Norfolk's Andy reveals the heartbeat of Christmas
The heartbeat of Christmas will come to life across Norfolk and beyond as Andy Jones unfolds the nativity story from a box of delights for children in churches and schools. Sandie Shirley reports.
Andy, who heads up the charity Raise, is helping youngsters to be immersed in the Christmas story and capture the awe and wonder through smell, touch and sound. The teaching is engaging, visual and hands-on. “It means children can think about the story and what it means to them and wonder in the moment,” says Andy.
After many years as a church children’s worker, taking a gigantic leap of faith, Andy wanted to share his heart and his faith with even more youngsters. As a pioneer, he rides the surf of adventure and challenge and in 2018 Raise became a charity. Its hallmark is creativity, fun and ingenuity as it takes the Old and New Testament Bible stories to a new and rising generation in surprising ways to “raise the standard of kids work in schools and churches”.
Its mission has enlarged beyond imagination winning the support and favour of sponsors, parents, pupils, schools and churches taking him to unexpected places as he opens the Bible and shares “God’s love letter” with thousands of children over the years.
But he knows his life “was for something of God” because of the faithful prayers of his late mother who died suddenly during the Covid-19 pandemic last summer.
“When I was born, she made a pledge to give my life to God for his use. Her faith shone through with her trust in Jesus. She championed me and everyone in our family, cheering me on every step of the way.”
Andy has been the fruit of her willing sacrifice and love. He has been unafraid to try and break new ground, using technology and interaction to relay the message that was faithfully conveyed to him as a child.
In the aftermath of his mum’s death, he says: “I would not have pushed through that dark time without my faith but I knew God was always there and he is still good and faithful.
“You don’t get over grief – you learn to live with the sorrow and the loss. Last Christmas during feelings of acute loss, I held on to the Bible verse that promises that tears of sadness will be turned to songs of joy. Through my sadness I can bring joy and encouragement.”
Andy believes he is now developing an empathy for others who have lost, suffered, and struggled in the pandemic and through other situations. Utter grief can be turned to bring understanding and comfort others!
After his mum’s death, the father of two ran a marathon raising £4,000 to build and fund an ‘escape room’ for youngsters. The portable inflatable pod will be transformed into a Biblical setting with questions to answer and puzzles to solve to help explore different gospel themes and is ready for trial in the New Year with the story of Joseph and his coat of many colours.
From the outset, Andy’s creative tools have included puppets, props and playful interactions, creating memorable moments to fuel imaginations and trigger conversations. As one fully engaged pupil said: “How do you do an assembly and get us to think about the deep things of the Bible?”
Andy writes and tailors his presentations for different school and church objectives with assemblies, theme days and weeks and residential events. There have been lots of memorable occasions – like the sounds of a hundred children’s voices praising their God as the knowledge of him goes from their heads to their hearts, explains Andy. “But I have also been privileged to share my faith with 650 children at a huge Christian festival.”
When schools closed during the pandemic, Andy did online assemblies reaching hundreds of children at the same time. He also trained with ‘Christians Against Poverty’ to run two short sessions to help children with financial management giving Raise another dimension. “The course looks at how people earn money as well as family spending, creating a budget and saving and giving,” says Andy.
He reflects on his mission: “It is helping kids to understand that faith is not something that binds us but frees us to be ourselves and who God has called us to be. It is not about what people say or the world around them that says what we should be. It is about speaking truth and telling kids what the Bible says: They are chosen, loved and God’s masterpiece; there is no mistake in what he creates. They need a constant voice of truth, positivity and encouragement that includes helping them to take hold of the dreams and hopes they have in their hearts.”
To solidify that during an interactive prayer space, Andy gets them to sit on a throne and wear a crown as princes and princesses in God’s eyes and realm. “Sharing the Good News enables them to decide what they will believe and how they will live”, explains Andy.
If you’d like to support Raise or find out more – use the links below
Pictured above, Andy Jones and his Christmas box of surprises.