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The Story of the Sunshine Makers

In a way the real beginning of the Sunshine makers took place in a Presbyterian Sunday School in Union City, Tennessee.  One day the superintendent spoke to Macy Garth.  “Macy, our primary class needs a teacher.  Won’t you take that class?”  

“Oh,” said Macy, “I’m only a little older than the boys and girls.  I’m not old enough to teach a class yet.”  (She was only thirteen or fourteen at the time.)  

But the superintendent encouraged her, and some of the grown-ups, too.  “We are so short of teachers, and you have loved the Lord for a long while.  You know the Bible stories so well.  We are sure that you will be a good teacher for these boys and girls.”

So young Macy Garth began teaching boys and girls and in less than a year, her whole heart and soul was in the work.  In those days there were very few pictures or charts and no flannel graph helps to make teaching and learning easier and more enjoyable.  But Macy seemed to know what boys and girls liked and needed.  She had a carpenter make a blackboard for her.  Using colored chalk she drew pictures of the lessons and stories while she taught and her boys and girls were all eyes and ears as she spoke to them.  So from her earliest days work among the children was first in her interest.

She taught this same class until they were in their teens.  Then she married J.E. Ramseyer and together they went into evangelistic work.  Since she had hoped to be a missionary to China, she always tried to cause the children with whom she worked to be interested in missions, too.

Where Were the Children?

In 1902 the very first convention of the Missionary Church Association was held in a big tent in Pandora, Ohio.  One morning as Mrs. Ramseyer sat listening to the wonderful message of a missionary she suddenly missed some one—someone very important to her!  There were no children in the tent!  Where were they?  The children would be interested in the stories the missionary was telling.  And more important, the children should have a part in getting the gospel out.  They must be taught to give as well as to live for Jesus.  

As these thoughts raced through her mind, she heard a boy yell somewhere nearby.  Slipping out of the tent she hurried away to find the missing children.  Across the street on the school playground she found the boys playing ball.  And back of the schoolhouse the girls were taking care of baby brothers and sisters so their parents could enjoy the services in the tent without being disturbed.  But should the boys and girls be missing it all?

As soon as the morning service ended, Mrs. Ramseyer hunted for the program committee chairman and asked, “Couldn’t there be a place on the daily program just for the children when they could sing and pray together and hear some special missionary stories?”  

The chairman answered, “Our day is full from the six o’clock sunrise prayer meeting to the ten o’clock altar service in the evening.”  

But Mrs. Ramseyer would not be pushed aside, “What about the hour right after dinner?” she asked.  

“Well, you could have the time from 1:00 to 1:30,” he said, “Our prayer and praise service begins at 1:30.”

Accepting this half hour with a grateful heart, she started to search for the children.  There wasn’t much time, so she worked fast.  Finding some boys standing together she said, “Be sure to get in to the first table for dinner today because we are going to have a children’s meeting at 1:00.  Tell all the boys you can find.”  She gave the girls the same news.  But she warned them all to be quiet as possible so there would be no objections from the grown-ups because the children were eating at the first tables instead of waiting until the older folks had finished.

When the dinner bell rang, the children were in the front of the line and marched in first.  Some of the grown-ups who had to wait for the second table decided there must be a larger crowd attending the services.  When they found out that the children had taken some seats some people did object.  One man went to the back and complained to the cook!  But when the news got around that the children were eating first so that they could be on time to their own meeting, it became the usual thing for the little ones to eat when the bell rang for the first table.

While the children ate, Mrs. Ramseyer hurried to arrange for meeting.  At Mr. Schumacher’s store she got a large piece of wrapping paper and a piece of marking crayon.  Tacking the paper to the back of the organ she was ready for the first children’s meeting.  And it was a good meeting.  They must have sung “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and other songs and choruses, too.  Then with her crayon and the wrapping paper she drew pictures to illustrate the lesson and story that she told.  And ever since that time in 1902 at Pandora there has always been a special time and place at the conventions for the children!

A Battle of Faith

Nothing has been said about a children’s missionary offering that first year, but in 1903 Mrs. Ramseyer went to the convention at Groveland, Illinois with a secret in her heart.  She had bought 50 small missionary banks shaped like little jugs.  (Even though the shape has now changed to an acorn, the name of the missionary jug has stuck through the years.)  These had been sent by express to Groveland and on Wednesday a little boy named Norman Clanser ran to Mrs. Ramseyer and said, “There’s a box at the station with your name on it.  What’s in it?”  She wanted to keep her secret, so she said, “Wait till Sunday and you will see!”

Besides not wanting to tell the secret ahead of time, Mrs. Ramseyer was having a battle.  Satan was saying, “You spent a dollar for the jugs and a dollar and a half for postage.  That two and a half should have been given in the missionary offering.  You have wasted it.  The children will take these jugs home and put them on a shelf.  Spiders will weave webs over the slots and not a penny, a nickel or dime will find its way into the jugs.”  When Norman and some other boys brought the box from the station, Mrs. Ramseyer pushed it under her bed and back to the wall so no one would see it and ask again, “What’s in it?”

Her battle with Satan continued and on Sunday morning she heard missionary message and was handed a missionary pledge card.  She felt that she should write $30 on a pledge for the children, but Satan said, “If the children do not put that much into the jugs, you will have to make it up yourself.”  Thirty dollars was a big amount for a preacher’s wife in those days, so she put the card in her pocketbook and waited till she could pray about the matter once more.

At one o’clock the same boys brought the box to the children’s meeting.  They pried off the lid and the jugs were placed on the table.  How excited the children were!  As Mrs. Ramseyer told the children about the missionary work, how badly money and workers were needed, she watched the boys and girls.  She could see that they were taking it all in.  Everyone wanted a jug; everyone promised to try to fill it before the next year.  Then Mrs. Ramseyer began to wonder, “Will there be enough jugs for all who wanted one?”  Silently she prayed that the jugs would hold out so that no child would go away disappointed.  Well—the jugs did reach, but there was not one left!

From the children’s meeting she went to the big tent.  On the pledge card she wrote $60, instead of thirty!  Then Satan fled with his evil suggestions and she was thankful to God for the joy she felt in the new work she had started.  For that was the beginning of what afterwards became known as the “Sunshine Makers.”

During the year twenty-five more jugs were given to children who had not been at the convention in Groveland.  So there were 75 jugs in all to be broken that first year.  The convention in 1904 was held at Swanton, Ohio.  That first jug-breaking was held outdoors under the trees in Brindley’s Grove.  Did the 75 jugs hold the $30 Mrs. Ramseyer first wanted to put on the pledge?  Did they hold the $60 she finally did put on the card?  God was good!  The children were faithful!  The jugs held twice $60!  One hundred twenty-two dollars and fifty-two cents!

Children who lived too far away to come to the convention broke their jugs at home and sent in the money.  Mrs. Ramseyer would get letters like this, “I am sending you my missionary offering.  Thank you for my new jug.”  The inside of those first jugs were dusty red.  The nickels and dimes looked like pennies.  Sometimes a jug would contain a dollar bill and it would look as if it were made of red paper instead of green.  Mrs. Ramseyer’s hands were red from counting, but her heart was rejoicing in the victory God had given!

Just the Right Name

It was not until the next year, 1905, at the convention held again in Pandora that the little group was named.  Mrs. Ramseyer was very particular about getting just the right name, so she had waited all this time to name her new family.  In an old songbook used at this convention she read a song that ended like this:

Let’s chase away life’s shadows with loving thought and deed

And be the Sunshine Makers of which the world has need.

“That’s it!” she said.  “Sunshine Makers is the right name for my growing family.”  Using white and yellow cheesecloth and yellow cardboard, a large banner was made and the name introduced—Sunshine Makers.  Nearly 300 jugs were broken this second year.  And the offering was $348.37!  Mrs. Ramseyer was so thankful to God for the good offering that she sat on the porch where she was staying and cried with happiness.  A girl came past and asked in surprise, “Why, what’s the matter, Mrs. Ramseyer, is someone dead?”

The answer was, “I’m just so happy that I can’t keep the tears back.  What do you do, dear, when you are happy?”

“Oh, I laugh when I’m happy,” said the little girl.

Sunshine Money for Shady Places

As time passed, the money from the jugs came to be called “sunshine money for shady places.”  And before long most every Missionary Church held its own jug breaking.  But at convention time there were always some jugs to be broken, too.  The missionaries’ children and boys and girls who did not live near a Missionary Church who once came to convention always broke theirs at that time.

But that first offering was given to Miss Alice Yoder of India and Miss Mary Funk of China.  Miss Yoder used hers to dig a well on the Khangaon Compound.  In 1946 Mrs. Ramseyer asked a missionary if that well was still flowing.  It was!  So for at least 42 years and probably more that offering from the first jugs has been giving water for the orphanage on that compound.  And many of the children who drank from that well, also learned to drink from the WATER OF LIFE, too!

Miss Funk gave hers to Miss Von Gunten who had been praying for money enough to start a day school for girls.  After that the Sunshine Makers sent her $50 every year as long as she stayed in China.  One time she turned the $50 over to a blind boy who had been praying to the missionary’s God that the missionary would get some money so she could help him to go to a trade school and learn to support himself, his mother and his sister.  Indeed that was sunshine money for one who lived in the shadows!

For years the Sunshine Makers supported two missionaries—Miss Mary DeCarno in China and Miss Affie Smoots in Africa.  Their money was used to preach the gospel among the heathen children.  Many of these foreign children have grown up to be preachers and teachers among their own people.  Then in 1948 there were some changes made in the distribution of the missionary funds of the Missionary Church Association and it was decided that the Sunshine Makers’ offerings should be used to support the children of missionaries.  The number of children supported by the Sunshine Makers in 1954 was 54.

Heart-Warming Facts and Figures

From the very beginning in 1902 until 1954, for 52 years, Mrs. Ramseyer was the leader of the Sunshine Makers.  She inspired thousands of children to give their money and their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.  When she was no longer strong enough to carry on the great work, a gifted successor was found in Mrs. C.H. Weiderkehr.  Under her leadership the offerings and the Sunshine Maker’s groups have continued to grow.

A Jug-Breaking Service

To conclude this thrilling story, you who have never attended a jug-breaking service will appreciate a description of one.  Once a year, now regularly on the first or second Sunday in June, each Missionary Church plans a service in which the Sunshine Makers present a missionary program climaxed by the breaking of their acorn banks.

During the whole year each child has been busy filling his own bank with his missionary pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and often dollars.  In the annual service, the children bring their well-filled banks anxious for the moment when they can break the bank and have their offering counted.  After the missionary program in which the children give witness to their interest in the worldwide missionary task, they form a line to march one by one to the platform.  There they place their banks on a box or a table, and with one, two or three cracks of the hammer, each child breaks his or her bank.  The coins roll and sometimes fly, and sometimes the sparks fly, but it is all an inspiring sight to behold:  the children bringing their offerings for the cause of Christ.  The children enjoy it and so do their fathers and mothers.  As the children leave the platform they are each given a new bank to begin all over again the gathering of “sunshine money for shady places.”  

Now many of these same Sunshine Makers are themselves missionaries in foreign lands.  They caught their vision and were inspired in their lives by that early interest demonstrated by childhood missionary giving.

Only eternity will reveal the vast influences of this children’s missionary movement born in the heart of a woman who had a vision and did something about it.