February 1, 2019

Meet the Tuis

Maritza Brunt, Adventist Record

Move over, 90s cartoons — there’s a new family in town. And although they only arrived on screens across the Pacific last November, the Tui family has been on Litiana Turner’s mind for years.

Starting in the children’s ministries department for the Adventist Church in the South Pacific Division (SPD) 13 years ago, Turner was inspired by the many children’s resources available to families across the division.

[Those before me] have done a fantastic job in creating resources for children and families, but there was one obvious fact: the majority of our resources come from [the Adventist Church world headquarters], and then we contextualize them to fit our audience,” she said. “Although we had plenty of resources, there was a real need to have something ‘home-grown.’ ”

It was a thought she would come back to many times over the next few years. An initial plan to create a video resource explaining the Adventist Church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs to children came to fruition around the same time as Turner was appointed children’s ministries director for the SPD. But this couldn’t be just an ordinary video. Turner began to brainstorm with her Discipleship Ministries team and a production team from Adventist Media. What could they make that would introduce the 28 Fundamentals to children, especially those in the islands, in a way that was creative, concise and, most important, relevant?

Enter The Tuis, an animated series about a Pacific Island family living in Northern Australia. The family is composed of dad Josefa, mum Marica, 12-year-old Salome, 9-year-old Jonathan, and baby Tuks, and each episode sees the family involved in a different activity, including camping and geocaching.

“We wanted a resource that not only told a story to kids but really supported parents as well,” Turner said. “We’ve had parents who have asked, ‘How can we talk about these topics with our children?’ We want our parents to be the ones to hero Adventist principles and stories of our church to their children. Our hope with these videos is that parents can use them as the beginning of the conversation.”

“It Makes Me Want to Be a Better Dad”

Adam Kavanagh, a father of two young children, who oversaw the production of The Tuis episodes at Adventist Media, said he was inspired when he watched the videos.

“It’s exciting to see it all come to life from a script, but it’s good for me to sit back and watch as well, because after listening to the dad [Josefa] and how he relates to the kids, it actually makes me want to be a better dad,” he said. “How he engages with his kids, talks to them and encourages them, makes me reflect on how I can be a better parent myself. That’s really exciting for me, because that’s really what the creation of the series was about—parents taking responsibility for their children’s spirituality.”

The pilot episode, entitled “Dragon Master,” relates to the fundamental belief on health. In the video, young Jonathan has become addicted to playing a popular video game called Dragon Master. As the episode progresses, his health deteriorates, prompting his father to have a conversation with him about choosing healthy habits in all areas of his life. While there is no outward mention of the word “fundamental” or “belief,” the principles that come through are evident.

“Kids these days are into video games; [popular game] Fortnite is a clear example of that,” Turner said. “This episode was about kids making good choices, so moms and dads can have the conversation with their child about that.”

Turner is also quick to note that The Tuis is not a stand-alone resource.

“As well as the videos, we also give additional information for kids and parents,” she said. “We have a family worship workbook that accompanies each video, including activities, questions, coloring in, and readings from [Ellen] White. These videos are meant to be used in partnership with other resources already created about the 28 Fundamentals.”

“Dragon Master” premiered at the SPD Executive meetings in November 2018, receiving positive feedback, especially from the islands. It’s available to stream and download online, with plans to distribute USB drives with the episodes and workbooks to families in the Pacific Islands, who may not have access to high-speed internet.

Turner, Kavanagh, and the team are currently working to finish the first group of nine episodes, with the second group of nine also in progress. Creating one 11-minute episode is no easy feat. More than 100 people are involved in the process worldwide, including animators, voice actors, editors, and music producers. Once a video production is finished, the team has a 24-hour window in which to view the product and send it back with any feedback.

“Of course, it’s a big job, but it’s a blessing to be able to create something that will help both kids and parents alike,” Kavanagh said.

The Tui family has only just begun to grace screens in the SPD, but the ministry is already taking off, and the team hopes it will be a blessing to families across the Pacific in making disciples for Jesus. Each episode has been thought through carefully, written intentionally and prayed over, down to the last detail, Turner said, including the name that started it all.

“The word tui is a Pacific island word that means ‘king,’ ” she said. “They’re the children of the King.”

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record. Watch episodes of The Tuishere.