SATANTA, Kan. – Imaginary waves lapped at their feet as the young teenagers surveyed an obstacle course dotted with blue papers. The goal was to walk on water — the blue paper — without falling into the sea.
It wasn't a straight and easy shot. The course zigged, zagged and went on top of second-hand (maybe even third- or fourth-hand) worn-out furniture. When Oscar San Juan's foot touched blue, the paper slid across the floor, spilling him into the imaginary sea and back to the start. After several attempts, San Juan tiptoed from paper to paper with arms stretched out to keep balance and finally crossed the finish line.
"I love Jesus and I love VBS!" the seventh-grader shouted, pumping his fist in the air to celebrate.
This was the second year for Vacation Bible School for junior high students at First Baptist Church in Satanta, Kan. VBS director Crystal Taylor decided to step out of the norm and instead of having seventh- and eighth-graders serve as volunteers at the annual VBS, the church provided a class for the young teenagers.
"We had so many junior high kids just showing up randomly to hang out every year. It was almost too many to keep them busy and out of trouble," Taylor said with a laugh. "Some of them wanted to keep going to VBS, so we started a class."
Taylor found that a student curriculum for youth VBS was available from LifeWay Christian Resources. It was natural to schedule it at the same time as the elementary-aged VBS, so that decorations could be shared as well as some of the stations – recreation, snacks and missions.
The much deeper Bible study impressed Bethany Wood as she prepared to teach it.
"It provided a fun way to mentor and do discipleship," Wood said. "This age group needs a solid foundation like this. I would have loved this when I was their age."
This foundation and bonding as a youth group normally happens at church camp. But with more than half of the school district's students receiving free or reduced lunches, most can't afford camp. Youth VBS was an affordable way for the small church of 40 people to create a similar experience: small group Bible studies, crazy games and recreation, music and time spent with friends, which all led to a closer relationship with Jesus.
Sitting around the table eating snacks, the junior high students discussed their favorite things from the week. One student said music time was her favorite, and everyone nodded in agreement. Another said recreation time was his fave. Everyone agreed again. One seventh-grader held up a mini corn dog and announced that snack time was his favorite.
"I'm a growing teen," San Juan explained.
Everyone laughed and cheered.
"But seriously," San Juan continued, "I just love learning about Jesus and being with my friends."
Eighth-grader Kara Kunselman echoed the feelings and quickly added how she will miss VBS next year.
"I can't believe this is my last year," she lamented. "Maybe ... just maybe, the church will decide to do VBS for high schoolers."
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.