TIFTON -- Armed with a walkie-talkie in one hand and a fist full of schedules, brochures and pamphlets in the other, Lisa Smith, clad in a checkered detective's cap, leads her army of Northside Baptist Church volunteers and students through a not-so-typical week of study.

"The Great Kingdom Caper" began long before the hordes of children came pouring into the worship halls on Monday. Planning for the seven-day event began in December for the ambitious Smith, who serves as director of Northside's Bible School program.

Planning an event seven months ahead of time may seem a bit extreme, but Smith said that the sheer size of the event force organizers to begin making plans very early.

That way, when the kids begin coming to the program, everything is prepared.

For the past couple of years, Northside has used the curriculum of Lifeway Church Resources, literature sanctioned by the Southern Baptist Convention.

According to Smith, volunteers first ask teachers to go through the literature that they'll be teaching and to make a list of supplies that they would need. The volunteers then go to the members of the church with their lists and ask them to either donate items or any funds they can spare to the project.

Finally, the church pays the difference and the group buys the needed supplies and equipment.

This year, a group of church members, including Smith, went to the state Vacation Bible School Training Seminar at the Georgia Baptist Convention Center in Norman Park. During the seminar, the group learned different teaching techniques and various ways to decorate rooms to achieve the maximum effect.

Dr. Fred Evers, pastor of Northside, was taken aback by the advancements made by churches in Bible schools since he attended them as children. He said that "it's just amazing" how much they've changed from the days when he was a kid.

After returning from the weekend-long seminar in March, the group then turned their focus to educating the would-be teachers at the church.

With the planning and teacher educating phase done, Smith and her crew's attention then focused on getting the church facility ready for the impending invasion of children.

Loads of church members, friends and other volunteers descended upon the church. Classrooms, hallways, the gym and nearly every other inch of clear wall space was decorated in the theme of the week, "The Great Kingdom Caper: Cracking the Character Code."

The theme, which is set in London in an "intriguing mission to crack the elusive Character Code" centered on discovering a new Christian character trait every night.

With all of the supplies purchased, all of the decorations done, all of the teachers in place, and after nearly seven months of planning, the church was ready for their week.

Monday, nearly 200 children from the surrounding area embarked on their hunt for Christian values and the 100 or so volunteers began their work.

Every evening began with a 15-20 minute "worship rally" to get the children and the volunteers warmed up for the evening.

The children then moved into the classrooms for 20 minutes of Bible study, then the children split into groups, according to age, and departed into assigned areas of the church for various activities.

By 8:30, the evening's activities were done and everyone went home and prepared for the next day.

According to Smith, by the time the end of the week comes, everyone is exhausted -- but happy.

On the last evening of the program, a "follow-time" has been scheduled for the volunteers to sit down with the families of children who attended who aren't members of the church to get an appraisal of how the week went and to see if they might want to join the church.

This is the one of the biggest outreach programs we have all year, which is one of the reasons why we spend so much time planning and making sure that everything goes well. The intention of our Vacation Bible School is to reach people in our community of all ages, leading them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as led by the Holy Spirit."

After the decorations are off of the walls, and the deafening thunder of hundreds of little feet falls silent, Smith and her crew of volunteers will spend a couple months recuperating from Bible school before jumping back into the fold in December.

For many, vacation Bible school is a time every year when they can get away from the burdens of public schools and enjoy the camaraderie of being with friends and getting closer to their God, but for Smith and her throngs of volunteers vacation Bible school is anything but a vacation.

And yet through all the work and time involved in the annual event, all one can find is smiles and a humble nod amongst the volunteers.



To contact reporter JD Sumner call 382-4321, ext. 207

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