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 have been on Litiana Turner’s mind for years.
Starting in the children’s ministries department for the Adventist Church in the South Pacific (SPD) 13 years ago, Litiana was inspired by the many children’s resources available to families in this 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 General Conference and then we contextualise them to fit our audience,” she says. “Although we had plenty of resources, there was a real need to have something ‘home-grown’.”
It was a thought she’d come back to many times over the next few years. An initial plan to create a video resource explaining the Church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs to children came into fruition around the same time as Litiana was appointed children’s ministries director for the SPD. But this couldn’t be just any ordinary video. Litiana began to brainstorm with her Discipleship Ministries team and a production team from Adventist Media. What could they make that introduced the 28 Fundamentals to children, especially those in the islands, in a way that was creative, succinct and, most importantly, relevant?
Enter the Tuis: an animated series about a Pacific island family living in Northern Australia. The family comprises 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,” says Litiana. “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.”
Adam Kavanagh, a father of two young children who oversaw the production of episodes at Adventist Media, says 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 says. “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 (you guessed it) 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,” says Litiana. “This episode was about kids making good choices, so mums and dads are able to have the conversation with their child about that.”
Litiana is also quick to note that the Tuis are not a standalone resource.
“As well as the videos, we also give additional information for kids and for parents,” she says. “We have a family worship workbook that accompanies each video, including activities, questions, colouring 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 last November, receiving positive feedback, especially from the islands. It’s available to stream and download online, with future plans to distribute USBs with the episodes and workbooks across to families in the Pacific Islands, who may not have access to high speed internet.
Adam, Litiana and the team are currently working hard 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, script writers and music producers. Once a video is finished, Adam, Litiana and the team have 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,” says Adam.
The Tui family has only just graced our screens but the ministry is already taking off, and the team hope it will be a blessing to families across the Pacific in making disciples. Each episode has been thought through carefully, written intentionally and prayed over, down to the last detail—including, of course, the name that started it all.
“The word tui is a Pacific island word that means ‘king’,” says Litiana. “They’re the children of the King.”
The second episode, Robot Butler, which focuses on the fundamental about creation, has now been released. To watch the episodes, as well as access the worship workbooks, visit TheTuis.tv.