Calvary Chapel's Vacation Bible School goes Beyond walls

Guitars and colored sand and a game of hoops became teaching tools this week when one Columbus church took Vacation Bible School out of its four walls and into the community.

For the second consecutive year, Calvary Chapel staff and volunteers convened children and teens from the Booker T. Washington public housing project on Veterans Parkway for the summer rite of passage.

“My mama went to the beach once and I got some shells,” said 6-year-old Shania Rutherford, as she layered colored sand into a plastic bottle Tuesday. “This looks like candy, almost.”

Each plastic bottle had a piece of paper attached with a Bible verse: Psalm 47:2 — “For the Lord Most High is to be feared; he is the Great King over all the earth.”

“This looks like a rainbow,” added T.J. Thomas, 7. “When I get in the pool, sometimes I see a rainbow.”

The lesson for the day was that God cares more about you than all the grains of sand put together.

The Rev. Mark Swift has been the Calvary Chapel pastor for 4 1 /2 years and each month his church has an outreach project to the BTW community. Clothing and furniture and food are distributed, and relationships are forged. Swift said he was divinely inspired when he first drove into Columbus to reach out to this neighborhood.

“We drove by this project and my wife and I started praying over it,” he said.

With the Vacation Bible School, Calvary Chapel leaders had assistance, as they did last year, with staff and volunteers from Calvary Chapel in Fort Valley, Ga. Brent Pardue is the youth director of the Fort Valley congregation, and brought his guitar to open each morning with music. He divided children into two age groups under a tent Tuesday and taught them verses to a few songs that required hand movements. One of his helpers was Ryan “Rex” Kirby, a 16-year-old with spiked hair who carried a surfboard — tying into the beach theme.

“He was giving out flyers,” Ryan said of his youth pastor, “and I was totally into it.” Translation: He wanted to come help.

A rap concert featuring Christian artists h.o.m.l.e.s.s. and No Compromise capped off the week Friday night.Atypical events are the norm

This VBS theme even had an historical tie. Calvary Chapels, a fellowship of non-denominational churches, formed in 1965. It was the cusp of the Jesus Movement, birthed in California. Pastor Chuck Smith became a leading figure in Costa Mesa, a beach town, and beyond. He baptized new converts, many of whom were hippies coming out of the drug culture, in the Pacific Ocean.

The movement expanded to thousands of Christian believers, which led to more churches and Smith’s radio broadcast called “The Word for Today.” Now there are nearly 1,350 congregations in the fellowship. Calvary congregations emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the means to salvation. Within evangelical Protestantism, Calvary Chapel churches seek a middle ground between rigid fundamentalism and Pentecostalism’s emphasis on experience, according to fellowship materials.

Church leaders use an inductive Bible study method, which is teaching from the Bible, verse by verse, Pardue said. Swift and Pardue met after Swift and his wife Amber moved to the area. Their church started as a Monday night Bible study. For their own worship, they drove to the Fort Valley church every Sunday.

Swift’s congregation is on Tower Road in north Columbus, and atypical events are staples for the church. It’s sponsored an Easter community service at Lakebottom Park. At the outdoor VBS this week, about 60 children and teens who are connected with BTW’s Boys and Girls Club turned out. The four teen helpers from Calvary in Fort Valley, meanwhile, paid their own way — $100 each — which went for gas for the van, food and materials for the kids.

“God wanted me here,” Rhett Kubasiak, 15, a rising 10th-grader at Houston County High School, said matter-of-factly. He envisions full-time ministry for himself one day. “We’re helping these kids. Some of them don’t know much about God.”