The Boardwalk Chapel resumed weekly neighborhood VBS this summer— a ministry suspended since the coronavirus lockdown. We are hoping for staff to begin to establish relationships with these neighborhood children and show them the love of Jesus, especially those staff members who will be here until the end of summer.
On the first day, the sun beat down on the concrete. The afternoon was off to a slow-moving start, while staff in red shirts milled about in groups, finally starting a game of four-square. Meanwhile, a couple children, members of the local OPC church, went door to door to spread the word and invite their friends to play.
Kids began to appear, ones and twos curiously coming out of the houses.
Games got organized right away. Smaller kids played hide-and-seek, or scribbled with bright sidewalk chalk. The pictures sat dusty and colorful against brick-colored pavement.
“It’s a great ministry. We go to a housing project near Wildwood—it’s got a big courtyard in the middle, and there are all these kids who don’t have anything to do all summer,” said Chris Byrd, the Chapel’s evangelism director, who heads up the VBS project. “They’re in their apartments, doing nothing, or just walking around the courtyard. There’s a playground. So we bring chalk for the little kids and a kickball. We do a big kickball game with the older kids. We play games with them for forty-five minutes, and then have snacks and a Bible lesson.”
Chris and two other staff members walked around the corner toward an area where they saw one or two kids. A kid rounded the corner, looked across, and saw all the Chapel staff people playing foursquare. His eyes got big, and he raced back to his friend, shouting, “Whoa! There’s a whole bunch of people playing a game here!” They both started running toward the action to find out what was all about.
“There were probably a dozen kids who played with us,” said Chris. “It means a lot to them to have older kids come and play. They’re children, who are very open to the Gospel. For the first lesson, we used the Gospel bracelet, and we talked about God, sin, and forgiveness through Jesus’ blood.” Chris explained to them what each bead on the bracelet represented: red for Jesus’ blood, and so on. “They were all really listening. We’re planting seeds in the hearts of young kids. There are fewer barriers to the Gospel in their hearts. The other thing that’s neat about it, is that it’s a continuing ministry. We go back every week, so we can build relationships with the kids. And not only week to week, but actually, summer to summer. Because those kids live here.”
Even as some staff members depart across the weeks, a group of Chapel staff make their way to the children on another Wednesday, carrying bags of sidewalk chalk, a big blue ball, snacks, and water. Tom sets down a 5 gallon water container. A crowd of children surrounds him as he mixes in Gatorade powder.
“Who wants to try it first?” Tom asks.
Two children chime in, begging to be first. Tom gives each a glass and they’re quick to let him know he hasn’t added enough Gatorade yet.
A game of kickball starts up again, until the air-inflated ball pops in the middle of the game. Soon it’s time for snacks, water, and a Bible lesson.
The kids settle down under the tree. There are fewer kids than last week, and more snacks—some of the children ask for seconds. Under the shade of the tree, Chris teaches the first verse in the Bible.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Year to year, when Chapel staff first started up the summer VBS, connections were made. “Over those five years, we saw kids grow up and built relationships with them,” Chris Byrd said. “There’s one, he’s probably 17 or 18 now, but he still messages me asking when I’m in Wildwood. We gave Bibles to them, talked to them, and shared Christ. One of the kids who was here this past Wednesday, was there in 2017 or 2018. Now he’s 12 years old. One of the things I want to do more this year is develop longer-term relationships, evangelistic relationships, where we’re sharing the Gospel in the context of ongoing interactions of friendship. This is a great way to do it.”