GAIL WHITE Bible school program keeps many kids on track
"I believe we should break out of the four walls of the church," said Bill Beck, pastor of Barnstone Ministries in New Bedford, Pa.
"Breaking out" has landed Bill at the Mercer Raceway Park with 300 children.
For the second year in a row, Barnstone Ministries has held its summer vacation Bible school program at the racetrack.
"Jesus didn't sit in an ivory tower and point his finger at people," Bill said. "He went where they were."
The problem with going where they are is that you don't know how many there will be.
His philosophy: Bill has philosophy for that as well. "Whoever comes is who we want."
He continues, "Blessed are they that flex, for they shall not break."
Every night this week, children from far and wide have traveled to the racetrack for VBS. They register as they enter the gate and fill up the stands facing the dirt raceway.
Bill and his troop of volunteers never know how many will attend until all the children are seated and the music begins.
"There is a risk element," Bill acknowledged. Then he added more of his life philosophy. "If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space."
Although the location for this VBS is unique, the volunteers are even more unusual.
Numerous volunteers: Bill and members of Barnstone Ministries church can be found doing various volunteer activities. But this event would not be possible without volunteers from numerous other churches.
Again, Bill has strong beliefs for this. "If I fill this place up with people from my church, then it is about my church," he explained. "That's not what it's about." He points his finger to the sky. "It's about God."
The theme for this year's Bible lessons is "Jesus to the Rescue." The lessons revolve around Bible stories of faithful followers' being saved from trials.
After a few praise songs, a group stands up to perform a skit.
He's the king: Ron Kirila of Hartford is dressed in a long robe with a spruced-up Burger King crown on his head.
He is King Nebuchadnezzar, and he is going to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire.
"You mess with me," he says to the three boy actors. "That's it. Throw them into the fire!"
The children relate to his modern-day language. It is a lesson they will not soon forget.
Applause erupts as the boys appear from the fiery furnace with their hands lifted high, clasped together in victory.
After the skits, it is time for more in-depth learning. Bill directs the children by age group.
"If you have a red sticker, go with the red teacher," he instructed. As hordes of children age 5 and under exit the stands, Bill added, "The red teachers are the bravest people in the world."
After lessons, the children appear back on the grandstands. Each night the last hour is spent with guests.
Motorcycles: This night, the Christian Motorcycle Association is on hand.
Bill introduces the group, their bikes lined up along the grandstands. "You can be a real person. Ride a motorcycle. And love Jesus," he told the children.
As I leave the racetrack, I look back at the scores of children crowded around the motorcycles.
There is one, sitting atop a bike with a wide smile across his face, thrilled to be holding the handlebars and peering through the tinted windshield.
Behind him stands a big, burly CMA biker in his leather jacket.
Should this little boy slip or start to fall, he will be rescued.
Jesus in leather? The scene strikes me. "Biker to the Rescue," I say to myself, musing that perhaps Jesus wears leather.
Then I realize this picture is the perfect modern-day example of the theme of this vacation Bible school -- and I don't think the bike would have fit in a church.