I have been in children’s ministry most of my adult life and now I have children of my own. Nothing is more important than teaching children the gospel. Children’s books that teach the gospel can be wonderful tools to present the gospel in a way that children can understand. A great way to do this is to tell a story, or parable, that presents the truth of the gospel. Jesus did.
The Countries of Whine and Roses by Joyce Wheeler is such a parable. It tells the story of the country of Roses which represents heaven, or God’s kingdom. Another country, called Whine, represents earth. The country of Roses sends ambassadors, or messengers, to Whine to tell them about the King of Roses. The people of Whine reject the message and the messenger. The king decides to send a final messenger, his son. The people of Whine kill the son, but the son miraculously returns to the country of Roses. Some people of Whine accept the message of the son and wait for him to return as ruler.
This story reminds me of the parable the Jesus told Matthew 21:300-39. A man who owned a vineyard leased his land to some farmers. He sent servants to get his share of the grapes, but they beat and killed them. He sent more and they did the same to them. Lastly, he sent his son who was put to death. Jesus’ parable was not intended to teach the whole gospel but rather to show the religious leaders their fate and why.
This story, I believe, is intended to share the gospel. I applaud the fact that it does it as a story. Children will be entertained by the story. I applaud that it is told from the perspective of heaven rather than the perspective of earth. However, where it falls short is that it does not preach the whole gospel.
As a teacher and parent, I think it is critical that the book preaches the whole gospel. In its most basic form, the gospel is this: We have sinned and our sin separates us from the God who created us and loves us. Since God is just, sin requires that a penalty be paid. That penalty is death. Death separates us from God forever. Because God is love, he chose to pay the penalty for us by Jesus dying on the cross for us. If we believe that, repent from our sins and turn to God, we are forgiven and reconciled to God. We are then able to live with God who loves us forever.
The story has the son die and return which is good. It mentions the sins of the people of Whine which is good. However, it doesn’t explain that need for sin to be punished. It doesn’t explain why the prince had to die. It only tells that the people of Whine killed the prince unjustly. It doesn’t speak of repentance, turning from sin back to God. It speaks of “believing in the King of Roses,” who represents God the Father. However, belief, according to the Bible, is not enough. “The demons believe and tremble.” James 2:19.
The Countries of Whine and Roses is a good story and a good way to begin to share the gospel, but as a parent and teacher, I would use the book as a springboard for further discussion. I would not let it stand on its own because on its own, it falls short.
It is a very difficult thing to present the gospel to children and I certainly applaud the valiant effort of the author. It is a good start.