Feb 18, 2009

Sammy and His Shepherd - An Interview with Susan Hunt

6 Min Read

In Sammy and His Shepherd, Susan Hunt offers families a delightful story, built around the twenty-third Psalm, that will help children grow in their understanding of what it is to live among a community of redeemed people guided by a loving Lord. She recently participated in an interview with Tabletalk Magazine.

What motivates you to write children's stories?
I grew up hearing Bible stories but I did not know The Story. I long for children to know that Scripture is not simply a collection of disconnected stories, but it is the grand story of redemption. I want them to have the glorious experience of seeing Jesus on every page of Scripture. I want them to see what the disciples saw as they walked to Emmaus and talked about the crucifixion . . .

Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him . . . And they stood still, looking sad. . . And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" . . . And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself . . . And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord has risen indeed . . ." (Luke 24:15ff)

When children see Jesus in all of Scripture, they will begin to see the gospel story. This gives a foundation for understanding the covenantal framework of Scripture and of life. God's covenant of grace supplies the vital structure, the unifying thread of His redemptive plan set forth in Scripture. The covenant of grace is the sovereignly initiated arrangement by which the Triune God lives in saving favor and merciful relationship with His people. Because we are in union with Him, we are united to his other children. His relationship with his people is to be mirrored in their relationships with one another. The covenant orders a way of life that flows out of a promise of life. A covenantal perspective will give our children the foundation for a robust faith and life. This comprehensive worldview will give them a passion to find others and proclaim, "The Lord has risen indeed!"

How is the Biblical image of the Shepherd reflected in the story?
In the character of Sammy's shepherd, I have tried to picture Jesus' love and care for His flock.

Psalm 23 is a celebration of the love of the Good Shepherd and the comprehensiveness of salvation by grace. This story weaves great themes of the gospel into the story-line.

We have twelve grandchildren, and sometimes I ponder the question: If I could give our grandchildren only one portion of Scripture, what would it be? I can never select just one, but Psalm 23 is surely on the short-list. My prayer is that this little book will help children--and those who read to them--to delight in the knowledge that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, that we are saved by grace and kept by grace, and that we are privileged to live as a part of the flock of God's people.

What is it about sheep that makes Sammy a good character for children to identify with?
Sheep need a shepherd. Sheep are helpless without a shepherd to lead them, to prepare places for them to eat and rest, and to protect them from danger. But sheep have to trust the shepherd, even when he leads them in dark and dangerous places. Sammy's conversations with his friend Precious about trusting their shepherd will give opportunities for conversations with children about what it means to trust Jesus.

In this story, could the Shepherd represent pastors, teachers or parents, or were you thinking particularly of Jesus as the Shepherd?
My objective is for the children to see Jesus in Psalm 23. My prayer is that they will be filled with wonder at the love our Good Shepherd has for His flock. In the story there are others in the flock who teach and influence Sammy, and as the story progresses Sammy "shepherds" his friend Precious, but it is all because of the lovingkindness of their shepherd who bought them and made them a part of His flock. I hope that those who read and hear this story will see the power of the gospel not only to rescue us but to transform us into the likeness of the Good Shepherd.

What is the age group for which this book is intended?
Technically I suppose it is for children ages three to twelve, but our grandchildren range in age from three to eighteen and they all love the Sammy story. Their parents love it too! I try to write stories that can be used and enjoyed by families. In this story, when the shepherd buys the pitiful sheep with no name, and holds her lovingly in his arms as he thinks about what to name her, I hope that even the teen who is struggling with identity will feel what the little sheep felt . . .

[She] tingled with excitement as she waited. She could see the love in her shepherd's eyes as he thought about her name. "Of course!" he exclaimed. "I will name you Precious because you are precious to me."

Her eyes welled with happy tears. "Precious . . . my name is Precious . . . I am precious to my shepherd." For the first time in her life, she felt safe and loved. She was full of gratitude. In her heart she said, "Now I belong to a good shepherd. I shall not want for anything. He will make me lie down in green pastures. He will lead me beside still waters. He will restore me when I am cast down. He will lead me in good paths."

And when children, teens and adults are annoyed with others, I hope they will remember this conversation . . .

"Well Precious," began Sammy, "I used to get annoyed with other sheep all the time. And I had no mercy on the weaker sheep. It irritated me that they took so much of the shepherd's time, and that we all had to help them."

Precious was startled. "Sammy, I can't imagine anyone annoying you. You're so good and kind."

"But you didn't know me before our shepherd taught me what I'm going to tell you. Here it is, and I hope you'll never forget it:

There are no annoying sheep. There are just annoyed sheep."

Sammy paused and let his words hang in the air so that Precious could think about what he had said.

"Soooo," said Precious slowly, "The problem is not the other sheep. The problem is . . . me?"

"Yep," agreed Sammy.

"You're sure Bertha is not the problem?" asked Precious

What do you hope children and/or their parents will take away from reading this story?
My goal is to write with a grace-orientation that teaches children to think biblically. We must be careful not to reduce Scripture to a code of behaviors. We must not take a moralistic approach to Scripture. I hope that this book will help parents challenge children with the life-changing adventure of discovering Jesus in all of God's Word.

I also hope that this book will help children see glimpses of what it means to live covenantally--to live in a way that reflects our redemption to our families, friends, and neighbors. I hope they will have a greater love for the flock, the Church of the Lord Jesus, and a greater zeal to serve the flock. Our local Church is to look like a flock who trusts the Good Shepherd, even in the dark places. Our local Church is to be a place where we love each other because our Shepherd first loved us. This story is not just about Sammy and his shepherd; it is also about Sammy and the other sheep. So is the gospel.

Is there anything you would like to say to adults who will read this book to children?
Thank you for loving children enough to read to them. The coziness of sitting together with a good book, and the familiarity of hearing your voice read and reread a favorite story, create hearty memories. When the book points a child to the Savior, the experience is eternally significant.