At Just the Right Time

By Charity Armstrong

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes when a new JAARS project debuts? The production of The Best Gift, a special Christmas video that celebrates God’s gift of Jesus to all people, is a great example of how God brings together those serving with JAARS and uses their different skills in a widespread team effort. 

The project began in October. Deb and George Bender usually serve remotely from Texas but were back on the JAARS campus so George could work with a new computer program for JAARS international purchasing. Deb, the Passport to Christmas team leader, and the Passport team were faced with COVID-19 restrictions and had just made the difficult decision to forgo the annual December event.

“I felt sad,” Deb says, “that there wasn’t anything for the children at Christmas.” She grew up in a mission-minded church and remembers how God prompted her to be a missionary when she was just a young child. “Ministry to children has been my life work,” Deb says, knowing firsthand the importance of sharing stories about Jesus with children. 

Deb called Barbara Alber, the JAARS graphic designer, to discuss printing and distributing the Passport to Christmas booklet. She mentioned in passing that the team had thought of making a video of a Passport presentation but felt they lacked the expertise to produce a high-quality video. That’s when Barb told her that James Lane, an experienced videographer, had joined the Communications team. God had brought James to JAARS “at just the right time.”

Debbie and her grandchildren put on the Nativity skit.

The video project was soon underway. Deb wrote a script with help from Tracy Tooley, her Passport team member. Tracy then served as production manager, overseeing both the preparatory steps and the day of taping. To start, she recruited three actors for the skit: Maria Cruzat, Hannah Schugert, and Megan Dalby. Maria and Hannah are at JAARS for a year, serving as Fellows. And Megan, who grew up as part of the JAARS community, has helped with Passport to Christmas many times. Again, God was working “behind the scenes,” providing these special actors “at just the right time.”

Megan, Hannah, and Maria

Next Deb considered props and location. Passport to Christmas props, already on hand from previous years, provided all that was needed: a gift-wrapped Bible, puppets, a Magic Book, and much more. And the Townsend auditorium stage, with good lighting and a huge world map for a backdrop, was the best staging choice. 

Meanwhile, Videographer James Lane, learning the team needed children to illustrate how to create costumes for a nativity scene at home, volunteered his sons, Hezekiah and Gabriel, for the scene. The boys worked on choosing which items to use, and James obtained Baby Jesus (a doll) from the Passport props. After a bit of practice, James taped their scene. That family experience meant a lot to James: “I thought about how much fun we had together, [learning about the nativity]. Afterwards, my five-year-old, Hezekiah, spent the rest of the day taking care of Baby Jesus, introducing him to all his stuffed animals.”

James’ sons Hezekiah and Gabriel prepare for their parts of the Nativity story.

When the day for the videotaping arrived, James worked through several scenarios on site to determine the best “shooting” angles. Lyle Williams, another Fellow, helped set up their equipment. Then, Hannah, Maria, and Megan performed enthusiastically with help from “cue master” Lyle. After declaring the taping “a wrap,” James applied his video editing skills. He added a title page designed by Barbara Alber, included the scene with his sons, and concluded the video with a still photo of Deb’s grandchildren, inspired by Passport to Christmas, acting out the nativity.

Even then the project was not quite complete. Passport team member Beatrice Bettenhausen and Communications team member Mary Beth Johnson stepped in for the final responsibility—providing access to the video via email and posting it to Vimeo and Facebook. Now our family and church friends can celebrate Christmas with JAARS.

Peering behind the scenes, it’s interesting to see how God brought together persons of all ages from several states, each with a special God-given talent. And all co-laboring in love to make sure the message is clear: Jesus is God’s best gift to us at Christmas and throughout the year.