By David Southwell
Life’s pivotal moments don’t always come by choice, as Andrew McDonough discovered while a Bible College Student.
Andrew was helping out in ministry at a South Australian church almost 30 years ago when he got tapped on the shoulder.
“Because I was the youngest one on the team I had to do the children’s talk,” Andrew said.
“I had nothing written down. I stood in front of this huge auditorium warehouse church. I’m a country boy so standing in a church with more than 10 people and a dog asleep under a pew is overwhelming.”
However, Andrew had a trick up his sleeve. “I’ve always been able to draw a bit,” he said. Andrew says his style of “googly-eyed” drawing emerged even at age three or four.
“I could draw a yellow sheep. So I thought there’s this Bible story about a lost sheep somewhere so I drew a sheep,” he says.
Andrew used an overhead projector to display his efforts.
“I dropped the first picture down, one of a shepherd and the place erupted with laughter,” he said.
“And I thought this is good. What struck me is that I can’t remember children being there but I remember men sitting back and laughing their heads off .
“I saw the power of stories. It struck me even at that point that these are powerful for all ages.”
Andrew drew more stories inspired by Scripture or Christian life and started giving them out for others to use.
“I’d hand them my butcher’s paper or overhead projector slides, no words or anything,” he says.
“I knew at some stage I needed to formalise this to make these story-telling resources available for other people.”
In 2005, while ministering at the inner-city WestCare mission in Adelaide, Andrew drew a children’s book telling the story of the lost sheep, Cecil, who has become a reoccurring character and motif of Andrew’s work.
Andrew gathered together his creative activities under the label of Lost Sheep, which has become his full-time occupation. However, he remains very much involved with WestCare and has his studio adjoining the church.
“We’ve placed ourselves right in our community,” he says.
“I am able to advocate for that community. We run workshops every week for the homeless community and people who come through here.
“All of the stuff for the kids grows out of what we have here.”
Andrew has published 32 books and has about 50 downloadable PowerPoint presentations on the Lost Sheep website. The presentations display Andrew’s images for a storyteller to narrate using a prompt booklet with thumbnail pictures.
“I want the event of someone telling the story,” Andrew says.
“The main driver is I want to put stories in the hands of other people so that they can then share it and use it.”
Andrew is very critical of what he sees as the implicit message of children’s books traditionally used in church settings.
“There’s pastel colours saying ‘calm down, calm down’. It’s all saying ‘be nice’ ‘be good’, ‘be still’,” Andrew says.
“I want red and red-cordial red. I am not having a white fluffy sheep that looks like it’s never been outside. I want a yellow sheep that pops and looks like it’s been rolling around in yellow dirt.
“How you portray children sends these messages about what it is to be a Christian. “To be a good Christian child is to sit still, when God’s made boys and girls with legs.” Andrew says this also presents a sanitised version of Christianity.
“I want to draw Jesus in a way that no one has seen him in a children’s book before,” Andrew says.
“In Scripture you find he’s angry, so I want him to look angry. I want him to look crying or nervous or scared or all the things that are articulated in Scripture and we gloss over. So the Jesus we give is really bland.”
Not surprisingly Andrew’s latest book, Jesus was a Refugee, isn’t the typical retelling of the Christmas narrative as it has scenes that suggest trauma and fear.
“I like the idea of doing the Bible stories or the Jesus stories that get overlooked,” Andrew says.
“When it comes to the Christmas story everyone is bored stiff because they reckon they know it.”
“The whole trip of Jesus, Mary and Joseph down into Egypt I thought I wanted to draw that because it’s ignored and we all like the fun stuff of Christmas but there is this immense sorrow.
“You can read Matthew 2 and not realise what was going on. So where it says Herod was going to kill all the boys under the age of two, he would have done it.
The book reflects Andrew’s experience working with the Australian Refugee Association and his passion for helping asylum seekers and refugees.
“I don’t want to get away with being trite. I don’t want to let the church or the rest of Australia get away with being trite – they’re not issues, they are people,” he said.