In an island-themed day camp at the Burke Community Church, more than 230 children played, listened, learned and laughed while at least 80 volunteers taught them about the treasures that they said come from God's love.
Five days of activities delivered five different messages at Son Treasure Island Vacation Bible School, the church's week-long morning camp from July 31 to Aug. 4. Each day began with an assembly of skits and songs related to the message, or treasure, of the day.
The auditorium was decorated like a Caribbean island, and the heat wave in town made it feel like the Caribbean as well. To cope with the heat, the camp's organizers decided to keep most of the activities indoors and kept the children hydrated whether they played inside or out. They set aside one day for some fun in the sun, but made sure the children had plenty of water to drink.
According to the children, they had so much fun, they barely noticed how hot it was.
"Yesterday it was water day so we got soaking wet," said Phebe Meyer, 10.
"Water day was my favorite day," said Julia Treharne, 11.
THE CHURCH'S FIVE treasures for the week were: "God's love is caring, giving, kind, forgiving and forever." T.J Vercouteren, the new children's minister at the church, said the goal is "to point kids and families to understand that there is real love in this world and that God is real." Vercouteren's first day was also the first day of the camp, so he wore festive island attire to break him into his new job.
"We've been having a real blast," he said. "The kids have been having such a good time."
Children rotated activities throughout the week. Each room represented a different activity, but each activity delivered the same message to the children. The church asked that families give a $5 donation to cover the entire week, including drinks, snacks and all the daily games and crafts, said Michelle Brantley, the camp's director. Each activity incorporated the practice and teachings of Christianity into the main theme, but children of all religions were welcome to attend the camp, said Brantley.
"Our main thing is God's love," said Brantley.
WHILE THE CHURCH tried to deliver a deeper message through its treasure theme, Vercouteren said he realizes that some children get it and some do not, just like adults. Story time allowed children to hear stories from the Bible that related to the daily treasure. In the arts and crafts period, Thursday, Aug. 3, children made miniature liberty bells and decorated them.
"We're having a lot of fun," said Kaya Cassell, 10.
Each room packed with children also packed plenty of smiles. Vercouteren said some children were clearly getting the message, too. One girl, he said, brought in all of her piggy bank money, about $2.50, to donate toward a collection for a church in West Virginia.
The Burke church started the donation drive because it wanted to help a West Virginia church with few resources to put on their own Bible school camp. Vercouteren said the little girl understood the message that God's love is giving, one of the five main themes of the week.
"Those kids have caught on to that," said Vercouteren.
Whether they understood the church's message or not, it was important that they enjoyed themselves all week, said Shary Green, who was in charge of the camp's registration. Every day the children ran around happy, which is the payoff the church was looking for, she said.
"The joy for me is to see the smiles on the kids' faces when they come in," said Green.