The Rev. Dave Thompson sat on the floor in a hallway at First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, surrounded by 19 second-graders and a few helpers.
“Today we’re going to go on a scavenger hunt,” said Thompson, dressed in a straw hat, kerchief, shorts, a long shirt and a bit of makeup to go with his character, “Jungle Jim.”
It was the first week of summer vacation, and at First Presbyterian that meant it was time for the annual weeklong half-day free vacation Bible school. The theme was “The Jungle.”
This year’s edition of VBS attracted about 80 students in grades preschool through sixth grade. The week concluded with a carnival on Friday night.
Each day the students rotated through a series of stations that, among other things, let them do crafts, watch movies, participate in recreational activities and learn about that Bible. That’s where Thompson came in, leading a session that put the spotlight on the Bible.
On a scavenger hunt in the jungle, what might you look for, he asked his enthusiastic students.
“Candy!” one child called out.
“Gold coins!” another one said.
“Diamonds!” a third added.
“We are going to find something more valuable than anything else,” Thompson told them.
The first clue sent them out to the church playground.
“Look up,” Thompson instructed them when they had trouble finding the next clue that was stuffed in a white envelope.
A young girl looked at the underside of the slide and found the clue, which Thompson then read.
“You are doing well finding your (second) clue, keep searching for the answers and your dreams will come true,” he said. “Part of the jungle is searching in a cave, your next clue will be found in the office of Pastor … ”
“Dave!” the kids called out.
They scampered away, heading for the office. After the sixth clue led them to their final destination, another hallway, they discovered the treasure: a Bible.
When the youngsters settled on the floor around Thompson, he held up the Bible and said, “This is God’s word, isn’t it? The Bible says that this is more valuable than priceless treasures, more valuable than anything in the world.”
Thompson read the daily verse, Psalm 46:1, out loud to them.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble,” Thompson said.
They mimicked him when he used hand motions to illustrate the verse. Then he recapped the overall lesson.
“The Bible says his word is a lamp and a light,” he said. “It shows us the way, it shows us how to live and how to go and how to honor God.”
The lesson done, the children hustled off to their next station.
The students come from within the church and outside of it, as well, Thompson said.
“A lot of kids are returning kids,” he said. “They just expect it every year.”
And many start the week and end up bringing other friends along the way. Thompson sees VBS as a nice way to reach out to the community.
He and the youth pastor work with 30-some volunteers to put on the event. Many of the helpers are high school and middle school students, some who previously came as participants.
Thompson sees the week as an opportunity to give kids a different perspective on life.
“We live in a world where it’s all about us,” he said. “With VBS, it’s all about God, and there is life beyond this world that we have.”
It’s also a time to teach the youngsters how to treat people, to enforce the idea of the Golden Rule, Thompson said. And it’s about having a good time.
“I really like as the pastor taking an active role in Bible school,” he said. “I’m also still a kid at heart. It’s fun.”