PANAMA CITY (FBC)—Last year as Tropical Storm Debby was bearing down on Panama City, First Baptist Church leaders wondered if any youngsters would brave the harsh conditions to attend the first day of vacation Bible school.
“The winds were blowing and the rains were coming in,” recalled children’s minister Ginger Owens.
By the time opening day registration began, in addition to the 500-plus preregistered children who were present, another 200 children and their parents stood in the torrential rains to register at the door. The final total involved in the study of God’s word that week was to 797.
Tropical Storm Debby, despite dire predictions, bypassed the Panhandle city.
Still not out of danger on that first VBS morning, the television station located adjacent to the church announced tornadic activity moving through the downtown area. Quickly a strategy to safely shelter the children was developed. Yet, the wind and squalls never came, prompting the local meteorologist to say there was no reason to explain why the storms had dissipated over the city.
“But we knew,” said the effervescent Owens. “We were on our knees praying. It was the first day of VBS and we were studying God’s amazing power over nature and so we truly experienced it that Monday morning.”
Nearly a decade ago, the church considered discontinuing the annual VBS for lack of workers—even with a three-day event. But when Owens arrived, she asked to give it one more opportunity.
With her dynamic personality and people skills, she sought to change the mentality of the congregation to view VBS in a different light.
“It’s not a children’s ministry. It’s a church wide event,” she told them. The workers responded—254 volunteers last year—and staff was assigned “hands on” responsibilities.
Elaborate productions were staged in the sanctuary. One year Pastor Craig Connor rode his Harley through the church.
With that shift, church members actively distributed registration forms to their co-workers, neighbors and friends, handing them out in stores and places of business. Registration forms were given to six local schools—places where church members had already conducted a prayer walk. Yards signs in members’ yards encouraged neighbors to come.
One church member enlisted five families among co-workers. Another family was approached by a neighbor with a special needs child, compelled by their yard sign.
“We educate our folks to reach beyond the walls of the church and that it is their responsibility to invite their friends, co-workers and neighbors.” said Owens. The community has responded.
Two years ago Owens asked Crystal, the drive-through attendant at the local “Dan-D Donuts” to bring her grandchildren to VBS. At the end of the week, one of them accepted Christ as Savior.
Last year, the church identified 124 unchurched children among those in attendance.
Not only is VBS a church-wide effort, but Owens and other church leaders have initiated intentional evangelism as a core value of the week. Last year’s VBS resulted in 14 children baptized.
Nine-year-old Tyler Hendley was one. He attended VBS with other children from the government-sponsored after-school program that provides summer daycare for low- income communities.
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