The Christmas Elephant supports missions ministry

Jan 4, 2021

By Troy Hill

What happens when a real elephant is part of a live nativity presented by International Mission Board missionaries in Thailand?

That’s the story in The Christmas Elephant, a new children’s book written by Rezwana Derbyshire, daughter-in-law of Dr. Doug and Cheryl Derbyshire, IMB missionaries from Arizona. Rezwana wrote the story “as told by” Doug.

In the story, Doug and Cheryl include an elephant in their annual Christmas event to draw more people, but it causes things to go off the rails more than a little bit.

The Christmas Elephant was written to help financially support Thai Country Trim, a ministry in Thailand run by Cheryl, as it struggles due to the pandemic. Thai Country Trim employs local women to make handcrafted items and gives the leaders opportunities to share the gospel and get God’s Word into the homes of many Thai women.

While Cheryl runs Thai Country Trim, Doug heads up mobile clinics, where they are able to treat people’s health needs all over the country, then share the gospel.

The Derbyshires and their ministries were doing well, but everything was thrown into disarray by the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, Thai Country Trim has suffered from a lack of orders for their merchandise. Between March and August, no orders were received, although by September, some orders started to slowly come in.

Thai Country Trim started a project making masks instead of their normal Christmas ornaments to get things going again, but business is still slow. Currently, all homeworkers they employ are still furloughed. It was clear they needed something else to help get them through this season.

“[Because of] COVID shutting down all the outflow — all the orders for the ornaments –for [Thai Country Trim], we were looking for some way to support the workers at the center,” Doug said.

Meanwhile, the Derbyshires had recently posted a video on Facebook of Doug recounting one of their favorite memories from their 28 years as missionaries in Thailand — that of the “Christmas Elephant.” Doug has been telling the story for almost 20 years, and people frequently ask them to tell it.

That’s when Anna Derbyshire, who is Doug’s sister and a book publisher, contacted them with an idea to support Thai Country Trim. She had seen the video and thought it could make a good children’s book.

“I couldn’t any longer say, ‘I don’t really have time,’ because I’m stuck here, so I had time,” Cheryl said.

Doug and Cheryl were in the United States for the wedding of one of their daughters in April when international travel was shut down due to the pandemic. The borders of both the U.S. and Thailand were closed for the time being. They have been in the United States since then.

“[We] actually wrote a reader version of [the book] first,” Cheryl said, “but we didn’t publish that because [Anna] came back to me and said, ‘You know, I think we need to have a poetic, Dr. Seuss-type version of this.’”

Later, Doug and Cheryl were talking about the idea with their son Gary’s wife, Rezwana. Gary is pastor of Apollo Baptist Church in Glendale, and Rezwana is a songwriter. They tossed ideas back and forth for the book when the first few stanzas just came to her. She asked for another day to think about it, and later that night, she wrote the entire storybook in the course of five hours.

After the book was written, the Derbyshires received a Christmas-in-summer miracle when all of the artwork for the book was donated by former missionaries who were friends of Anna. They added a section at the back that presents the gospel, and then the book was processed, printed, bound and ready for reading.

By mid-December, more than 500 copies of the book had been sold, which helped supplement the costs Thai Country Trim needed to stay in business for several months.

The Derbyshires have also already seen the book do more than keep Thai Country Trim in the black.

“We had one family write to us and say that after reading the book, their granddaughter prayed to receive Christ as her Savior,” Doug said. “So, we would be so blessed to hear that multiplied many times over.”

Rezwana said she is very happy with the book’s success and how it’s been able to support Thai Country Trim.

“The thing that brings me the most joy about this is the gospel is wrapped up in this story. It has so much less to do with me than it does with God’s power and how God can use such a crazy day,” Rezwana said.

The Christmas Elephant is available on Amazon. Thai Country Trim has a shop on Etsy.com, where an elephant Christmas ornament and other ornaments may be purchased. The shop’s name is ThaiCountryTrim.

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