A new season of the Grandma’s House program has begun airing on 3ABN television. The programs are hosted by Joyce Neal, who lives with her husband Stu in Chehalis, Washington. Born out of a desire to help children with few opportunities, they began their ministry in 2000 by enlisting a small army of volunteers to transform a small two-story house they bought into the quintessential Grandma’s House.
“We painted it a grandmotherly shade of pink, added a white picket fence, lots of snapdragons, and a porch swing that just begged to be used,” Joyce says. “This neighborhood needed a little hope, and we wanted to make it a safe and fun mentoring place for kids. After school all the grandmas would greet them at the door, along with the smells of freshly baked bread or cookies, and we’d hug and love on them. We’d tell them stories about Jesus, teach them object lessons, crafts, sewing, and all sorts of old-fashioned games and activities. As the program grew and the kids became better acquainted, we sponsored them to Christian summer camps, and took them on special outings and to church with us. We were a family, and all of us had such great fun watching them grow.”
In 2003 the 3ABN Today production crew traveled to Washington to tape the Grandma’s House ministry in action. “We kept in touch with Bobby Davis, who produced the piece, and became great friends,” Joyce says. “Then Bill Knott, the editor of the Adventist Review, came out and spent an afternoon with the kids and wrote a lovely cover story.”
A Program is Born
A few years later Joyce and Stu came to Salem, Oregon where 3ABN was broadcasting a weekend rally. “Bobby asked us to come aboard the television production truck, and we watched the live broadcast,” she recalls. “That was all terribly fascinating, but when we were about to leave he said, ‘Joyce, I think you ought to host a children’s program!’ I laughed it off, of course, but a few days later he called back and said 3ABN was serious! I’d never dreamed of doing anything like that in my whole life, but it sounded like a blast, so I jumped in.
“Taping those first programs was thrilling, terrifying, intimidating, and frustrating—almost at the same time!” she continues. “In the first program I was showing kids around my hometown and I remember standing on a street corner, trying to ignore the semi trucks and the trains going by. I had to talk and think ahead at the same time, but I kept getting distracted, and it wasn’t long before I was in tears. Ah, the trials of a novice!” she says with a laugh.
“Usually we had between six and twelve kids. Sometimes they were cooperative and polite; other times they were just plain wild! We taped in barns, played Hide and Seek, built a tree house, had a dog wash, rode bicycles built for two, ate purple potatoes,and played Dress Up with fancy ladies’ hats. As soon as they aired I started hearing from kids all over the world. Some of those kids were in their 90s, and that was special to me. The older folks really enjoyed seeing kids be kids, and they loved that old-timey stuff from their own childhood.
“Eventually we shot a second season. These were a lot more fun—and a lot less stressful. We taped seven episodes here in Washington. We rode a Model T Ford in the rain, driving down the same small stretch of pavement over, trying to make it look like a road trip! Another day, our trip to the beach was cancelled because of rain, so I thought, We can always go to the woods and hunt slugs! Boy, do we have slugs. They’re huge! We played Follow the Leader, climbed up and down fallen trees, and staged what was perhaps the first Great American Slug Race—in the rain, of course!
“On other episodes we served a tea party for grandmas, rode an old-fashioned steam train near Mt. Rainier, made volcanoes in my backyard, and visited Mount St. Helens. Then there was the backyard production of the story of Zacchaeus! We built Jericho out of refrigerator and dryer boxes and called on our thespian talents (with the help of a wild dog, a short grandpa ‘walking’ on his knees, and Jesus, played by the shortest boy with glasses)! About one trip through the town of Jericho was all those poor old boxes could take—but getting Grandpa Zacchaeus up the tree? Well, lets just say it required a lot of coaxing and promises of chocolate chip cookies!
“We shot seven more episodes in southern Illinois, and a couple of others at a cowboy ranch in Idaho. My new challenge was to win the grandkids over as we shot the scenes, since I’d never met them before! We visited a real pirate’s cave on the Ohio River, rode an Amish wagon in Kentucky, and made a trip to the St. Louis Zoo on a 100-degree day! I got to drive a real fire truck, and we even took part in a hot air balloon race! That day we skidded to a stop in a cemetery, the gondola tipped over, and the pilot kept screaming: ‘Oh no! We’ve killed Grandma! We’ve killed Grandma!’ as I tried to get out (unscathed, of course).
“But that was nothing next to the fiasco on the water! We went sailing one day and Joel Baker, the audio engineer, took me for a ride on a Sea-Doo loaned to us by the local marina manager (naïve man that he was)! As the cameras rolled, I decided he was going way too slow for me, so I asked him if I could drive it myself. When he hopped off at the boat, I took off. The faster I went, the more I liked it! I lost my sunglasses and hat in the wind, but I didn’t care. The crew had me raise up a rooster-tail wave near the boat, but I didn’t know how fast I was going or what it would take to turn that critter, so I came at the boat way too fast! Were it not for a whole group of guardian angels, I’m sure I would have smashed up the sailboat and the Sea-Doo, sending everyone to the hospital—or the morgue! The wall of water that came over the sailboat drenched the camera and made it quit working temporarily—but the tape was okay!”
Heart to Heart Talks
Each program features a section where the kids are having all sorts of fun and adventures. But by far the most important part of the program comes when Grandma Joyce settles down to have a quiet heart to heart talk with them. “That’s when Joyce really shines,” says Bobby Davis, one of the program’s producers. “Joyce has an amazing ability to involve the children and make them feel like she’s talking to them, one-on-one. She deliberately avoids ‘baby-talk’ and talking down to them in a sing-song voice. Instead, she uses many grown-up words that they can figure out by context. She’s constantly reminding them that she knows they understand more than most grown-ups give them credit for, and that’s simply unheard of with children’s shows.”
The second season of Grandma’s House began airing during the last week in September. Be sure to check our online schedule for times in your area. This grandma loves to remind her grandchildren of how much she loves them—and that Jesus loves them even more!