For three days last week, children and adults at Trinity United Methodist Church in McLean re-created a "Bible times" village for a vacation Bible school lesson about life in Israel during the life of Christ.
Dressed in homemade robes and cloaks, 45 adults and 48 children began each evening outdoors in six "tribal" tents where the elders led discussions of family life in biblical times.
The project, "Marketplace 29 A.D.," was designed to let the children learn by doing so that "they will come to know Christianity was a living relationship with God in the days when Jesus was teaching," said Christine Moore, a member of the church who coordinated the re-creation. "We tried to create as real an experience for the kids to live in 29 A.D. as we could."
Some authorities believe that 29 A.D. was the first of the three years that Christ taught.
A marketplace, with adults in the roles of merchants and artisans, was opened in the hall of the church.
Ropemakers, carpenters, potters and weavers plied their trades under tents, showing the children how to do their jobs and letting the children do it themselves. When the children wanted something to eat, they dipped into their money pouches to buy raisins, grapes, cheese and bread.
A well was built, using a big tub, and placed in the center of the hall to provide water when the children prepared the communal bread dough.
Some children, the ones who couldn't avoid the tax collector, dipped into their pouches to pay him when he demanded a levy.
That wasn't the only demand on the children. They also had to fetch water from the communal well.
To add to the re-creation, two live donkeys were rented to emphasize the role and importance of animals during biblical times.
Each night, Gretchen Miller, Trinity's assistant pastor and marketplace storyteller, told a story from the Old Testament.
Miller said she enjoyed the "intergenerational element" of Marketplace 29 A.D. because it involved "not only children, but youth, young adults, parents and grandparents."
The marketplace was open to the community and attracted children who were Mormon, Catholic, Baptist and Jewish.
Bill Dyke, a tribal father and parent of Sarah and Rachele Dyke, said Marketplace 29 A.D. was "the best vacation Bible school I've seen anywhere."
In the marketplace and by living in small family clusters, children learned Jewish customs and dances such as the Dabka and the Hova.
The children also were taught two songs in Hebrew: "Hevaynu Shalom Alaychem" ("We Brought Peace Unto You"), and "Shalom Chaverim" ("Farewell, Good Friends").
Nine-year-old Arthur Rivera said he "had fun making bread," and his 12-year-old sister, Tiara, said she "liked the carpenter shop and the storyteller."
Donna Bacas, marketplace tribal parent and mother of 6-year-old Bible school participant John Harry Bacas, said her son "couldn't wait to come back. He was begging to return."
Said John, "I didn't know vacation Bible school was this much fun."
Annelise Eschenbacher, 11, thought that "Bible school was much better" this year. "Instead of sitting around reading the Bible, we dressed in costumes. You can read the Bible, but here you can do it."