19 September 2009

VBS in Biloxi

I once talked to God about becoming a nun. At the time I wasn’t Catholic but the idea didn’t sound too bad at the time. Of course, it was not to be so, and so it is ironic that I found myself sleeping in an old convent kept uncomfortably cold to ward off the grueling heat of the Mississippi summer.

I had traveled twenty hours with other women and teenagers to put on a full week of vacation bible school for this community. I know that I attended such programs as a child, though I remember none of them.

The planning had started weeks before by a friend of mine I’d met when she and her husband started organizing rebuilding trips to Biloxi immediately after hurricane Katrina. I learned not only how to drywall on one of those trips, but also how easy it is for a stranger to help another. As a stranger you aren’t stressed by the situation nor over- whelmed by everything there is to fix; you simply take on a task and then move on.

It’s terribly hot in southern Mississippi come mid July. The heat saps the energy out of your soul ex- ponentially by the minute that you’re exposed. Inside, the locals compensate by setting the air-conditioning so low that one requires a different wardrobe for each environment; not unlike a northern Midwest winter.

Children came ages four to sixteen and were divided accordingly, their maturity not always aligning with their assigned groups. The patience of our teenage volunteers – strangers not stressed by the daily lives of each child, overcame lovingly.

Both times that I’ve been a part of this program I’ve chosen to host the bible study portion of the week. It’s more black and white in preparation and allows space during the class for the kids to ask questions that might normally be brushed aside.

“What is heaven like?”

“Will I get to see my grandma in heaven?”

“Is there really a devil?”

“Are the saints like ghosts walking around?”

“How do I know my mom went to heaven?”

“What’s an atheist?”

“Why are there so many religions?”

“How do I treat people who aren’t Christians?”

The kids play games, eat food, pal around with teenagers they look to as mentors, make crafts, and giggle a lot. I don’t know what they’ll remember from the experience, but I hope they felt confidence, respect, and love for others that are different from them in addition to pondering new information for their life’s difficult questions.