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Learning is fun at this Bible school

Bible school is not just about the Old Testament and the Garden of Eden.

Pirate dollars, Mr. Goofball and the moonwalk were the topics during last week's Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Land O'Lakes.

"They don't press the Bible as much," said Tim Hayes, whose children were enrolled in the class. "Although it's part of the curriculum, it's more fun and games."

His children agreed. Lauren Hayes, 8, said she collected points during the week so she could win prizes. And 6-year-old Kevin Hayes enjoyed the candy prizes the most.

"I have cotton candy. They had it for refreshment," he said.

During the weeklong school, about 400 kids piled into the assembly hall at 9 a.m. each morning to hear Mr. Goofball's zany jokes.

"What did one walrus say to the other walrus?" 10-year-old Clint Rossbach asked as he recited one of Mr. Goofball's riddles. "Nothing. They can't talk, silly."

Besides Bible verses, the children also learned about arctic animals for the arctic theme this year. Each year, the church picks a certain theme, and the children learn facts about it.

Teachers held Bible study for one hour, dedicating 30 minutes to Scripture study. The remaining time covered memorizing verses and practicing skits and songs for Friday's talent show.

Teacher aide Melissa Rossbach, 17, worked with the 5-year-old group to see if they had learned their verses.

"I volunteered to do this; it's fun," Rossbach said. "Although, it gets a little hectic sometimes."

Projects and painting were the highlight of the day for the crafts area, said Amanda Rossbach, 15, also a teacher's aide.

"I lay out all the materials so the children can make projects, like the dinosaurs they made today," Amanda Rossbach said.

The day ended with a little moonwalking, where the children jumped around inside an air-filled float-like dome. And, the day wasn't complete without refreshments, where the children could purchase candy and prizes with the pirate dollars they earned for good behavior.

The school is a blessing for many of the parents who work during the day, and offers an alternative to day care.

"Because I work three days a week, it helps me out a lot," said parent Doris McQuiniff. "Myrtle Lake Baptist Day Care brings them here three times a week, and my children actually wanted to go the two other days as well."

McQuiniff enrolled her three children _ Jared, 7, Jon, 9, and Jennifer, 10 _ in Bible school.

Jennifer said she enjoyed listening to the Scriptures and learning about the past.

"We learn about Jesus, the disciples and what they did back then," she said.

Vacation Bible School began about 13 years ago with Pastor David Peterson and Assistant Pastor Rick Avriett. The first year of the school barely saw 200 children, but last year a record 587 kids attended throughout the week. The children come from all denominations.

About 90 people were involved with putting together the school. At least two people, a teacher and an aide, worked in each of the 18 classes. Volunteers also were needed to drive two buses and two vans, and organize activities such as crafts and the moonwalk.

"So many people take off a week of work to volunteer here," said Denise Peterson, the pastor's wife. "They don't know how much we appreciate their help."

Because of the growing number of people, the church is planning to expand its sanctuary. Space is tight, forcing Denise Peterson to hold her class at her home nearby.

"This program is a lot bigger than most churches larger than us have," Rick Avriett said.

His father, Richard Avriett, chairman of the deacon board, has been helping out at the school for eight years. He said he is impressed that things run so smoothly.

"No man has been here longer than me," Richard Avriett said. "It has to be a well-organized program, or it wouldn't work.

"We stamp the kids so we can keep track of everyone. We can't lose them. We have to be able to account for people's children."

Despite all the fun during the day, the children didn't forget the reason they were at the school: to learn about the Bible.

Jacob Galster, 7, is a regular member of the First Baptist Church. He practiced reciting his verses and explained one psalm for his peers.

"We want to teach the children what the Bible says, because people don't really know," Denise Peterson said. "The kids are actually learning the word of the Lord, and I think that is lacking in most churches.

"One girl on my daughter's swim team, who we brought with us, said to me, "I like this church because I actually learn something.' They realize you're not just supposed to play games. They're hungry to learn."

Rick Avriett said that he is surprised at how many children from other churches or from families that don't regularly attend church enjoy the Bible stories.

"Our main goal is to teach them about the Bible," he said. "We're not trying to get them to come to our church, but just share the Bible with them."