Vacation Bible School sowed seeds for my love of Scripture

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 3, 2014

A sign outside St. Andrew’s United Church sends columnist on journey down memory lane. Photo by Warren Harbeck

I was just pulling up to the Cochrane Post Office the other day when a sign across the street sent me down memory lane to some of the happiest – and most life-shaping – days of my youth.

The sign in front of St. Andrew’s United Church boldly proclaimed: “Vacation Bible School, Aug. 25–29. Register now.”

Instantly I was transported to a boyhood moment at the little Presbyterian church I attended in Buffalo, New York.

It was mid-morning on a beautiful summer day. Dozens of us kids from the neighbourhood were gathered in the church basement as part of the week-long Vacation Bible School (VBS).

This was the part of the morning I especially looked forward to: the cookie break. Except in my case, it wasn’t the cookies I was looking forward to, but the cherry milk! Most of the kids went for the chocolate milk during the break. Not me! It had to be cherry milk.

Of course, there were many far more important reasons why VBS left a good taste in my mouth, reasons that shaped my enduring values, identity, and ultimately, my vocation.

The name of the week says it all: Vacation BIBLE School.

And during those days, as a complement to the already great Sunday school experiences that little brick church on Buffalo’s West Side provided me, the loving VBS team infected me with a love for the Scriptures.

In addition to the choruses we learned, such as “The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s the Book for me,” there were those vivid stories from the sacred pages, often illustrated on flannel boards back in those days before PowerPoint was even dreamt of:

Yup, stories like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Flood, Moses crossing the Red Sea, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, and stories that Jesus told about the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the lilies of the field.

Many of the Bible stories were made all the more memorable by the songs that went with them. I bet most of our coffee companions know well the story of the courageous Hebrew prophet Daniel and the lion’s den. And the song? “Dare to be a Daniel, / Dare to stand alone! / Dare to have a purpose firm! / Dare to make it known.”

A “purpose firm”? Years later the seed sown in me by that dedicated VBS team apparently bore fruit in shaping my own life’s purpose. I have a love for Scripture that has been honed by years of graduate studies and illustrated by something far more compelling than any flannelgraph or PowerPoint: you, the flesh-and-blood commentaries on the point of the entire Bible: God’s love.

That purpose has expressed itself in my professional commitment to Scripture translation, especially as a Bible translation consultant in the Stoney Nakoda dialect of Sioux spoken along the Alberta foothills at Morley, Eden Valley and Big Horn.

That purpose also had a significant side benefit: more than a half-century of marriage to my wife, Mary Anna, who shares this same sense of vocation to communicating the Bible in everyday language. (By the way, we just celebrated our 51st anniversary this past Sunday!)

One special gift my time in VBS provided me is a delight in memorizing verses from the Psalms, and there’s one line in particular that pretty well says it all. It’s the 105th verse of the longest psalm in the Bible, Psalm 119:

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

Now, for my taste, that beats cherry milk any day. Thanks, St. Andrew’s, for your inspiring part in this great VBS tradition.


© 2014 Warren Harbeck

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