Our pastor gave a reminder Sunday for parents to enroll their children in the upcoming VBS program. Vacation Bible School is a big deal at our church; we have a lot of kids in the congregation and many more in the neighborhood.
My mind drifted a bit after the announcement and I thought about my own VBS experiences. My parents made sure I was enrolled in a VBS every year until I was a teenager.
In my reverie I thought about what I had learned at all those Vacation Bible Schools. Oh, I could remember a few craft projects, playing softball, drinking weak Kool-Aid™ and generally learning about God and Jesus, but nothing specific. Except, that is, for the VBS following fourth grade. That year the VBS theme was “Others.”
Each day we sang a song entitled “Others.” Somehow that song locked itself in my memory. Even today, 61 years later, I can sing (if you call my croaking “singing”) the chorus. I needed some help from the Internet to recall the first verse: “Lord, help me live from day to day/In such a self-forgetful way/That even when I kneel to pray/My prayer shall be for others.”
It is odd that the “others” theme left such a strong memory. At age 10 I was a self-centered kid and, sadly, in some ways remain so today. Over the years I had a mentor in caring for others; my mother had a true “others” heart. In nearly every aspect of her life she put others before herself. I witnessed this many times over the years and her goodness did not go unnoticed.
When I was promoted into management at the Sioux City Journal my job description included working on behalf of others. The Journal supported the Goodfellows organization that worked with the Order of the Little Yellow Dog, a Sioux City tradition. The Little Yellow Dog folks raised money so the Goodfellows could purchase and distribute toys to disadvantaged boys and girls at Christmas.
Having known some meager Christmases in my childhood I loved this program and worked hard to solicit funds. My team’s efforts were always surpassed by a crew of seasonally unemployed construction workers. Led by a man named Pat Greco these guys busted their butts to raise money for kids at Christmas.
The earnest caring for others by this good natured, rough-and-ready gang was contagious. They helped me better appreciate the joy of helping others.
Several months after I became the publisher of the Creston News Advertiser I learned I was in charge of the community’s Christmas Basket fund which purchased groceries every Christmas for families in need. After a few seasons I worked with a local attorney to create a non-profit organization so when I left Creston I would be assured the program would continue. It has.
My heart was warmed by the folks who stepped forward to serve on our board of directors. They worked hard each Christmas to help others.
Some years later, after a convoluted and challenging sequence of job-related events that can only be described as God-orchestrated, I became the development director of The Salvation Army in Des Moines.
Though I had experienced financial difficulties in my own life, I was shocked by the depth of poverty I witnessed. What I saw strongly motivated my efforts to raise money to meet the material needs of impoverished individuals and families.
I was humbled time-and-again by donors who showed great concern for others. I recall a gift of $5.00 from an elderly woman who said, “I wish I could give more.” I reminded her of Jesus’ parable of the widow’s mite. I also remember the unassuming couple that handed me a check for $20,000 every Christmas and always said, “If you need more just call us.” They truly cared about others.
Let me be clear: any altruism I may possess is anemic compared to so many others. Over the years, however, my heart has been “tenderized” and I have no doubt that the seed for this process was planted in the heart of a self-centered 10-year-old during a Vacation Bible School 61 years ago.
VBS — it’s about planting seeds.
Arvid Huisman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.