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Church aims to reach more kids with Bible school held at YMCA
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Highlands Church volunteers Lily Wallace, front left, Anne Ayers left, and Bobby Ayers fold shirts that will be used at the vacation bible school the church will hold at the J. A. Walters Family YMCA next week. - photo by Tom Reed

Although they regularly welcome the community into their place of worship, this time, The Highlands Church members are taking worship to the community.

Instead of confining its vacation Bible school program within the church, The Highlands will be hosting "The Backyard Expedition: Takin’ VBS to the Streets" at the J.A. Walters Family YMCA, 2455 Howard Road in Gainesville.

The free camp will meet from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

It’s open to pre-Kindergarten through fifth-grade students. And participants don’t have to be a member of the YMCA or the Highlands.

"I came up with the idea two years ago after hearing about a church in Florida that did VBS in their local park to attract families that might not step foot inside a church," said Elizabeth Jones, Highlands director of children and family ministries.

"The Backyard Expedition Club is a call to leave our comfort zone — The Highlands Church — and take the gospel of Jesus Christ to a community that desperately needs to hear His message of hope and redemption. Lost people are not necessarily out looking for a church home. They are not surfing our website looking for opportunities for Bible study and worship.

"However, they will send their kids to a fun event at their local YMCA."

The goal of the camp is to teach campers about God’s love, not overwhelm them with religious lessons.

"At The Backyard Expedition Club, kids will have the opportunity to experience the love of Christ and hear the Gospel, while playing games, eating snacks and making crafts to help them remember that they are special and loved by God," Jones said.

This is the first time that The Highlands members have taken their summer Bible school outside of the church. It’s also the first time that the J.A. Walters facility has hosted such an event.

"I’ve been the CEO for a year. One of many goals throughout that time has been for us to get out and help our community and those in need," said Rich Gallagher, Georgia Mountains YMCA CEO.

"An important part of that community is our churches. We’re looking for more churches to partner with.

"We’re trying to be more than a fitness facility. We want to truly impact our community."

The camp will be held in the J.A. Walters gym. Kids will get to enjoy various activity stations, jumping on inflatables and a group story time.

Families can register online at www.thehighlandschurch.net or register the day of the camp.

"The mission of the church is to love God and to encourage people," Jones said.

"We want to make sure we really are out there loving God and serving people."

On Friday, all of the participating families will be invited to The Highlands for a free outdoor movie screening that includes free snacks.

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