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Local youths find their religion at Vacation Bible School

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

There are 425 children from across the Southern Crescent, who are exploring a deeper relationship with God this week, during Vacation Bible School on the tropical, "South Pacific isle" known as Outrigger Island.

There are Tiki huts, palm trees, a rumbling volcano and beach balls on the island, but there is a catch.

Outrigger Island is not in the South Pacific. It's not even a real island.

It's a world that has temporarily sprung up in the worship center, fellowship hall and classrooms at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro.

Outrigger Island is a fantasy world where children get to mix fun activities with learning biblical lessons. It was designed by LifeWay, a Nashville, Tenn.-based religious organization. It is based on Psalm 86:11: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name."

"We want to expose these children to the Bible," said Larry Lawrence, associate pastor for students at First Baptist of Jonesboro. "Outrigger Island is the hook we use ... From the time they get here, to the time they leave, everything is done within the Outrigger Island theme."

The activities at Vacation Bible School are centered around the theme of the week. Children make visors to wear on the island's beach, or they make fish using two CDs, stickers and pieces of foam, which are in the shapes of a mouth, a tail, and fins. They play with beach balls and pool toys during their recreation sessions.

Meanwhile, the teachers decorate their classrooms to look like a tropical island. Some have beads hanging in front of their classroom doors. Others put up small Tiki huts and fake palm trees in their classrooms. One teacher went as far as building a construction-paper volcano, which goes around the outside of the classroom door.

"We just give them the materials, and they let their creativity go to work," said Janet Agnew, a VBS coordinator for the first- and second-graders.

Planning for Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church begins in January. Lawrence said there are two themes, which are developed by LifeWay every year, one for larger Baptist churches, and another theme for smaller churches. This year, the theme for the smaller churches is Cactus Canyon.

"Vacation Bible School is one of our largest ministries," Lawrence said.

Outrigger Island will show up again next week at Forest Park First Baptist Church, 634 Main St., Forest Park; First Baptist Church of Riverdale, 6805 Church St., Riverdale; and Corinth Baptist Church, 398 Corinth Road, Jonesboro.

Forest Park First Baptist Church will kick off its program with a pre-registration luau on Saturday, from 10 a.m.,to 12:30 p.m. Call the church at (404) 366-6333, for more information.

First Baptist Church of Riverdale will have its own luau on Sunday, from 6:30 p.m., to 8:30 p.m. Call the church at (770) 997-6161, for more information.

Anyone interested in attending VBS at Corinth Baptist Church, can contact the church at (770) 461-4456.

Red Oak United Methodist Church, 3894 Walt Stephens Road, Stockbridge, will host its own VBS June 23-27, from 6:30-9 p.m. The theme will be "God's Big Backyard." Contact the church at (770) 474-8863, for more information.

St. Timothy Lutheran Church, 5241 Ash St., Forest Park, will host a summer camp July 7-11, from 9 a.m., to 3 p.m. The cost to participate is $11 per child. For more information, contact the church at (404) 366-3560.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 377 Valley Hill Road, Riverdale, is hosting VBS weekly for five weeks. The first session began on Wednesday. The theme is "Building on the Rock." Contact the church at (770) 478-9324, for more information.