By CINDY SENA-MARTINEZ
As schools wind down and families prepare for their summer activities, at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Religious Operations Center, we are gearing up for our annual Vacation Bible School. Every year VBS runs nationwide throughout the summer months, offering a week-long program for children of various ages. These themed events pull volunteer teachers and students from a very wide range of faith backgrounds. For one week, the church is united to learn, explore, pray, sing, and play while focusing on spiritual growth, development and wellbeing. It is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn life lessons, socialize with other children, and have loads of fun despite each person’s religious views – and they do not have to be a church member to attend.
While activities are centered on themes about God, VBS offers a fun learning environment without the formality of a Sunday service. VBS also offers an introduction to a deep-seated, lifelong resource that is being talked about more and more in an unpredictable world – resiliency and happiness. Psychology Today published an article in 2010 based on a Canadian study that sheds additional light on this topic. Canadian researchers re-ported that children between ages 8 and 12 who believed in a “higher power” were found to have higher levels of happiness. Most parents want their child to be happy– resiliency and happiness. Psychology Today published an article in 2010 based on a Canadian study that sheds additional light on this topic. Canadian researchers re-ported that children between ages 8 and 12 who believed in a “higher power” were found to have higher levels of happiness. Most parents want their child to be happy– but not the elusive, fleeting happiness that is dependent on the material world; they want their child to experience a deep-seated happiness that comes from knowing and believing there is something, someone greater we are all connected to in this life.
The University of British Columbia researchers repeat-ed their study in two different groups; one group came from a Christian community in BC and the other from New Delhi where children came from various ethnic and religious groups. Researchers found the same result for each group.
“Children with a spiritual belief system report greater levels of happiness versus those who just go to church or have a level of religiousness,” the study found. Researchers also found that “children have a rather sophisticated grasp of spirituality and are happier because of it.” The statistical numbers were also noteworthy; up to 17 percent reported spirituality accounted for their sense of happiness; other topics such as money, gender, or parent’s marital status registered at less than 1 percent. Although some groups want to differentiate between spirituality and religion, value judgements should not play a role in creating a distinction between the two. For this article, the two are interchangeable and no preference is given to one over the other.
According to the University of British Columbia study, children want to be happy and a majority of parents want this for their child. Because this particular study looked at belief in something greater than self or a “higher power,” parents and education systems have a responsibility to nurture a child’s connection to some-thing greater. For those of us working with children on a regular basis via education, we are receiving validation to create programs that en-able us to plant the seeds of a happiness that will last a lifetime. As educators, we can help foster a connection with something greater, con-tributing to a child’s sense of happiness.
Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development has also surmised that spiritual growth and development is beneficial to children and en-courages more pediatricians to address this element of our humanity when discussing health with parents and their patients. The article states the general consensus seems to be that “by ignoring the spiritual dimension of health, for whatever reason, we may be depriving ourselves of the leverage we need to help empower individuals and populations to achieve improved physical, social, and mental health.”
So what does all of this have to do with VBS? A child does not have to have a particular religious back-ground or even attend church regularly to participate in VBS. The benefit is learning about something (someone) greater which is found to contribute to their sense of happiness. At VBS, children can grow in their understand-ing and awareness of a higher power which in turn strengthens their ability to nurture their internal purpose and meaning of life. Knowing that we are not alone and that we are part of a much greater purpose can support a child’s self-worth and sense of value as a member of this world and our respective society. Most Christian views teach that we are part of something greater – i.e., the body of Christ – therefore we each have a unique purpose no one else can fulfill because there never has been and never will be another person like me to do what I need to do to con-tribute to this world.
JBER VBS 2017 is scheduled June 5 through 9 at Arctic Warrior Chapel from 9 a.m. to noon. Register online at https://vbspro.events/p/jbervbs2017.