How in the world could a Panda Bear change lives for an eternity? Pretty much in the same way pirates, dinosaurs, cowboys and astronauts did -– and it all begins in the God-given imagination of Life volunteers with a heart for children and fun at First Baptist Church Pompano’s Vacation Bible School! Over the years, FBC Pompano has engaged children through imaginative VBS themes as a back drop in sharing God’s love, the gospel of Jesus and for the spiritual growth of more than 600 children and adults. FBC Pompano’s passionate staff and volunteers showcase their mission to reach kids for Christ in this 5-night, multi-generational event that is openly promoted to children of the community without a registration fee. “As a parent and volunteer I am so blessed each year to have a blast through creativity and fun, while seeing so many kids grow in their faith!” says volunteer and high-energy worship rally leader, Reed Ellis, known to the children as, “Mr. Reed”.
Interestingly enough, FBC has a weekly attendance of approximately 500 people yet hosts a VBS of nearly 500 children led by more than 120 volunteers. According to Jane Johnson, FBC children’s director, the passion that drives Vacation Bible School at FBC Pompano is centered on the creative spiritual gifts of its volunteers and a sense of “urgency” to see children and families led to the Lord. “Eight years ago, when I began working as a children’s director, Barna Research Group published an in-depth study on the importance of the children’s Life in the local church and within that research was a statistic that I just couldn’t shake! It was the revelation that most believers accept Christ before the age of 13 and that the average age is nine years,” she shared. Soon after, Johnson also learned that within the Southern Baptist denomination more people come to know Christ at Vacation Bible School than any other SB church outreach event. Still, another prominent trend affected the overall mission and growth of FBC Pompano’s VBS: most families have two working parents or a single working parent, raising children. Johnson added, “Here I was, a new children’s director, with the first big children’s event of the year, and I couldn’t seem to find enough volunteers. I kept hearing folks say that they would love to help at VBS but that they work during the day!”
Up until that time, VBS was scheduled as a morning program. After much prayer and many conversations with parents, the decision to break tradition was made. In 2004, Vacation Bible School was moved from a morning schedule to an evening one. After the switch, the volunteer base blossomed. “It’s like we’re one big family working as a team…to do something bigger than ourselves!” said Assistant VBS Director and volunteer, Elyse Nelson. “It’s also a party-like atmosphere each night and so much fun for us adults!” Ironically, Johnson said it was a challenge at first to place so many new volunteers in a meaningful position to serve. However, before long, as the number of volunteers grew so did the attendance and word of mouth advertising. “Once the volunteers began to see so many kids and parents looking to us for fun and a child-like adventure, we knew we had found our niche!” explained Shannon Gaffney, VBS Preschool Director.
As a result, the passion and drive to make things bigger and better was well underway. The next big hurdle, however, soon reared its ugly head: How could a church the size of FBC Pompano pay for such an extravaganza and all the ideas the volunteers dreamed of executing? “Many churches have been forced to charge a weekly fee to cover expenses, even for its members,” said Johnson. “The reality of charging a fee became very real but God opened the door for a different solution.” Mr. Reed stated, “As a church, we had designated the money from our annual spring auction to our youth Life and summer camps. We began wondering, if we could grow the auction, would it possibly support a big event like VBS in addition to the youth camps?” Once again, the same creative drive kicked-in and FBC Pompano’s volunteers now work hard alongside its student Life to raise the much needed funds. “What most folks don’t know is that many of the teachers and leaders at VBS work three or more months just to raise the money to work another 40 hours for VBS. That just proves how committed this church is to the Gospel and to kids!” Reed added.
With God’s provision, the church says it has joyfully tackled themes and decorating challenges converting their 90-year-old church into such things as a Space Ship, Wild West Adventure, Dinosaur Playground, Pirate Ship and more. Thanks in part to the large work force, FBC also added ages and departments not traditionally offered at most churches. It added a separate preschool VBS and worship rally, a middle school department and now a compatible adult study where parents and grandparents can learn alongside their children and come home with a relevant experience to share as a family. High School students are encouraged to volunteer as well so that the entire family can potentially be involved at VBS. This year, FBC Pompano’s VBS theme features “PandaMania” for children 3-years of age through 7th grade, and will take place from June 13-17, 2011 during the hours of 5:30 – 8:45 p.m. Kids will explore a bamboo forest filled with crazy pandas and discover how much God loves them. They will also participate in memorable Bible-learning activities, learn catchy songs, play teamwork-building games, enjoy yummy treats, experience interactive Bible adventures and create crafts with a Bible perspective. In addition, children at FBC Pompano’s “PandaMania” will join nearly a million children in sharing God’s love with other children throughout Latin America. Through a mission project, called Operation Kid-to-Kid, children will create special backpacks for needy children.
An additional “love offering” will be taken nightly in a contest that pits “boys vs. girls,” an offering challenge raising money for overseas missions in Africa and a local homeless Life, The Lord’s Gift House. The “loser”, be it Mr. Reed or Mrs. Jane, representing the boys and girls respectively, will receive the dreaded “pie-in-the-face” during the Friday night closing celebration. All of this, of course, is just part of the fun and antics that make FBC Pompano’s VBS a great place for kids to see the love of Christ in a warm and welcoming environment.
There is no fee to attend “PandaMania” and the event is open to the public. Registration forms are available at the church office, located at 138 N.E. First Street, Pompano Beach, Fl., 33060. Online registration is available at www.fbc4kids.org. An optional souvenir t-shirt is available for $8.00 at the church office or nightly during VBS.