GREENSBORO – Eight churches that joined forces in mid-June to conduct a Vacation Bible School (VBS) together learned a unique lesson, and reaped great spiritual rewards, according to Patrick Fuller, pastor of the host church.
Three black congregations and five predominately white churches sponsored the VBS at Southside Baptist Church June 15-20. The event enrolled 648 children, who sang Hawaiian themed songs like "Wiki Wiki," heard "Wave Truths" from the Bible and had fun playing "on" Outrigger Island.
Members at Southside created the "island" which enjoyed an average attendance of nearly 500, said Fuller. Participants came from neighboring churches – and some who don't attend any church regularly.
It was more than the catchy Hawaiian songs, costumes, decorations and paraphernalia that excited pastors of the eight sponsoring churches, said Rodney Mitchell of Rocky Knoll Baptist Church.
"The most exciting thing about it was that it showed what could be done by working together," Mitchell said. "It was an opportunity to see what can take place when churches get together in a common purpose for the Lord."
"We had 24 decisions for Christ and many prospects for each church were identified. The churches split the prospects by location," Fuller said. "This opportunity has opened the door to a new fellowship and new friendships. It also has allowed the churches to encourage one another and press on for Jesus," he said.
Children, using Lifeway VBS material, were taught:
Wave 1 Truth: God is real.
Wave 2 Truth: Jesus is God's Son.
Wave 3 Truth: Jesus is the only way.
Wave 4 Truth: the Bible is God's word.
Wave 5 Truth: My actions show what I believe.
Some churches had not conducted a VBS in several years, while others had held VBS programs during the same weeks in recent years.
The scheduling conflict hindered the churches involved, Fuller said. "We don't want to compete for the same kids but bring in as many children as we can," he said.
Parents had opportunity to join their children on the final evening, not only for a Hawaiian-themed worship service but also for an island-themed dinner-on-the grounds. A variety of outdoor games were available for the children.
"I looked out across the children gathered each night, and it was like a glimpse of heaven with the diversity of people there – white, black and Asian," Mitchell said.
"It was fantastic. You couldn't tell who was a member of which church because everybody went together," said David Phelps, Groometown Baptist Church pastor.
"I've been here nearly six years, and I've never seen anything like this before. That's what the church ought to be – not you against us but all (working) for the kingdom of God," Phelps said.
"Everyone was working together in a wonderful spirit of unity," said Brad Hargett, pastor of Central Assembly of God. He said there was "a level of excitement that I had not seen in our individual endeavors."
Hargett said being the only non-Baptist pastor in the VBS group wasn't a problem. "I sensed that my coming and participation was fulfilling their vision of bringing unity to the body of Christ and reaching our community with the love of Jesus," he said.
"Everything about this VBS just blows me away! Diversity, unity, impact and souls – those are the words that come to mind when I think about what happened at Southside," said Tom Howe, associate director of missions for Piedmont Baptist Association.
"What an example this is both to other churches as well as to this community," Howe said.
From a spiritual standpoint that part of Greensboro may never be the same. The same churches, which also include Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist, Water of Life Community, Whosoeverwill Baptist and Pinecroft Baptist, will have a joint back-to-school party Aug. 16.
"It was awesome. I have been in Greensboro all of my life and never have seen so many churches (of different races) come together. That had to be of God," said Phillip Cole, pastor of Water of Life Community Church, a predominately black church.
"All of the people I have talked to are happy about it. It is something we could not have done ourselves. If you let God make it happen, it is going to stick," Cole said. "My desire would be to see this idea catch on in other quadrants in the city."
"I don't think there was anybody who didn't like it," said Larry Foust of Whosoeverwill Baptist Church. Foust said that he has been pastor of minority churches for the past 16 years, which have belonged to the Piedmont Baptist Association. "We need to invite more (black churches) to join," he said. "It is time for us to come together."
Cole, a founder of the first black church to join the Piedmont Baptist Association in 1984, was delighted to hear that Christian Fellowship has applied for membership in the association.
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Bob Burchette, a retired editor/writer from the Greensboro News & Record, can be contacted at [email protected])