Loving Girls -- One Chapter at a Time
By Deborah Deggs Cariker
Assistant editor/product reviews
Sandi Shelton didn’t originally set out to publish great books and create beautiful dolls. Her heart’s desire was to reach out to girls. Shelton, president and publisher of Mission City Press (MCP), started her ministry seven years ago in her home.
“I’m in awe of what God has done in seven years,” she said by phone, recounting the two fine dolls depicting Elsie Dinsmore and Millie Keith, the 20-and-counting adaptations of Martha Finley’s 19th century books, plus the ancillary titles like the Bible studies, journals, Christmas party planner, and more. The years have been a whirlwind, and Shelton’s not about to stop.
Now in strategic alliance with Zondervan for market distribution, and having opened offices in a historic, 1821 house in August 2004, Shelton is filled with ideas for 2005 and beyond. On the horizon are two more dolls, more character books, and a girls’ club.
“We’re launching “A Life of Faith Girls’ Club” across the country next year,” she said, the excitement in her voice easily making its way through the phone from Tennessee to Texas. “There’ll be a curriculum and club leaders.” This will be a focused launch in the international church pastors' circle.
Currently, there are some clubs across the country where girls have spontaneously met, germinating the whole concept.
"We actually already have about 50 clubs across the country that are, in fact, official 'A Life of Faith Girls Clubs', with membership cards, ALOF motto and song, and much, much more," explained Michelle Langlinais, MCP manager of retail and ministry development "These clubs are meeting in stores, neighborhoods, and churches. Some churches are even using the club concept as a fresh new idea -- an alternative -- to traditional Wednesday night or Sunday morning curriculum. The girls come together in an atmosphere of fellowship to talk about how to live 'a life of faith'."
The books have clearly had impact. For proof, you would only need to read the testimonials published on the web site at www.alifeoffaith.com from girls, their mothers, and their grandmothers—and even adult readers.
Mission City Press is a Christian publishing and communications company that is committed to creating products that inspire today's kids to develop a life of faith. Thus, the brand of books and companion products are called "A Life of Faith.” The website states: “We take our mission very seriously because the future of our young people is at stake. We want them to love God and His Word with ALL of their hearts. God and His Word are the only sure compasses in this world.” You can hear Shelton’s commitment to girls through these words.
“(When I read the testimonials that come in,) it melts my heart,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing this. We want these kids’ hearts, and this validates what we’re doing. It’s very gratifying. You know, our whole purpose was not to create beautiful dolls and great books; it was to love on these girls.”
Shelton said she cannot reach out and hug every girl who writes the company, but in a way she does—through each chapter of each book, through the Mille and Elsie dolls she calls “the twins” and the two new dolls on the horizon, through the doll clothes and accessories, and even through the web site that is not only girl-friendly, it’s girl safe.
There was tentativeness about adapting Miss Finley’s mid-19th century best sellers. There were concerns about revising them to 21st century language and sensibilities.
“Our whole purpose was not to water them down, but to have the most impact,” Shelton explained. “We broke the chapters and even the books in a different way than the originals. We broke them at their strongest points.”
Langlinais said the original Elsie books were so inspirational to Shelton that she didn’t want their lessons lost on another generation.
“Personally, I think they fell out of favor because of cultural offenses, like the ‘N’ word and (the use of the word) ‘darkie’ plus prejudices against Catholics, Jews, and Mormons,” Langlinais said. “We gleaned out, sifted out the offensive parts. For example, if Horace Jr. (Elsie’s father) had lived today he’d be in trouble with CPS for his parenting style. We softened Horace. There was also drastic, broken English spoken by the slaves that wasn’t correct; it wasn’t even Southern. There was also ‘caressing and fondling’ that just meant snuggling, but the words are used and thought of differently today. The same thing with ‘make toilet’ which just means ‘wash your hands and powder your nose’ but now we’d say ‘Too Much Information!’ We also changed King James Bible quotations to NIV, because we just don’t talk like that (KJV) anymore.”
Langlinais said Mission City Press’ mission is to grab the hearts of 8-to-14-year-old girls before they are “wooed and captivated by the world.” Clearly evangelistic, MCP’s “aim is to inspire passionate devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ through Christian products and resources which present the power of our Christian heritage, reveal the wisdom and fruit of Christian character, promote understanding of and obedience to the Word of God, challenge and affirm a growing faith in Jesus Christ, define and creatively communicate the elements of a Christian worldview, and encourage true reverence for God.”
The website areas for the Elsie, Millie, and Violet characters all include a link to a free gift from God that invites web visitors to begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As always, parents should preview the site before considering adding it to the “safe list” for their daughters and granddaughters, but I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For more information on Mission City Press, call, write, or visit.
Mission City Press, Inc.
202 Second Ave. South
Franklin, TN 37064