Friday, June 24, 2011

From Russia, with Love; No Matter What

It happens every year just about this time; not long after school lets out, usually the third week of June. It is always the same time of day; every morning from 8:45 a.m. It always lasts from Monday through Friday. It occurs in several locations, actually. However, for the past twelve years, (yes, I said TWELVE years), it has been at the same very special location for the Hott family. And, it has been here for the past 12 years that I have had the privilege and honor to be the “Drama Mama” in Vacation Bible School, or “VBS!”

Do you remember those days? This time of year, one can see signs in towns all over the country -- invitations for children to go to Vacation Bible School. Parents will be hauling kids off for a week that somewhat represents a “Bible Day Camp”. Now, I must tell you that the majority of my 45 years have found me involved with a VBS in some capacity, be it child participating, a parent, to a volunteer helping with everything from Crews Leader, crafts, snacks, to story telling. So, I have reserved a week, sometimes more, to a VBS; let’s just say that it is something that I grew up with and has also become a summertime feature for my wee Hott ones as well.

So, why? Why, since I have been involved in the tradition of VBS year after year, this year – PandaMANIA VBS 2011! – has taken on an entirely different significance? Why is this VBS any different than the rest? I’ll try to explain.

I must tell you all, and please don’t tell Pastor Andrew, that I feel a bit guilty about having so much fun doing VBS at First Church. Honestly, somewhere or somehow it is surely looked upon unfavorably for not just me but all these kids to be allowed to get this crazy in church. Seriously! For some reason, the Children’s Coordinator, Ms. Sarah, allows me to dress up in just about anything to tell kids, yes… to tell kids stories in the Bible!

And the kids! Oh the kids! I wish you could see the faces of these kids as they line up outside the door, waiting to enter the Bible Adventure Room. Eyes wide and gigantic grins; one would think that they were waiting in line at an amusement park to ride a world famous roller coaster! The anticipation is SO great; you might wonder if a popular Disney star like Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber was inside! Excitement levels are so high… Is it tickets to the final Harry Potter movie? Or could it be a performance from their favorite gymnast, Shawn Johnson, or a football star, Pat Manning?

No. It’s none of those. It’s not even the Disney channel, Nickelodeon, or Cartoon Network. It’s just me and Pastor Andrew. And we’re here to share stories in the Bible.

And it’s not just Biblical history and the stories we all grow up with. You know what else it is? Not every child will grow up with these stories and hear them in the way that First Church allows them to be shared. More than the stories about Noah, Peter, Jonah, Hannah, Sarah and Abraham…; it is my honor to let each and every child know that they are loved no matter what. Today, I realize this simple thing more than ever!

They are loved by all the people at the church, their families, friends,... and by God! God made them each special. Each one. And no matter what utterly crazy thing happens in the world, God loves them.

No matter what.

And today, I realized something? After 12 years, I have seen hundreds of kids grow through the entire elementary program, graduate, and move on to college. I have watched them accept Jesus and celebrate these precious decisions. I have partied and played until my back aches (especially after today’s hiding from the Roman guards). Year after year, I watched many VBS children listen to the invitation and tell kids about eternity with Jesus.

Today, I realized what a blessing this is.

Because at this year’s VBS, a certain bundle of energy and enthusiasm was missed. You see, over the weekend, a terrible handgun accident took the life of a boy just thirteen, Andrew Arthur Butler. Born in the Ukraine (actually not Russia!), Andrew came to our church just a little boy. He attended VBS regularly and was always a part of our holiday dramas. Our VBS felt the absence of him and his family as they attempt to recover from this shocking event.

My heart aches as I think and try to remember the many times Andrew came through the Bible Adventure Room at VBS. I rack my brain and try to remember: Did I personally tell Andrew he was special and loved by God no matter what; Did I show him God’s amazing gift, Jesus; or, Did I take a moment to hug Andrew, for what I didn’t know was one last time?….

For the blessing is that simple: Each time God honors me with the privilege of a child, another child in the Bible adventure room, it could be their last time. Their last time to hear a Bible adventure story; their last time to be told God loves them, their last time to get a hug from the goofy “drama mama” at VBS. This year in the Bible story room, I have been extra conscious of a very important message: to be sure that each and every child knows that God created them unique and God loves them.

No matter what.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life." - John 3:16

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