Tales from the VBS Road Trip

Tales from the VBS Road Trip

By Marc Ira Hooks
Associate Missions Strategist/Director of Communication

There is nothing more Southern Baptist than Vacation Bible School (VBS.)  Some of my earliest memories of church come from VBS. My mother was known in our church as “The Cookie Monster.” As school was coming to an end, she would begin collecting (hoarding is probably a better word) cookies and Kool-Aid to feed the numerous kids who would come through our church for a week filled with Bible study, crafts, games…and cookies.

When I was commissioned as an IMB missionary, I fondly recalled my early memories of missions education – standing on the stage during VBS as one of the volunteers chosen to act out the mission story of the day. They would dress one of us in rags that had been “bloodied” by catsup while another would don a white lab coat, stethoscope, and one of those reflector thingies that old-fashioned doctors would wear. Then we would act out the story as the leaders shared about how the missionary-doctor traveled to a foreign land to bind the wounds of the broken. And how Jesus, just like that doctor, can heal our spiritual needs as well as our physical needs.

Years later, I found myself dressed in my own missionary costume – a parka, and Russian-style fur hat – sitting next to some women who had made their way through the ice, snow, and bitter winds of Siberia to draw water from the village well. I shared with them about the one who brings living water. You see, a week of VBS will not just provide experiences that change the lives of children who attend, it has the potential to change hundreds or thousands of lives around the globe.

I traveled more than 1,000 miles over Collin County roads this summer during The VBS Road Trip and managed to visit 24 of the many CBA Church Network churches who hosted VBS for their neighborhoods. Though the theme was often the same, the VBS experience from church to church was vastly different. However, the one thing each had in common is that young lives were being changed through the transforming message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On one stop, the pastor left me abruptly minutes before our live video broadcast because a young man had just indicated he wanted to talk about how to accept Jesus as his lord and savior. On another stop, one of the children talked about how scared John the Baptist must have felt to baptize Jesus because he realized Jesus was the Son of God. And during a visit to an adult VBS (yes, that is a thing) a young man gave testimony about how Jesus appeared to him while he was in a coma, and now his life’s mission is to proclaim the Gospel.

This summer, countless girls, boys, women, and men in Collin County came face-to-face with a living witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ…and that is what VBS and the work of the CBA Church Network churches is all about, the transformational work of Jesus in the lives of our neighbors.

See you next year on The VBS Road Trip – 2020!


Seeing Joy through the Pain

As a Senior in high school. I was forced to read the Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Yes, let’s be honest, nobody chooses to read Dickens, especially that one. But it does contain one of the best openings ever written  – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

At age 18 those words meant very little to me. I had not yet lived long enough, or experienced enough of the world and all that life has to offer, to understand life’s many paradoxes. Now, many years later, after having spent the majority of my career as a journalist, I am just beginning to understand the depth of what Dickens was trying to communicate. He was not being whimsical, or cleverly stringing together phrases, but instead trying to make sense of the world around him. As best he could, he was trying to bring some sense of order to the chaos of the age. I wonder, if Dickens were a contemporary writing about our lives, would he choose to word things any differently? Somehow, I doubt it.

A month ago, I walked recently-flooded streets in north Houston, Beaumont, and Vidor and talked with people who were gutting their houses of everything they owned. There were stacks of furniture, clothes, wedding albums, homecoming mums, baby pictures, prom dresses, and more…memory upon memory stacked in reeking water-logged heaps. But there were also smiles, and people grateful for the friends, neighbors, and strangers who had come to help.

When I met Kevin, he was working on the back patio of his home, his living room empty except a few photos on the walls which contained a water-line much taller than Kevin’s six-foot frame. The ceiling fan, blades drooping like the branches of a weeping willow, also gave testimony to how high the waters surged. As we talked, Kevin fiddled with his fishing rod, putting drops of oil here and there, almost oblivious to the destruction around him, focused only on one small thing he could control in his life. Kevin was not at home at the time of the flood. His neighbor, Larry, was not so lucky. “I was watching the news in my living room at 5:30 that night,” said Larry. “At 5:30 the next morning I was wading through chest-deep waters with my dog lifted over my head.”

As with many disaster situations, capitalism found a home as “I survived Hurricane Harvey” and“Texas Strong” t-shirts flapped in the summer breeze attached to makeshift roadside stands, many next to restaurants and other businesses that had yet to reopen. John was running one of those stands. When he saw the word “chaplain” embroidered on my shirt, he broke down in tears and asked me to pray for him, his daughter, and his new grandchild who was born the night of the storm. At the time, his daughter was still in the hospital, but their home was flooded, and John did not know where they would live when it was time for her to leave the hospital. I prayed for John and went home with a “Texas Strong” shirt in my hands. I wish I could have done more.

