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Rocky Railway

Rocky Railway

by The Reverend Dr. Roman D. Roldan on June 16, 2021

The theme of a Vacation Bible School builds slowly from day to day. This theme is emphasized through the music, activities, skits, arts and crafts, and snacks. By the time Friday rolls around, the theme will be a complete set of Bible memory points, engaging songs, and fun arts and crafts the kids get to take home. But the most important gift they will take is the gift of memories. Years from now, they will tell loved ones the amazing story of VBS 2021. The tale will start like this, “Remember that VBS when Mrs. Sarah and Mrs. Angela dressed like train engineers? Do you remember how much fun we had with Mrs. Megan and all her volunteers? Do you remember Fr. Roman’s suits?”

The unspoken text of that story will be just as important. For a whole week, our children heard how the power of Jesus helps us in our Christian walk. On day one, they learned that Jesus’ power helps us do hard things. They met Ananias who was tasked by God to do a very difficult job: Go to Straight Street and meet a fierce enemy of the church to pray for his recovery. Saul of Tarsus had been a persecutor of the early church and had presided (or witnessed passively) the execution of the first Christian Martyr, Stephen of Jerusalem. The terrified Ananias knew Saul could be dangerous and he resisted God’s commission at first, but God insisted, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15.)

The courageous obedience of Ananias taught our kids to trust in God’s power to help them do hard things. Children are challenged by hard things everyday: The loss of loved ones, confronting bullies in school, navigating divorce and blended families, coping with social anxiety, or learning disabilities, etc. They, and all of us, need the message of a powerful God who stands on the side of those who suffer, and whose help and love empowers the powerless to deal with life’s challenges.

On the second day, our little ones learned how Jesus’ power gives us hope. This point was made through the reading of Acts 27, Paul’s famous shipwreck experience. When traveling from Palestine to Rome to plead his case to the emperor, the rough seas threatened to capsize the small vessel. After battling the storms for three days, the crew was beginning to give up hope and Paul powerfully preached to them, “keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed... So, keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” His prophesy became a reality when the ship capsized near an island from which they were rescued.

Paul’s faith inspired the kids to realize that God has not left us alone in the universe, as though we are orphaned children. God dwells with us, and when things are truly hopeless and desperate, God stands ready to lend a hand. For those who believe in a powerful and loving God, there is always tomorrow when today is done, or as we told the children, “There is light at the end of the tunnel.” God uses the intervention of others to bring hope into our lives when things appear the most desperate and hopeless. This is the testimony of our faith. God uses our community to extend his loving hands to us at moments of darkness and despair.

On the third day, they learned how Jesus’ power helps us be bold. This point was made through the reading of Acts 3:1-4:31. In this lengthy passage, Peter and John preach about Jesus in the open, both at the Temple and in the courtyard of the Gentiles. Preaching openly in a hostile territory was dangerous, and in fact, both apostles are arrested and put in jail. With unwavering faith, however, both Peter and John continue to preach with boldness and confidence in God’s protection. At some point during their preaching, they heal a beggar asking for alms at the Temple gate. This phenomenal display of power in the name of Jesus is the result of their profound faith in the healing power of Jesus. Peter says, “‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Even though they were common fishermen when they first met Jesus, we now see them filled with Jesus’ power and displaying great courage and boldness.

Children often feel as powerless as those fearful disciples hiding behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. Being a Christian in a secular world is extremely hard. Our children are often afraid of being bullied or ridiculed if they speak about their faith in public. They often feel victimized and voiceless even among their own peer groups and schools. This day, they learned how Jesus’ power gives them the boldness they need to stand firm in their faith and to side with those who are often victimized and alone.

On the fourth day, they learned how Jesus’ power lets us live forever. This point was made through the reading of several Bible passages that talk about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his friends before the coming of the Holy Spirit: Matthew 28:17, Acts 1:3, and Acts 10:40-41. Some of the disciples doubted the resurrection, even while Jesus was standing near them. Death is difficult to accept and many, including our children, find the idea of dying sad and terrifying. On this day, we learned that all living creatures have a beginning and an end. Death is part of life, and no creature can avoid it or escape it. For those who believe in Jesus, however, there is life after death. Jesus’ conquest over death creates a path for us to spend eternity in the presence of God. Our Christian hope rests in the fact that for those who believe in Jesus, life is transformed, not ended.

On our final day together, the children learned that Jesus’ power helps us be good friends. We read Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47; 4:32-35. These passages describe in some detail the great spirit of fellowship and brotherly/sisterly love that characterized the early disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. They contributed to the care of the poor, the widows, and the orphans among them. They were of one mind and one spirit. And they spent much time together in prayer and worship. Life in community is the deepest call to which the Christians are called. God has a Church for his mission and this mission is nothing else than the salvation of the whole world. With Jesus’ power we can live in fellowship with our brothers and sisters, worshiping together and building God’s kingdom in our homes and towns. We are not called to live alone. Life happens in community. At its very center, a Church is a community of friends.

Our children are becoming more introspected and solitary. They spent exorbitant amounts of time staring at screens, while isolating more and more from peers and families. During this last day of VBS we invited the kids to remember that Jesus’ power helps us be and find good friends, and churches are great places to share our faith. Schools and playgrounds are our children’s mission field. VBS reminded them that there are many kids out there who feel isolated and need a visual reminder of God’s love for them. With Jesus’ power they can share their faith with boldness and reach out to others in love.

I want to end this article by thanking Angela Stengl, Megan Tumlinson, Sarah Quiroga and the scores of volunteers who helped us with the training of volunteers, the purchasing of supplies, music, snacks, arts and crafts, games, videography, in-church technology, skits, set-decorations, and so much more. This was a great VBS, and it could not have happened without your love and dedication. Many years from now, our kids will remember the events of this week, and they will give thanks to God for your love and dedication. This week, church was relevant in our kids’ lives, and for that I am deeply thankful!

May God continue to bless you,

Fr. Roman+ 

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