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Wagonload of seminary wives lends helping hand for VBS

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Vacation Bible School was a past but pleasant memory at the White Church Baptist Church — like those that whisper through old western ghost towns. That was until the interim pastor from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary suggested the church resurrect the neighborhood ministry with a “Good News Stampede.”
The church has long been a part of the east Kansas community which gained its identity as the location of another church building that was painted white. Incorporating the community name of White Church, charter members of the Baptist congregation recall a time when their own children hurried through the halls of their building.
The current congregation is now dominated by older residents, although some of the grown up kids come back to visit. And younger families drop by some Sundays. But it’s been at least five years since the church had attempted a Vacation Bible School for community children.
Interim pastor Gary Ledbetter felt the return to such basic outreach ministries could generate prospects in the nearby neighborhood. When he mentioned the idea to his wife, she volunteered to round up a posse of volunteers with experience in teaching VBS. Members of the church were eager to help and pleased to let those from the seminary provide leadership.
Ledbetter serves as vice president for student development at Midwestern Seminary and his wife, Tammi, assists with classes for seminary wives. Together, they could count on many of the women to give a week of their summer to help the nearby church.
The caravan of nine seminary wives and a half dozen of their teenage children followed the trail to Kansas where they teamed up with local church members to teach the morning sessions that featured Bible study, missions education, music, and crafts. Daily attendance of children and workers grew from 46 to 62 the last week of July with first-time visitors from the community making up a third of the students. Over 100 hot dogs were served during a mid-week fellowship dinner which drew five prospective families of children who had visited VBS.
Corralling wives of seminary students, staff and faculty was easy according to Tammi Ledbetter. “Everyone available was willing and glad to do it,” she said. “It was fun to have people you can depend on that much.”
Her earlier experiences of directing Vacation Bible School in Indiana were conducted “by the book” with associational clinics and lots of teacher training. “Here I handed the women their books along with a pep talk and trusted them to prepare,” she explained. They learned the songs en route to the church listening to tapes in their cars as they crossed the Missouri River into Kansas.
Like every other volunteer from the seminary, Tammi Ledbetter is a long-time fan of Vacation Bible School. She remembers attending two straight weeks of VBS as a youngster at First Baptist Church of Fayetteville, Ark. “That was where I first learned about supporting missionaries around the world by giving pennies to the Cooperative Program.”
Her home church and a neighboring congregation of Elmdale Baptist in Springdale, Ark., were among those the Ledbetters asked to contribute their leftover VBS materials for the Kansas church to recycle for a new group. From the Missouri side of Kansas City they received materials from Gashland and Northgate Baptist churches, along with western themed decorations from Pleasant Valley Baptist in Liberty, Mo.
Well-equipped with Southern Baptist literature and experienced teachers, the anticipation was rewarded as children arrived to enroll the first morning. Marching in to the tune of the western music, the pace caught up with Ledbetter as she hustled up some kids to step in as Bible and flagbearers. Just as they began the pledges, a teacher asked if she’d located a Bible to display.
“I looked down to see the youngster holding up the Baptist Hymnal as we were preparing to pledge the Bible.” A quick substitution remedied the mistake and the pledges continued amidst the giggling of those who spotted the error.
Bolero tied cowboys and girls learned about Jesus and missionaries while riding stick horses between the corals. Snacking on chocolate chip cookies provided by church women, the children soaked up lots of attention right along with the gospel message.
Stephanie Castillo, whose husband is enrolled in the diploma program at Midwestern Seminary, said she enjoyed helping the church members get involved in outreach to their rapidly growing community.
“I love Vacation Bible School.” Castillo said, “Even through it’s hard work — it’s the best.” Though she’s seen some churches discontinue the summer program, but she was happy to help in VBS at her home church in New Mexico as well. Her familiarity with the Baptist Sunday School Board’s “Good News Stampede” curriculum was a great help in motivating the kids to join along and sing the theme song, Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter said she saw God’s direction in matching teachers with just the right groups of students. Ginger Tomlinson, whose husband Alan is a New Testament professor at Midwestern, was perfectly suited to work with third and fourth graders.
“Many of the students in Ginger’s class had forms of learning disabilities for which her elementary education expertise was most helpful,” she said. “Not only did she practice incredible patience in some tiring situations, but she modeled the methods of teaching for the women who were helping her from the church. It gave them confidence as they worked with individual kids.”
Castillo was joined by Jody Hamlin, the wife of campus operations director Don Hamlin, in teaching first and second graders. She was still unpacking after arriving on campus in June when Ledbetter enlisted her to help. Having already taught the same curriculum on a Florida mission trip, she was ready for the challenge.
Four- and five-year olds made up the largest class led by preschool parents Caffy Whitney and Debbie Ivie. Whitney’s husband, Don, teaches spiritual formation at the seminary and Ivie’s husband, Randall, is a master of divinity student formerly from Oklahoma. The women involved the youngsters in acting out scenes from the Bible texts they studied. A surprise visit from John the Baptist was made possible as Alan Tomlinson interpreted the role in costume the first day of VBS.
“My second grader was convinced he really ate the locusts he showed them as he told of his life in the wilderness,” Ledbetter said.
Sharon Coppenger, wife of Midwestern Seminary President Mark Coppenger, said she was impressed by the behavior and performance of the children who attended her fifth and sixth grade class.
“Not one time during the whole class did I ever have to say ‘be quiet’ or ‘pay attention,'” Coppenger said. “That was the most amazing class I have ever taught.”
All four participants memorized all the books of the Bible in a week. This feat required repetition, sword drills, and quizzes, she explained as she told of starting with a list and adding new books on as quickly as they could recite the first ones.
As Gary Ledbetter watched the group demonstrate their memory skills, he told them of his own experience of learning the books of the Bible during Vacation Bible School as his grandmother served as his teacher.
“I got a great big Baby Ruth candy bar for knowing the books of the Bible by the end of VBS,” Ledbetter said. “A week later I got saved,” he added. “And I remember both things really well!”
Other seminary volunteers included student wives Diane Newton of Colorado and Stephanie Greer of Illinois, along with faculty wife Faye Rogers whose husband, Ron, teaches missions.
Long-time member of the church, Vera Kindle, said she enjoyed the opportunity to meet all of the women and hear more about the seminary’s ministry as she teamed up with Coppenger in the fifth and sixth grade classroom. She said the group was organized and helpful.
“It made me think, ‘Okay, maybe we’re gonna really start to grow,'” Kindle said. “We’re gonna have to get out and work — because there’s lots of possibilities here.” She and Rachel Smith visited all of the prospects the day after VBS ended.
They expressed enthusiasm for their new pastor, Midwestern Seminary graduate John Harding, who began in late August. Working bi-vocationally, Harding practices law in Blue Valley, Mo. In addition to receiving the master of divinity degree, he completed a doctor of ministry degree at Midwestern at the same time he was studying law.
Kindle said the church averages about 40 in attendance for Sunday morning worship, noting that most are senior citizens. They were thrilled to see the fellowship hall full of children and young families during the week of VBS. “Hopefully, we can keep being enthused.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan