Among the super excited winners of the 2023 Zenos Media Big Family Build announced this week was Suzie Ray, who with her daughter Lydia won the “hat-trick” prize for their LEGO model of the Old Testament story of Jonah.
Suzie, who is the Rector of St James, Sanderson in Darwin, is a longtime LEGO enthusiast who ran a Bible LEGO competition at her previous church and hopes to set up an online LEGO competition for the churches in the Northern Territory Anglican Diocese.
Zenos Media’s three judges Caleb, Andrew and Josh (former contestants on the TV show LEGO Masters) said they were blown away by the quality of this year’s builds in the competition, which had the theme of ‘journey’.
Joshua and Susan won the top prize for their build, ‘Crossing the Red Sea’, which the judges said set itself apart. They were particularly impressed with the dynamic movement created in the waves, layered in different colours and shapes and directions.
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The hat-trick prize is given to people who have entered the Big Family Build at least three times, and Lydia and Suzie have entered the Big Family Build every year since it began in 2019, creating scenes such as Jesus’ baptism and ‘Wisdom as the fountain of life’.
“We researched Assyrian and Phoenician ships to give our Jonah 1 scene some historical accuracy,” Suzie says. “The sailors have thrown all the cargo overboard, and as Jonah is flying through the air towards the water, the big fish is lurking waiting to swallow him up. It is titled ‘Assyrian sailors see the power of Yahweh.’”
The judges loved the historical accuracy of their build this year, which they achieved by researching Assyrian and Phoenician sailing ships. The judges also praised the different colours of blue for the water and the creative techniques used to create the sails. “But the best part, though, is those sheep bobbing in the water,” said the judges.
“We read the passage of Jonah 1 where they threw all the cargo into the sea and that’s how we had the idea of the drowning sheep,” Suzie explains.
“It gives a way of going deeper into a text … What would it be like to be there? What would people have been thinking and feeling?” – Suzie Ray
She believes building a LEGO model helps children reflect more deeply on Bible stories.
“It gives a way of going deeper into a text, thinking about meaning – what emotion am I going to bring out? What details am I going to bring out? What would it be like to be there? What would people have been thinking and feeling? So it’s in some ways a great Bible study tool to actually build a model and a scene.”
Suzie also loves the community-building aspect of sharing and seeing other people’s builds to see what details they brought out.
People from St James, Sanderson will see this build in person when Suzie starts a preaching series in Jonah on 3 September.
“We’re going to bring it into church to help everyone see that the Phoenician ships had eyes, like they were almost a living thing. It gives an idea that they were worshipping their gods even in the way they built this ship. So we’re just recognising that these sailors that Jonah was on the boat with didn’t know Yahweh until Yahweh stilled the storm. A LEGO model brings that to life in a powerful way, and in a way that I hope will be helpful to my church.”
Mike Snowdon, a former missionary to Spain who is youth minister at Willoughby Park Anglican in Sydney, won the runner’s up prize this year with his sons Will, 11, and Sam, 8, for their build ‘Follow the Star’, which depicts the wise men’s journey from the East to Bethlehem.
Since returning to Sydney last year, Mike said his four sons had discovered LEGO Masters and were super excited to create an entry for the Bible Lego competition.
The judges complimented their winning entry on the realism of the camel that stares tiredly at the viewer, and its use of forced perspective to make the landscape feel bigger and the journey longer, while showing the Bethlehem star lighted in the sky in a convincing way. “This is a truly incredible build,” said the judging panel.
Mike said he enjoyed the creative stretch of just using whatever LEGO the family had amassed over the years, finding that crash helmets worked well for the eyes of the camel.
“I love when people create things. Having an opportunity to do that and to display it to others was really helpful for my kids. It gave them a goal forward. But there’s something about creating things that always reminds me of who God is in his amazing creation, as he shows us a sunrise and a sunset each day and decides to wipe the canvas again and do it all again. Maybe there’s a small reminder of that for us as humans [as we look around and see] what you can build out of it,” he says.
“I love any kind of creative work where you can see something of the result at the end. That reminds me that God always finishes his work and does far more than I possibly can.”
“If it can even help others engage with the story of God and his word, that’s amazing.” – Mike Snowdon
Mike, whose book A New Freedom was shortlisted for the Sparklit Christian Book of the Year in 2022 also found the experience a creative spur to use other mediums to engage youth with God’s word.
“The other thing is I love the encouragement to use visual means, things like LEGO that you have around at home, to see if you can convey a story. And the big story that we find in the Bible is the best you can tell. So if that can help me and my family consider Jesus afresh, and if it can even help others engage with the story of God and his word, that’s amazing.”