been a great time of learning for children, as well as a timely reminder for all of us as we have served together. This year’s theme has brought us to an African game preserve where being in the presence of “wild life” has taught us to “roar” with joy because though “Life is Wild, God is Good!” And he is. His presence is grace for the journey before us and the very promise he makes to us.

True Stories from the Bible

From the songs we sang, to the Bible lessons taught, to the creative gizmos made and the games played, at every junction of this Africa-inspired journey, this truth came to life: When life is unfair or scary or filled with changes or sad or even the best we can imagine, God is Good to be present to:

Chavis Gash and Mary Gloege teach together from the Bible
  • Empower us to struggle for justice,
  • Raise us above our fears,
  • Bear us up and re-direct our hearts when things are changing,
  • Bring life out of death and heal our broken hearts,
  • Celebrate with us by providing all that is good to bless our lives!
Ichi ndi chiyani nkulinga muli awiri

Watching Harrison Burnette and Dara Bess dramatize our theme from the game preserve during worship each night, I have been reminded of the wisdom of some Chichewa proverbs I once learned from my African neighbors in Malawi. On the first night of VBS, as Irving Carter (Harrison) introduced Dara to bush life, they heard something out there and she exclaimed, “What is it?” And, who wouldn’t say such a thing when hearing an unexplained rustle?

That’s where the proverbs come into play. Our Chewa friends say, “Ichi ndi chiyani n’kulinga muli awiri!” This proverb translates: “‘What is it?’ requires two people.” In other words, it really doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to say “What is it?” if you are by yourself! If you want to hear an answer to your question then you better be traveling together with someone as you encounter all the “wild” that may be found along the path through the bush, and even more so along life’s journey.

Imagination Station applying Bible lessons

Another Chichewa proverb underlines this reality, viz. “Ukayenda m’chire wayendera zonse.” The proverb is a cautionary statement: “If you go into the bush, you go in there for everything (that’s there).” You might think you’ll take your bow and arrow into the bush to hunt a rabbit for your supper but when you get in there you just might run up on a lion or a hyena or who-knows-what-might-be-waiting! So, you best be ready when you go. Yes, “Life is wild.” Jesus made sure we would know this truth — that there’s danger and disappointment and discouragement that has to be dealt with in this life. He said, “In this world you will know trouble…” (Jn. 16:33b). Then, he quickly added, “…But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (Jn. 16:33c). Yes, though life is wild, God is always, always, always Good!

Singing in Worship

It’s for this reason that the ROAR curriculum has been right on track to teach us this week that we need God to be the one who walks the trail with us! He is our good, good Father who is able to answer all the “What is it?” moments of our lives. As we follow Jesus (who is known in Matthew’s Gospel as Emmanuel, “God with us”), God prepares us daily and reveals to us the steps we are to take to live into his Kingdom plans for our lives. Our children have been singing the following words during our VBS worship and our prayer is that they allow these words to impact their everyday journey in life: Oh, I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide, but I know we’re all searching for answers only you provide ’cause you know just what we need before we say a word. You’re a good, good Father….and I’m loved by you! Please, pray with us for the 115 children we have encountered this week with this good news!

Many of our Community VBS Team

Along our African trek this week, we have known a genuine safari njema (good journey) because we have not gone it alone. We have been blessed to have our brothers and sisters in Christ by our sides as we have partnered together for Community Vacation Bible School. From their conversations in a seminary classroom Missy Smith, Savannah Craig and Richard Hemphill envisioned a VBS partnership that has produced the blessing of Central United Methodist Church, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, and First Baptist Church working together! It has been good serving with our friends in Christ from our Uptown Shelby neighborhood.

Akusenza madzi: Children learn to carry “water” on their heads to emphasize the need for their offerings this week to help provide good water for a village

The African continent these days is host to the growing center of global Christianity — a reality born from an environment that knows the wisdom of the aforementioned proverbs and the truth of the scriptures we have encountered this week during Vacation Bible School. Through it all those African sisters and brothers have modeled for us the truth of Jesus’ teaching to love God and neighbor–a truth our Community VBS effort has looked to model this week. This proverb, that shows up in varied languages on the continent, rings true in Christ-formed ears, “Munthu ndi munthu chifukwa cha anzake” – “A person is a person because of his neighbor.” Even when life is wild we have been created to bless our neighbors, we are not here alone. We are here on this earth to journey together and live out the love of a good, good Father who loved us so much that he sent his Son to set us free from the bonds of sin and death.

Father, thank you for your goodness to walk alongside us on the path of life. Though we will encounter the wildness of this world, help us to be ever-looking to you to provide what we need with each step. And, Father, help us to continue to reach out to our neighbors as partners in sharing your love in Shelby. Let us be quick to stand shoulder to shoulder with those struggling around us so that they have someone near in the “What is it?” moments that inevitably come our way!

KidVid sessions made specific life applications of the Bible lessons
Kids engaged the Bible throughout the week
Preschoolers “roaring” to learn