There are two huge events taking place this summer. One is the World Cup. This international soccer championship, which began on June 14 and concludes July 15, takes place every four years and is the most popular sporting event in the world. I don’t want to bore you with too many statistics, but since 1 billion people watched the previous World Cup final in 2014, apparently there are a few soccer fans on the planet.
The first official World Cup in 1930 was won by Uruguay. In total, 77 different nations have played in at least one World Cup, but only eight have won it. Brazil has five titles, while Germany and Italy have four. In 2014, teams from 207 nations participated in the qualification tournaments, seeking to be one of the 32 teams to play for the championship. In 1950, when Uruguay beat Brazil for its second title, there were 171,772 people in attendance at the match in Rio de Janeiro, the most ever for a World Cup event. Some studies have indicated that the World Cup has an increased effect on the number of heart attacks in nations whose teams are competing in the event. Sadly, death threats and worse have been known to occur when one’s team gets eliminated from the tournament.
The other huge summer event going on is Vacation Bible School. Driving around town, you would be hard-pressed not to see a banner on church grounds promoting that church’s VBS. Though not as internationally recognized as soccer, VBS has been a part of our nation’s churches, especially Baptist churches, for over 100 years. Ms. Walker Hawes, the wife of a doctor specializing in medical ministry to kids, noticed that the children of New York City who visited her husband’s clinic received injuries while playing in the streets of New York. She determined they needed a safe place to play and occupy their time. So in 1898, she rented a beer hall in New York’s East Side in which to conduct her Everyday Bible School. In 1901, the New York City Baptist Mission Society took the lead role in the school, and by 1903 there were 17 different schools being conducted for the kids.
Eventually, in the 1920’s, VBS began to gain popularity in the South. In 1926, approximately 300 vacation bible schools were conducted in Southern Baptist churches. By 1950, the number had surpassed 20,000. In 2009, the enrollment for Southern Baptist Vacation Bible School was around 3 million people. And approximately 10 percent of those identified themselves as unchurched.
This week is our church’s VBS. By God’s magnificent grace, we will host many more kids than the total attendance of our church on Sundays. And just as VBS has always done, ours will reach dozens who do not attend church or follow Jesus. I have a special memory of VBS from my childhood, and our hope is that these kids will have wonderful memories, too, that will lead them to worship the Savior who loves them so much. So, thank you to Ms. Hawes, for reaching the kids on the streets of New York right where they were. And thank you if you’ve served in or prayed for VBS. The next generation needs King Jesus more than ever.