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VBS not what it used to be

Lori Bray was raised in Alaska, but Bible school brought her to Oxford.

“North Oxford Baptist Church came up and did Vacation Bible School at the church I was at,” she said Friday, seated inside the church building at 304 County Road 101, “and that’s how I met my husband. That’s how I’m here in Oxford, and I’ve been directing Bible school here for seven years. We’ve finally got it down to a science.”

The church is just one of many in Oxford that are conducting VBS programs this spring and summer. This year, the North Oxford Baptist Church VBS has a sea theme called “Submerged.”

“It’s talking about diving in and digging deep into your own self to see how much you need Jesus, and that we can’t do it without him,” Bray said. “We can’t have a relationship with God without Jesus. Finding out that He knows all about us, He made us, and He loves us is what we want them to take away.”

North Carolina native David Bodenheimer, 59, is the children’s minister at North Oxford Baptist Church. He said the theme is about “finding truth below the surface.”

“It’s all about leading kids to Jesus and letting them know that God doesn’t look so much at the outside, but he’s looking at the inside, and he wants your heart,” he said.

Attendance has averaged about 200 children each day, and the church has 85 workers that range in age from teenagers to senior adults.

Oxford native Dyanne McCord, 70, supervised arts and crafts activities. Children made crosses with sea shells, an octopus from a Styrofoam bowl and blankets.

“The blankets, we take to the cancer center to give to patients having treatments,” she said. “I like to tell the story that one of my best friends from high school actually received one of the blankets one year, so that’s made it even more special to me to do them.”

McCord said she hopes children learn about God through activities.

“I hope they learn that all of this stuff is God’s creations, and that they remember that,” she said, “and if they don’t know the Lord, they will accept him during this Bible school.”

Lily Kegley, 8, a third grade student at Lafayette Elementary School, said she learned Biblical stories and lessons, and she enjoyed playing games.

“We’ve learned about the blind man,” she said. “We learned about Zacchaeus climbing up a tree because he was a short man.”

McCarley Wyatt, 8, a third grade student at Lafayette Elementary School, said she’s had fun.

“My favorite thing here is learning about God and how we sing songs,” she said. “I have a great time here.”

Samuel Shoo, 8, a third grade student at Oxford Elementary School, also enjoyed the program.

“I knew the stories, but I didn’t know all the details about them,” he said, explaining that he gained a more in-depth understanding of Bible stories during the VBS that ended Friday.

Other Oxford churches are offering upcoming VBS programs.

Missouri native Sarah McLellan, 41, co-directs the First Presbyterian Church VBS with Taylor Wilkinson. It will be held July 18-22 from 9 a.m. to noon at the church at 924 Van Buren Avenue.

This year’s theme is Egypt: Joseph’s Journey from Prison to Palace.

“The children will experience the thrill of visiting ancient Egypt,” McLellan said. “They will join Joseph in the dark prison and then stroll through the splendor of Pharaoh’s palace. Kids will learn what daily life was like in Egypt and how God used Joseph to save a nation.”

There will be five rotations each day that offer arts and crafts, music, a Bible story, recreation, and snack time. Children in grades 4-6 will participate in volunteer projects each day and travel off campus to places, such as More Than A Meal and the Mississippi State Veterans Home of Oxford.

“We want children to be reminded that God is there for us in good and bad times,” McLellan said. “We hope they form special friendships, and that this is a week they look forward to coming to every summer.”

Kara Howland, director of Christian formation at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at 113 S. 9th Street in Oxford, leads the VBS program there. It will be held June 20-24, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. daily.

“This year, we journey through the Old Testament with ‘Tricks, Lies & Scrapes,’” she said. “We travel into the stories of Jacob and Esau, Jacob’s Dream, Joseph’s Coat, Safety in Egypt, and an Egyptian Feast.”

Howland said campers will live the stories through music, art, drama, games and discovery.

“This opportunity provides our campers a better understanding of how God uses things for good,” she said.

New Albany native Haven Boyd, 23, is the children’s director at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church at 431 N. 16th St. in Oxford. Their VBS Surf Shack will be held July 17-21 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“This is a beach themed VBS where we want the children to catch the wave of God’s love during the week and carry that love throughout their life,” she said.

Children are served a free supper, and they will participate in crafts, games, music and Bible lessons.Thursday night at 6 p.m., they will perform VBS songs and view a slideshow of their pictures taken throughout the week. A free supper will also be offered for parents and kids after the Thursday night program, as well as water slides and activities. The VBS is free and includes a T-shirt for kids.

“I hope the children take away the importance of knowing God’s love for them,” Boyd said. “Through the week, the kids will learn Bible points, including God Creates, God Helps, God Loves, God Calms, and God Sends, along with stories to reinforce each point.

“We want children to know God is constantly creating, helping, loving, calming and sending them in every situation they may face throughout their lives by focusing on the key verse, ‘Remember that the Lord is great and awesome.’ Nehemiah 4:14.”

Registration for Surf Shack will begin Sunday, July 17, at 5 p.m., but parents may register children early online through the St. Andrew’s UMC website, standrews.me.

For more information about these and other VBS programs, visit the church websites.

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is www.lareecarucker.com.

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