CERESCO – It’s not every day that you get to drive right into the mouth of a whale.

But that’s what young members of the local churches in Ceresco got to do last Thursday as they participated in a new form of Vacation Bible School.

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Ceresco hosted a drive-by Vacation Bible School last week for children from the community. It was the first drive-by bible school to take place in the community, and the only Pastor Scott Larson had heard of. Larson is the part-time pastor at the church and works full-time as the development director for the Eastmont Foundation in Lincoln.

“It’s something Ceresco has never experienced,” Larson said.

Normally, the three area churches work together to put on Vacation Bible School, said Suzy Fredrickson, the Christian education leader at Immanuel. The four-day VBS would take place at night from Monday to Thursday, with a performance for the community on the last night.

This year was Immanuel’s turn to take the lead for the community bible school, and they were deep in the throes of planning when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We had so much energy and momentum going we didn’t want to stop completely,” Fredrickson said.

A church member had put on an Easter egg scavenger hunt one year, and the committee decided to adopt the idea.

“We took the idea and adjusted it to Vacation Bible School,” said Fredrickson.

Vacation Bible School typically uses a purchased curriculum. But with the drastic changes, the committee decided to develop their own curriculum instead, Fredrickson said.

They chose a theme of overcoming challenges through faith and connecting with God, Fredrickson said, in reaction to the challenges facing the world today with the pandemic. Bible stories were chosen that tied in the theme.

Seven stations were set up around the community to illustrate these stories. Participants were given a booklet that summarized the story and included prayers and links to videos and songs that families could access during the event or after.

The first station was located at Immanuel and told the story of Jonah and the Big Fish, a story from the Old Testament. The vehicles drove through the mouth of a “big fish” made of tarps and decorated with colorful balloons and signs inside the “belly” of the fish.

The “big fish” was very popular with the children who took part in the drive-by VBS. Equally as popular was station No. 5, where the pastor helped tell the story of David and Goliath.

The giant (Larson), sat on top of a dunk tank. The children got to throw a ball into a tub. If they made it (and they did 100% of the time), the pastor was felled (dunked).

Larson splashed down into the water and climbed back up at least 80 times, according to Fredrickson.

“He literally got dunked for every kid,” she said.

The story at the final stop was about Jesus’ resurrection. It was illustrated by three crosses on a hill by the water tower that are a permanent fixture in the community, Larson said.

“We wanted to draw attention to them,” he added.

The other stations told stories like Daniel and the Lion’s Den and Noah’s Ark. Church members who lived in Ceresco volunteered their yards or driveways to host multiple stations throughout the community. Congregants who lived outside of town helped with the setup and also assisted in creating the gift bags given out at the end of the route.

Signs at the stations and the directional arrows placed along the route were painted by Fredrickson’s mother, Jane Otte. A retired school teacher, the 80-year-old put her artistic talents to good use for the event.

At the end of the tour through the stories of the Bible, the children received a cinch sack filled with crafts and treats that matched the stations. The pick up point was at the village park, where a free concert was also taking place.

Fredrickson said it was a lucky coincidence that both events ended up on the same night. The drive-by VBS was supposed to take place four

days earlier, but forecasts of inclement weather forced the organizers to move the

event to last Thursday.

“I think we ended up with a lot more traffic there because of (the concert),” she said.

Fredrickson said the drive-by VBS provided a way for parents to be more involved in the event past because they were driving their children around and reading the stories to them.

“We loved the fact that parents were participating,” she said.

Organizers gave out 80 cinch sacks to children, which is about the same as the number of children that participate in a regular VBS. But Fredrickson said there were several vehicles with children above or below the VBS age (pre-kindergarten to sixth grade) that took the tour. The entire community was invited to the unique event, resulting in several vehicles occupied solely by adults following the route as well.

Along with modifying VBS because of the pandemic, the congregation of Immanuel Lutheran Church has also had to make some changes after the coronavirus became a threat. In-person worship services were called off and just started back up again in the past few weeks.

In the interim, the pastor used the teleconferencing app Zoom to provide worship services. Now, they are creating a hybrid of Zoom and in-person worship.

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