Country Roads… Summertime… and Bible-school Kool Aid!
When the first assignment of the new school year called for a report on “What I Did Last Summer,” the Huisman boys could always count on one experience to write about Vacation Bible School. The first couple of weeks in June found us and our friends back in the classroom, this time at church.
The VBS teachers worked hard to make it an enjoyable experience, but for young boys who had been cooped up in a public school classroom for 36 weeks, this was not where we wanted to be for the first part of our summer vacation.
I think the Kool-Aid was the worst part. As a kid, Kool Aid was one of my favorite beverages, but to this day I refer to any weak fruit drink as “Bible School Kool-Aid.” I always imagined the kitchen help plotting to see how many gallons of drink they could squeeze out of one package of the dry mix.
“Hold the sugar, girls,” I imagine one of them saying. “We want these tykes to love Jesus for who he is, not for our Kool-Aid.”
Then there was the flannel graph. Back in the days before computers and stop-action animation, Sunday school and VBS teachers used the red hot action of the flannel graph to bring to life the great stories of the Bible.
The really good teachers even tried to change their voice to bring the words of each character to life. Somehow, the sweet, soprano voice of a round faced Norwegian lady never seemed to give Simon Peter a fisherman’s character.
When the teachers needed a break, they sent us outside for a recess. Most of us guys wanted to play baseball, but they made us play softball with the girls. (Where in the Bible does it forbid girls from playing baseball?) Sometimes we got the pastor to take off his tie and join the game, but he usually played on the girls’ team.
Now for some real excitement; it was craft time! Do you think St. Paul ever dreamed of the number of ways that Popsicle sticks and plaster of Paris could be used for the propagation of the faith?
The toughest part was the memory verses. Each day we had to memorize another verse from the Bible. With sweaty palms we recited our verses, stumbling through the King James language… all for a gold star on a chart on the wall.
The big finale of the week was the VBS program on the Sunday night after VBS ended. This was our opportunity to show our parents what we had learned. Or was it the teachers’ opportunity to show our parents what they had tried to teach us?
Class by class — starting with the youngest — we took our turns on the chancel platform to sing our newly-learned songs and recite our memorized “pieces.”
We looked forward to the performance of one little fellow who was a few grades behind us. When it was his turn to step up to the microphone, a look of terror filled his big blue eyes. After a brief hesitation he shuffled forward, scanned the crowd for his parents, put his lips to the microphone and shouted his “piece,” nearly rattling the public address speaker off the wall.
Obviously we older boys had not learned much during the week because we cracked up as the poor little fellow stepped back into the line-up, his big eyes showing disappointment that anyone would laugh at his well-rehearsed lines. A stern look from our teacher at the end of the pew restored order but didn’t control a few last convulsions of laughter.
It’s kind of funny, now that I think about it. That weak Kool Aid surely did quench our thirst, probably better than a strong, sugary mixture. And the cookies served with it were delicious.
I’ll never forget the flannel graph stories, particularly the one where Jesus, with children sitting on his lap, says “Let the children come to me.”
Those VBS programs prompted us to learn our lessons and were a good experience in public speaking. And I can’t begin to count the times those memory verses returned to my memory to help me through a difficult situation.
And, you know, maybe Simon Peter really did sound like a sweet, round-faced Norwegian lady.