Yet, even through the loss, confusion, and sadness, a sense of humor about the situation worked its way into the strange patchwork fabric of the mountains of soaked drywall and housing insulation that lined the streets. Messages left on spray-painted plywood warned visitors of looting and other potential crimes. “You loot, we shoot” was a common placard. After all, we are in Texas. But my favorite was, “Yard of the Month.” Dickens was right. We do have the capacity to see joy through the pain.

I also met an army of yellow-shirted volunteers – Southern Baptist relief workers, who know first-hand what it is to see the other side of disaster. They sacrificed vacation days, time with family, and the opening weekend of college football season. They came from Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and even as far away as Alaska. There were those who assessed the damage, others who cooked meals, some who brought trailers with showers, and others who ripped walls from studs and carried wheelbarrows of debris to the curb. They came only to serve. They came to show that while it may be the worst of times, there are those who have come to be the hands and feet of Jesus in times like these, in an age like this.

Long before Dickens penned his famous prologue, King Solomon struggled with life’s incongruous mysteries as well. His conclusion, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…,” he wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV). We may never know why natural disasters occur, and why some people must endure them while others do not. However, we have evidence that the worst of times brings out the best in people. I pray that if you have not yet donated financially, or sacrificed your time to help those who are still hurting, may this be the day you are called to be a living witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Writing the Book of Acts

In the opening phrases of the Gospel according to Luke, the author writes, “it seemed good to me also…to write an orderly account for you…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” You see, it is good to chronicle the many things that God is doing in His work here on earth. Why is this endeavor good? So that we may have certainty.

I know that I am not alone in my times of questioning and doubt. But, what the Bible does promise us is certainty in our faith because there were men and women who witnessed the mighty acts of God, the inexpiable presence of the Holy Spirit, and the miracles of Jesus. They saw them with their own eyes. And, though they may have on many occasions not have immediately believed what they had seen. There was no denying that they experienced something different than anything they had experienced before, so much so, these men sat down and began to chronicle their encounters with God.

Twenty-four chapters later, Luke ends his narration of the life of Jesus, and launches into his second book which describes how this good news, the Gospel, the story of Jesus traveled throughout the region as thousands upon thousands heard and responded to the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. As a writer, I cannot imagine how certain stories were chosen for inclusion into the Gospels and the book of Acts, while others have been lost to time. The apostle John finished his book about Jesus by saying, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

As I have researched and compiled stories for this edition of The Encourager Magazine, I have been awestruck by the number of stories I have heard which give evidence to this great movement of God we are experiencing in Collin County. Unfortunately, there are not enough pages in this publication to share with you the many ways in which God is touching the lives of the people who live here.
I have heard of a family of Muslim men who were in their living room reading the third chapter of the Gospel of John when someone randomly knocked on their door asking if they could pray for them. And, when the visitors were allowed to enter the home, they were asked to help explain the scripture passages the men were reading.

I heard of a couple whose marriage was bitter and coming to an end. After trying everything they could think of, they said to each other, “we just need someone to pray for us.” Minutes later, a knock came on the door.

I have heard of a man who is native to another country who recently gave his life to Jesus as a result of someone coming to his home to share with him. Not only did this man become a believer himself, but he returned to his native country so he could share Jesus with his family back at home. And the entire family believed and was baptized.

And, I have heard stories about childhood friends being reunited, and relationships rekindled because someone randomly knocked on a door to share the Gospel with the stranger who lived on the other side of the door.

I have talked with people who have started to change the regular rhythm of their lives to purposefully schedule time in their week to seek the lost in their community, to pray with and for them, and to share with them what Jesus has done in their own lives.

In short, I have been witness to a revival, a fresh movement of God’s spirit like never before. And, the more this movement grows, the more churches who actively engage their lost neighbors with the Gospel, the more these stories begin to multiply.

I have spent the past decade as a photojournalist and chronicler of God’s stories, in America and beyond. I am no stranger to being in remote locations, or urban cities, or on trains, planes, or buses and finding that God is at work in the lives of people, even to the ends of the earth. However, I can say these past months have been different.

In Collin County, as we are looking at our mission field…the lost among us…many pastors speak of the people who live here and compare them to the parable of The Rich Young Ruler, (You remember that one, where Jesus tells the man “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me”, but the man could not because he cared more about his possessions than he did of his spiritual life.) And yet, the people of Collin County are coming to Jesus. The stories I have mentioned are just a handful of the stories which are being added to weekly.

It sounds like the book of Acts, doesn’t it?! I never imagined I would have the opportunity to write such extraordinary stories about a modern-day, Acts-like movement of the spreading of God’s word. I can truly say, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) I pray this fresh wind of God’s spirit will continue and that each quarter as we prepare The Encourager Magazine, it will be impossible to tell all the stories about how God is at work in Collin County, Texas.