Summers in Kentucky when I was a kid included strawberry pickin’, bike ridin’, swimmin’, swingin’ and goin’ to Vacation Bible School. I loved VBS, even though the only thing I remember doin’ was creating flower bouquets out of homemade salt dough and painting them with finger nail polish. Not sure if there was any sort of spiritual significance to that, but it was fun and I wanted to go back, year after year. And when my children came along many a strawberry moon (yep, that’s a real thing) later, I knew I wanted them to attend VBS as well.
Fast forward thirty years and Vacation Bible School today is quite the production requiring a cast of volunteers comparable to that of Broadway’s LES MISERABLES. My children love it, and what’s not for them to like? Energetic music kicks off and concludes each day, professionally produced videos instruct and entertain, silly skits ignite tons of laughter and colorful, unique tchotchkes get distributed throughout the week like Halloween candy. So what’s not to like if you’re a Catholic parent? Well, simply put, it’s not Catholic.
My kids have only attended three Vacation Bible Schools since we became Catholic in 2013. The most vivid memory I have of that first one has little to do with Bible stories and crafts, but a lot to do with opposition to my then new-found faith that I should have anticipated living in the South. The kids, proudly donning their VBS emblazoned t-shirts complete with our Catholic church’s name, and I were eating a celebratory meal at Chic-fil-A to mark the end of a great week. An elderly employee whose job it was to welcome patrons asked how we were doing. When I told him we had just finished Vacation Bible School he glanced at their shirts then presumably saw the name of our church. With narrowed eyes he practically seethed, “Catholic? How many children got saved? Hmmm?” Then walked away. I learned from that experience to have a ready answer, because I was woefully unprepared with an adequate answer.
The second year I volunteered and got to see the inner-workings and what it truly takes to pull-off an energy packed five days. I remember thinking how any Protestant child could attend our VBS and feel welcomed and their parents wouldn’t feel threatened that their kids were getting “indoctrinated” with Catholic teachings. The only thing notably Catholic was one teacher handed out prayer cards. As someone who had crossed the Tiber just fifteen short months prior, the “Catholic light” approach even made me comfortable. And who doesn’t like comfort? But it would take another year of being home in Mother Church before I’d long for a more Catholic-centered Vacation Bible School and witness how one is achieved, sans slick promotionals or parent volunteers.
We relocated to another city within Alabama back in December, so with the move came another Catholic parish to join, one with a different vision for VBS 2015. The organizers decided the children should encounter something distinctly Catholic, so they turned to Totus Tuus. Totus whatus? I know, when written it looks like an exotic ice cream flavor. But it’s Latin for “totally yours.” It’s a program that relies on faith-filled college students and seminarians from the local diocese to instruct kids and teens alike in the ways of Christ, and it’s totally Catholic.
“Totus Tuus is a Catholic youth program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through catechesis, evangelization, Christian witness, and Eucharistic worship. The goal of Totus Tuus is to help young people grow in the understanding of, and strengthen their faith in, Jesus Christ. It is only by establishing a real and personal relationship with Him that we can be led to the love of the Father in the Spirit and so be made sharers in the life of the Holy Trinity. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 4:16). Totus Tuus strives to bring our faith to life by creating a balance between knowledge of the meaning of the Sacraments and an authentic Sacramental life.” ~ Website, Diocese of Wichita.
Totus Tuus is not an outreach program to bring in the masses that I’ve always been accustomed to with VBS, but a deepening-your-Catholic-Christian-faith program. And shouldn’t that be the focus? As a Protestant, I attended one too many worship services where the pastor claimed if you were in the pew, you were in a “safe place to kick the tires.” I’ve come to discover that Church isn’t for tire kickin’ seekers but for the Christ worshipin’ believer. It should be a place that nurtures and strengthens your existing faith and Totus Tuus fosters that within the students of the parish.
Sheepishly, I must tell you that after registering my kids for Totus Tuus I forewarned them it probably wouldn’t be fun and under no circumstances were they to compare it to previous VBSs or they’d be sorely disappointed. I mean, how could daily Mass and a trip to the confessional compare to zany group competitions and captivating science experiments? But the truth is, they thought it was just as much fun. Yes, there were some silly songs and water games, yet more importantly they learned about the practices of an ancient faith that took my husband and me forty years to discover. One afternoon when I picked them up they excitedly explained to me the three theological virtues and the four cardinal virtues before telling me what they ate during snack time. If you’re a parent, you know ‘snack talk’ trumps all other conversations, but not following a day of Totus Tuus.
I highly recommend if your parish hosts a typical Vacation Bible School each summer, to next year consider Totus Tuus. Contact your local diocese for more information and if you go with it, be prepared for your children to become stronger Catholics as a result. And, for good measure, be prepared to answer should a well-meaning inquirer ask you how many kids got saved during the week. Tell them VBS isn’t about numbers, but about equipping each child to pick up his or her cross daily…for many moons to come.
About Kim Tisor
Kim Tisor spent four decades as a Southern Baptist prior to converting to the Catholic faith in 2013, along with her husband, Randy. Her work in public relations and broadcasting spans more than twenty years, primarily working for the U.S. Army. Kim is grateful for her current season in life that allows her to be a stay-at-home mom to three, kind-hearted, beautiful children. In her spare time she blogs at Our Catholic Way, where she shares her journey into the Catholic Church. She also records a weekly podcast, interviewing other converts who recount their conversion stories.