Story by Winifred Brown on 08/05/2019CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Aug. 1, 2019) Every student in Malinda Martin's Vacation Bible School classroom leaned in to get a better look when she used science to make a point about God's love here July 31.
After telling the Bible story of the Good Samaritan, Martin held up a container of separated green water, which stood for the Israelites, and yellow oil, which stood for the Samaritans, and showed how they could comfortably mix when she added blue dish soapthe love of God. Traditionally, the Israelites and Samaritans hadn't liked each other.
"Sometimes we see people that we think, Ew, I don't like them,' for whatever reason," Martin told her students. "[People] aren't always like they seem, and if we see them through God's eyes, through the love of Jesus, guess what happens? You can mix. You can learn to love others because of the love of God."
Martin was one of 68 volunteers who helped put on the annual, weeklong event for children ages 5 to 12 that aims to increase their knowledge of the Bible in a fun, interactive and engaging way, said Scott Yeager, director of religious education, U.S. Army Garrison Japan. This year's theme was "To Mars and Beyond," and about 120 children attended.
Throughout the week, students cycled through areas that focused on crafts, science, music, Bible study, outside recreation and snack time. Activities started at 8 a.m. in the Community Recreation Center's theater, where children broke into groups according to age and went through the various stations at the Religious Education Center and the field across the street until 11:30 a.m., when they met in the theater for a wrap-up session until noon.
More than once, Yeager, dressed in a silver space suit, gamely received a shaving cream pie (or two) in the faceto the delight of the children. The last day, however, Yeager snuck up behind Col. Thomas Matelski, commander, USAG Japan, and gave him a pie to the face. Yeager said fun was an important component of the school.
"By entertaining kids, it gives them a way of learning about scripture, learning about who God is and what faith looks like for them," Yeager said. "It's important to show people of faith aren't just like, We're going to read the Bible today.' It's not something that's rote and repetitive. It's something that can be fun and exciting."
Kristian Hines, 10, stretching out slime he made in the science classroom July 30, said he enjoyed the week.
"VBS is cool because we get to learn new things about the Bible," Kristian said. "I went to a lot of them back in America, but this one is more fun because we get to make slime."
Likewise, Genesis Reyes, 5, said she liked VBS because she got to learn about God and how to be nice to her friends.
Yeager said he was extremely thankful for all the volunteers, and Matelski and Lt. Col. Donald Ehrke, garrison chaplain, USAG Japan, expressed their thanks as well during the closing ceremony Aug. 2.
Volunteer Kara Chapman, whose children ages 10, 7 and 5 were participating, said this was her second year volunteering for the program, which she found to be a valuable part of the summer.
"I love seeing the joy on the kids' faces when they're singing and participating in the activities and all the fun we get to have together," Chapman said.
Several teenagers volunteered as well, and Aiko Estrada, 15, said she liked engaging with the children and making new friends.
"If you have a chance to be a volunteer, I definitely recommend that you take it, because it's a good idea to know other people who live in the community," Estrada said. "It's a really good experience."
The installation's chaplains and religious affairs specialists also assisted throughout the week, and Sgt. 1st Class Michael King, senior religious affairs noncommissioned officer for Camp Zama, Religious Support Office, USAG Japan, said the week brought back fond memories for him.
"I love VBS; it's a program that I grew up with," King said. "I went every summer and I remember a lot of the lessons that I was taught stuck with me as I grew up. I always remember looking forward to it."
The program breaks up the summer vacation for children, King said.
"It gives kids more to do during the summer, rather than just sit around and play video games or [even] run around outside and have fun," King said. "They can come in and grow in their faith."