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Interview: Joe Watson, TV producer

08 November 2019

My sister and I, at 11 and 12, felt God prompt us to start a prayer group

When I was 14, I watched a documentary about orphans in China. It changed me. It made me realise the power of media. I knew I wanted to work in television and make programmes that made a difference. In my early 20s, I met Toby Hughes, and we talked a lot about starting a Christian kids TV company. In 2018, Toby asked me to head up production and development for Wonderborn Studios.

It’s funded by seed money for its first in-house production, “The Little Worship Company” (LWC), but, thereafter, through business investors, Wonderborn Studios will fulfil our vision. In the last ten years, only 15 children’s Christian programmes have been made. A sister company –— Three Arrows — has got Treasure Champs on CBeebies as their first overtly Christian programme; but LWC is too faith-based to be mainstream. We don’t want to water it down.

It’s for Christian families: a Bible and worship-based series presented by a family of puppets called the Looyahs, to help children discover God. It takes a beautiful and inspiring look at God’s world and the incredible people who live in it.

We wanted to make a series that facilitates relationships with God and with each other. We started with nought-to-seven-year-olds to establish strong roots, and co-viewing with parents, so that together they experience God and can use the LWC resources to connect with God, and grow. For example, the devotional book, which can also work alongside the viewing of the DVDs, has an age-appropriate page for the child and a page for the grown-up on the same Bible verse.

There’s also the Big Little Devotional to watch, and a 32-week curriculum guide, with crafts, icebreakers, prayer, verses, messages, talking points, and songs. We’ve also filmed with 150 children of different abilities and races, to give a global perspective of God’s family.

As well as the app, we’re on social media and YouTube, and our LWC website. And we’ve produced a 16-part TV series bought by various Christian TV companies and to be streamed on Amazon.

I spent the majority of my career in the BBC. I worked on Comic Relief, Ray Mears, DIY SOS, and then in the children’s natural History Unit on series like Natural Born Hunters and Andy’s Wild Adventures. I’ve also done missionary work, worked as a gymnastic coach, and renovated a couple of houses.

I had my three children in three-and-a-half years. They are awesome, loud, boisterous, adventurous, gorgeous little humans, now five, seven, and eight.

I’d never trade in the years I paused my career to be with them; but it knocks your confidence as you watch your peers develop in their work. But there’s something profoundly exciting and satisfying when your different worlds collide. Being a mum’s obviously my most important role; and then my walk with God, and my passion for making great TV, have all met up together.

The BBC was a machine. If you needed printing, IT support, advertising, trailers, or anything else sorted, there were teams of people to help. Start-up businesses are certainly not for the faint-hearted. We’ve rapidly gone from filming and editing to marketing and PR. It’s very exciting, if you like change and adapt easily; but learning on the job requires a fearless approach. We’re learning how to be a record label, a marketing company, and a production company. . . I love it and all the demands that it brings.

Nought-to-seven-year-olds have an incredible capacity for love and relationship. We wanted that to be the core message in the series: the Looyahs relationship with each and other and how they relate and are impacted by God. Rather than Bible stories, we use verses that communicate messages of love, awe, kindness, generosity, strength, courage. . . The impact of the series has been astonishing.

If God is love, then God will be represented in the way in which we connect with him and with each other. We’ve used simple stories set to worship music to tell truths like: you are loved, you are chosen, you can trust him, you can follow him.

I was brought up in a Christian family in the Welsh hills, where there were only three other kids my age who were Christians — only boys! — and they had to break the ice on the outdoor baptistry when I was baptised.

My first experience of God happened around the age of seven. A wonderful lady in our congregation had just lost her father. I was full of questions, like: where do you go when you die? What’s it like? Who’ll be there? Mum talked to me about heaven, about God, his love and desire to know little me. I chose him on that day in 1986.

Although we were in a small village, my parents had a global perspective. We did a lot of YWAM, King’s Kids, we spoke to politicians; we almost lived on the Hospital Ship. My sister and I, at 11 and 12, felt God prompt us to start a prayer group, and it ran for seven years in our home with up to 50 kids coming to pray for stuff. We learnt that God can and does communicate with us, and it was a profound revelation.

We grew up with just four TV channels, and an old James Bond film (Octopussy) that we watched every Saturday morning because we had a Betamax video recorder and the rest of the world didn’t.

With our own children, we promote living the real adventure and getting outside, climbing trees, making dens.

My husband and I have found passing on our faith a lot more challenging than we imagined it would be. He didn’t meet Jesus till he was 19, and we wanted our kids to have an authentic faith, but they have strong opinions; so, being quiet and praying with them has been interesting. We’ve just started working through the LWC Little Big Devotional, and for the first time in our home we’ve had genuinely good family quiet times. We pray in the mornings for each other, we thank God for everything we have, and always encourage the children to think how they can pray for and help people in need.

I love the sounds of kids being tickled and laughing hysterically, apples being bitten, snow being crunched beneath the feet.

There are certain things that I find unbearable: kids being separated from their parents, families being caught up in war zones, powerful people abusing their positions.

I love being with my family, no matter what we are doing, when it’s the five of us.

I’ve learnt that you simply cannot grow without feeling the challenge. I’ve grown more in the past year than any other time in my life. A huge amount of fear has to be confronted. It’s an opportunity to fail very publicly, but it’s exciting to have so much success and realise that I can do it.

I know God has a plan for each of us, which gives me enormous hope. I see this new generation of children as resilient and strong. They campaign, they battle for what’s for good. I love my children so much and part of that love is to teach them to believe that God has a destiny for them, to seek him, and to know that swimming against the flow is probably going to be a reality for them.

I pray most for my middle boy. He is so adventurous. In the past week or so, he fell out of a stationary car on to his face. He lit a fire in a fire basket and burnt his hand. He even once got lost in a cupboard in Ikea. He needs 24/7 angelic protection.

If I was locked in a church with anyone, I’d choose to be with Dame Judi Dench, Beyoncé, and Oprah, because I love these women. They are fearless. Or my husband, because he’s the most inspiring person I know. Or Beth Moore, because I love her teaching, and she’s so funny.

Joe Watson was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. littleworshipcompany.com 

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