That's Not Christmas!
by Major Sally Allchin
Having been to my nearest Christian bookstore, armed with several beautiful Christmas books I sat down to write the corps children’s Christmas pageant. My soon to be four year old niece climbed up on my lap asking, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm writing a play about Christmas.' Being a typical pre-schooler, she further enquired, 'What are these books?' I replied, 'Christmas books' and she said, 'Can you read them to me?', so being the doting aunty I obliged. After a few pages she questioned, 'Where is Santa and where are the presents?'
It was then I realised that none of these beautiful books spoke the language of a child who was not engaged in any church based activities, let alone familiar with the name of Jesus or the concept of God. While packed with Bible verses, the writers had made the assumption that the reader would be familiar with the Christian Christmas story.
Several months later one of our divisional leaders asked, 'Can we produce a low cost (no more than $2) item with a Christian message to give as Christmas gifts to the children of our 0-5 ministries?' Many of these children and their families do not attend church. Reflecting back to the situation with my niece, my first thought was that this gift would need to simplistically tell something of the Christmas story, look attractive and be functional for the families who attend the numerous programs that we run. My self imposed guidelines were:
- Approximately 120 words (based on one minute attention span for young children)
- Pre-schoolers choice of words and language
- No Christian jargon
- Book would begin with an invitation for children to add to the pictures.
- Illustrations to be stick figure (child’s first drawing)
- Story to close with a prayer for the child.
- Book to conclude with the appropriate Bible passage. This would provide truth to the story for the adult.
Some 45 minutes later I had the story. The next challenge was to get the required support to see this idea become a reality. Not being sure of the demand that would come from the corps (Salvation Army churches) and social programme centres, estimating the number of books that would be required was a challenge. I thought if I could sell 1,000 copies that would be good, 2,000 would be fantastic and any more than that would be a huge bonus. As it turned out The Salvation Army took a financial step of faith and supported me in making this resource become a reality.
The initial print run was for two copies per corps by way of introducing this new resource to our people. Corps were asked to return an accompanying order form. I also spoke at a local interdenominational playgroup conference. It was here God revealed more than ever that He has a big picture view and 5,000 books later The Baby Jesus Story was being read in Salvationists' homes, in homes of church families and, more importantly, in thousands of homes across Australia where no-one attended church. The birth of Jesus was now making sense to so many who previously knew nothing of the truth (Jesus' coming) behind Christmas.
Following on from the success of The Baby Jesus Story I was asked to write a second book. This time I believed Santa and Jesus could come together. The Present introduced readers to the truth that God gave the first Christmas present, a present in the person of Jesus who would bring us peace – to which one parent commented, The Present, made explaining to my child how Jesus and all the presents come together at Christmas, so easy.
With the second book ready to go to print The Salvation Army took a leap of faith and ordered 5,000 books. This time there were no teasers forwarded to corps. Again the Christian Playgroup Network was fantastic in its support covering some 20% of total sales. I ran out of books. After all the figures of printing and postage had been finalised, there was a AUD$3,400 surplus. This was not something that I had planned but it is part of God’s ‘big picture’. The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory's Women’s Ministries decided that the profit would go to the Women’s Ministries Missionary Project – La Gloria Child Care Centre in Tijuana, Mexico.
Then I was asked to write a third book with leaders stating that a playgroup typically runs in three year cycles. The Shepherds and Me was the final book. With these two factors in mind and the speed at which book three fell onto the pages, Women’s Ministries decided on 7,000 books and this year we would intentionally promote the book as supporting La Gloria. At the time of writing, The Shepherds and Me is 25% sold. The message to each child and their circle of influence is simple: 'Just as God spoke to the shepherds on the first Christmas, he wants to tell me about his love for me.'
For me this has been an interesting journey of perspectives:
- Theologians look at the simplistic wording and comment in the negative.
- Christians say, 'So what another Christmas book!'
- Pre-school ministry leaders say, 'Thank God something that my unchurched families will understand'.
- Parents who go to church say, 'That makes sense to me and my child'.
It has been wonderful hearing stories of how different groups have used these books in their programmes and the feedback from parents just blesses me. The children get excited at being able to add their own expressions and details to the pages and it is a joy to see the delight on their face as we talk about their part in the book. As well as this a number of children come to me and quote parts of the book.
The great joy for me will be to hear one day that someone’s journey to a personal relationship with Jesus was prompted by reading one of these books.
Major Sally Allchin, The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory