Churches kick off summer with Bible School

By Mike Ford

Staff Writer

FLEMING ISLAND – Rev. Ryan Ritzman didn’t grow up in church and never went to Vacation Bible School until he was 29-years old. Though a self-described big kid, Ritzman had just graduated from seminary when he attended his first VBS as a volunteer at Crossroad Lutheran Church, which he now pastors.

The church has a member who lives in Thailand. So, the congregation chose “Thailand Trek” as its theme for this year’s VBS, which was held this past week. Before the school began, Ritzman said he was going to have the kids Skype with the church members who live in Thailand.

“I’m hoping to blow their minds because they’ll see that it’s light here, but dark over there because they’re 11 hours ahead. Depending on time zones, it can literally be the other side of the world,” Ritzman said. “Everyone blossoms when they see that the world is bigger than your own back yard and when you’re seven or eight years old, that’s about how it looks to you.”

Ritzman said Crossroad shaped a curriculum that includes cultural education and other things unique to Thailand, including its jungles. Taking a different approach, First Baptist Church in Middleburg is following a set curriculum from Lifeway, a Southern Baptist publishing group. Children’s Pastor Gary Upchurch said the curriculum has them looking Pastor Gary Upchurch said the curriculum has them looking of Daniel. The theme is to know your guide, follow your guide, trust your guide, stay on t r a c k and keep watch and it’s all from the Book of Daniel,” he said. Like Crossroad Lutheran, First Baptist in Middleburg also held VBS this past week – the first full week of summer break in the Clay County School District, with 555 kids on the first day. “Research has shown that the closer you get to the first week after school ends, the higher your attendance is. So, we held it this week because the kids aren’t quite in vacation mode yet and the teachers who volunteer are still in work mode. So, there’s a method to it,” Upchurch said.

First Baptist started with a large rally in the worship space before breaking down into groups by grade levels and rotating around the church building. The pastors rotated in sharing Bible lessons while others lead various activities around music, missions and more. The mix of fun and Bible stories is common to Vacation Bible School from one church to another.

“We want VBS to be fun, but we also want to teach the word of God,” Ritzman said. “That’s our main goal, but for me personally – my goal is to outrun an eightyear old. The day I don’t have as much energy to run as fast as an eight year old will be a sad day for me.”

Students at Vacation Bible School at CrossRoad Lutheran Church are learning from a curriculum called “Thailand Trek.”

Children at CrossRoad Lutheran Church on Fleming Island are learning about Thailand in this summer’s Vacation Bible School using the them “Thailand Trek.”

Youth taking part in Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Middleburg take part in a rich music ministry as part of the week-long learning adventure.

Middleburg First Baptist Church Pastor Todd Jones preaches to children during the opening day of Vacation Bible School, which took place this week.

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