By Dawn Zurmiller
OTTERVILLE – Ten years ago, Keri Thomas made a decision to follow Christ, and with that came a strong responsibility to prepare today’s youth to stand strong as the future generation of the church.
Leaving behind a good spiritual legacy and preparing these young people to do battle in today’s secular world is Thomas’ goal. She wants all Christians to join as a community of believers and share God’s Word.
Thomas has been making sure children have a way to do Vacation Bible School (VBS). However, seven years ago her family took it a step further and began having kids stay with them during the week. That is why VBS week at her home is lovingly referred to as “Camp Thomas.” This year it is July 11-16.
“Everyone has their sphere of influence,” she said. “This just happens to be ours.”
The first year Camp Thomas began, the Thomas family hosted six children. This year the number is 17. They range in age from 4-16 and are participating in the VBS at First Baptist Church, Otterville.
Some of the teens who regularly attend Camp Thomas are being serviced by a new youth study at the church. They are too old for VBS but really wanted to come, so the church found a way to make that happen.
“The fact that there are kids that would take time out of their summer to come and devote themselves is just a very cool thing,” Thomas said. “Scripture says to train children up in the way they should go, and these wonderful little seeds are being planted. It’s nothing we set out to do on purpose, because the Lord does it all, and we just stand back and watch. But even if it’s just one time that they come, it’s planted. It will take root, and so I get very excited about that.”
The week’s schedule for Camp Thomas is never totally set in stone, but rather led by the Holy Spirit. Whatever Keri and, husband, Randy, feel led to do, talk about, or study with the children is exactly what happens.
Youth will enjoy taking walks, boating, fishing, a talent show, and volleyball among other things during this fun-filled week. There are a few things that will be a part of every day which includes a morning and night Bible study, swimming, games, activities, personal time to socialize, VBS and chores.
Upon arrival at Camp Thomas, participants sit down and come up with a menu of things they enjoy. They then are divided into teams which will rotate through chores during the week, such as cooking, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and outside pick-up.
Sophia Marsh has enjoyed Camp Thomas for a few years.
“My favorite part is just getting to come and hang out with everyone all week,” she said. “It’s strange because you would think a house full of kids would be total chaos, but it’s really not. Every kid has a job and every kid knows what that job is and they do it. They want to help. It’s a God thing!”
Of course, along with 17 children come a few challenges. Thomas is thankful to have aunts as well as others donating food and other items during the week.
The biggest challenge is transportation. Although, the Thomas family attends church in Otterville, they live about 15 miles away. This year Keri and Randy will both be driving vehicles to VBS along with Randy’s mother, Josie Thomas.
Another challenge is the type of music listened to during the week. The Thomas family listens to Christian music which can be a culture shock to some who participate. In order to make this more fun, Thomas began picking a new Christian band or artist to feature during the week.
“There’s nothing cooler than listening to Christian music, and a kid says to turn it up,” she said. “I’ll say, ‘Absolutely! Let’s listen ‘til our ears bleed!’”
Perhaps the most profound part of Camp Thomas is the emphasis on God’s Word. Keri Thomas loves the group Bible study because she takes pleasure in seeing the various ages gathered together, with Bibles opened and helping one another.
Randy and Keri also have two daughters, Hannah, 13, and Faith, 10. Hannah explained her favorite part of the week.
“I really enjoy the private Bible studies I do with my cousins,” she said. “Because I do Bible Drill during the year, whenever others don’t understand something in the Bible they know they can come to me and I will try to make it simple and easy to understand. It’s amazing to hand someone a Bible and then have them come up to you later and say they found this awesome verse they want you to hear.”
The kids also hold themselves accountable for memorizing the Bible verses for VBS, and will drill each other throughout the day.
The words of young Faith Thomas are one way to summarize the entire Camp Thomas experience: “It’s fun!”