It was the last night of Summer JAM. Andy was dripping with sweat after finishing the last song of the night, of the week, of the summer. He asked all the students to sit with their crew leaders and said, “Before I dismiss you for the night….” I didn’t hear what came after “night” because I overheard a girl near me say, “I don’t want to be dismissed.” She happened to be an older girl who attends West End Community Church, but she expressed the sentiments of the other 130 students who have been participating in Summer JAM—students who would like Summer JAM to last all summer. It’s not just having something to do, or the cool crafts, or the fun games, or the exciting Bible stories, or the meals, or the incredible music times—it’s the combination of these activities surrounded by an enthusiastic and colorful group of volunteers in friendship and worship from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds.
There are a lot of great reasons for churches to spend thousands of dollars decorating their buildings and providing VBS for the members of their congregation and their friends, but I love the approach of West End Community Church. Rather than host VBS in their own church, they provide an outdoor VBS in the Preston Taylor neighborhood involving Preston Taylor area churches and welcoming with open arms participants from WECC, PTM, the surrounding neighborhood, and new this year PTM students at our newest site (St. Luke’s Community House). Because of the racial and ethnic mix involved, we all were able to get a fuller picture of a loving and creative God.
One of the personal joys of Summer JAM 2016 for me was having PTM students and former PTM students who are in their late teens playing basketball in the middle of all of the Summer JAM activities. Every now and then I would overhear one of the bare-chested muscle-bound 17 year olds mouthing the words to some of the Summer JAM songs he had sung years ago. I heard more than one student remark, “I remember when I used to go to Summer JAM”. It’s impossible to know all that happens in the life of a child during a week of VBS, but I have seen enough to know that God is working in amazing ways through every Summer Jam volunteer—for some the impact is seen immediately and dramatically, but for most the impact is more gradual, but just as real. I love that our children “don’t want to be dismissed” from an amazing week of feeling safe, loved, and inspired and am confident that we will see significant fruit from this powerful week.