For the past two years, the Baptist Children and Family Ministries (BCFM) team has produced [email protected] and [email protected] resources for churches and families. KAREN WARNER and MARELIZE BESTER at BCFM’s national office reveal the faith journey they went on when they decided to develop their latest product, the Advent Tree.
All of BCFM’s ‘@Home’ resources aim to help parents establish ongoing faith conversations with their children at home. It is the Deuteronomy 6 principle of the spiritual being incorporated into the daily rhythms of life. Karen and Marelize knew this year’s product would have the same outcome in mind and also follow their standard model of ‘read, talk, do’. But they needed a fresh and exciting new concept.
An idea forms
A combination of a preschool activity and recent experience with laser-cut products, sparked an idea with Marelize—a 3D Christmas tree with decorations that told a story. This idea reminded Karen of something she had done years ago with her own children.
“It was called the Box of Blessings,” says Karen. “I wrapped twenty-four decorations, wrote a verse on the outside of each, and then put them in a box. For the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas, we would open a package each day, read the verse, and hang the ornament that represented that part of the story on the Christmas tree. By Christmas, the tree was fully decorated with the nativity story.”
Marelize suggested accompanying the Advent Tree with an illustrated map of Bethlehem. For each of the twenty‑four days leading up to Christmas, families would add a decoration to their ‘pop-and-slot’ (3D puzzle) tree, read the recommended scripture, search for decoration images hidden on the map, and then answer a question or do an activity together.
Obstacles in the path
Coming up with the idea was one thing, but how to manufacture the product? Quotes from Kiwi companies put the Advent Trees well out of churches’ reach, but going offshore for a manufacturer was a difficult option. How could BCFM ensure they were ethical businesses?
Getting the right illustrations for the product was an important part of making the product sellable. Andrés Carrió was the ideal choice but he had left WindsorCreative to study abroad.
“Eventually, we decided that the best we could do was to have a tree made from thick cardboard and parents would have to cut it out and slot it in. And I would have to do the drawings myself,” says Marelize.
It wasn’t the creative dream she had had, but what could they do? Well, within one week God answered that question.
Embarking on a faith journey
Marelize found a company at a gift fair that sold pop-and-slot activity sets similar to those she had originally envisaged. The following day a visiting family pastor saw the ‘plan B’ cardboard cut-out prototype on Marelize’s desk. “There is no way I am cutting this out,” he told her. “I’m a busy dad, and this is not happening! You have to do a pop‑and‑slot.”
So, the question was put to a focus group: if the choice was a cheaper cut-out version or a more expensive pop-out model, which would you choose? The group unanimously voted for the latter.
Back at the gift fair, Marelize asked whether the activity sets’ manufacturer would be interested in a custom job. The answer was no, but they encouraged Marelize to search for a company that would, and to ask the hard questions about how the workplace treated its staff.
“I went online that evening and started emailing companies who made 3D puzzles to see if they would do custom work,” says Marelize. “Only one lady in China came back to me. They offered a good price and she was happy to answer all my questions about their employment conditions.”
The final answer to prayer was when Karen and Marelize heard that Andrés was returning to work with Windsor Creative. They immediately commissioned him, and within two weeks of returning to New Zealand he had drawn all the components for the Advent Tree product.
Ordering eight thousand units from a company in China with whom they had no prior connection still took faith. However, early orders seemed to confirm they were on the right path, with the first six hundred pre-sold within two days.
Profits from the sales are going back into ministry and mission with children and families, enabling BCFM to provide more resources for Baptist churches.
A story for everyone
Although originally conceived with a church-based audience in mind, Karen and Marelize quickly realised the Advent Tree was accessible for non‑believers too.
A successful application to a philanthropic funder meant they were able to gift 2000 Advent Trees to community-based groups.
Alongside the 6000 Advent Trees purchased by church groups, this resource will be used in 8000 homes around the country this Christmas.
“We want to reclaim Christmas from the tinsel, elves and Santa. And we want to be saying in our homes, ‘Christmas is not about the buying and the hype. It’s a real story. Yes, it’s a story from two thousand years ago in Israel, but it’s still relevant for us today.’”
This year, the [email protected] Advent Trees were only available through BCFM, but Marelize dreams that next year they will sell them through secular retailers, too—something that will require yet another step of faith!
Story: Marelize Bester and Karen Warner
Marelize and Karen are, respectively, the Resource Coordinator and National Team Leader for Baptist Children and Family Ministries.
- How could you incorporate the Advent Tree into the life and faith of the whole community over the weeks leading up to Christmas?
- How might your Sunday morning worship time be used to enhance what is happening in the home?
- In what ways could you use social media and your church’s online presence to support families’ use of the tree?
Photo credit: Junie Jumig
Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.