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News | Updates | Reflections

Looking back: celebrating The Third Story

As we mark our 75th anniversary, we reflect on certain landmark projects we’ve produced over the course of our history. One such project is The Third Story TV show. We’re excited to announce that almost all of the The Third Story episodes are now available to watch on YouTube.

The Third Story began in 1975 when Lorlie Barkman, a pastor and cartoonist, was invited to Square One (then Mennonite Brethren Communications) to produce a family program for television. Lorlie prayed to receive what he called, "the gift of tongues: the ability to speak the language of television". He wanted the new program to connect with Canadian families of all kinds. God answered this prayer. Together with Neil Klassen and Marv Thiessen, Lorlie came up with a unique format for a popular program that aired across the country.

Lorlie Barkman (left) and Marv Thiessen edit an episode of The Third Story.

The goal of The Third Story was to tell ordinary yet engaging stories that would be relevant for young teens and their families. "God's truth applied to ordinary life," became Lorlie's motto. Each program was a combination of segments - things like parables, cartoons, contemporary music, dramas about everyday life, science features, Bible stories, interviews, and animal performances - that were compiled around a common theme. Some of the segments were filmed at the CKY studio in Winnipeg, but others were filmed on a city street, in small towns, on farms, or at scenic sites in other provinces.

Viewers were encouraged to write in to tell a bit about themselves and to request The Third Story Survival Kit. The print material included in the Kit was designed to encourage them to grow in their relationship with God.

One of the unique elements of The Third Story was that the cast included a group of young teens. They were regular kids who were, in many ways, just like the kids watching at home. Ellie Charach, a cast member in the 1970s, remembers Lorlie as a patient and encouraging leader on the set. "He allowed us to be ourselves... as we depicted the struggles and concerns of young teens," she recalls. "We were amateurs, but we were also authentic teens so we could just be ourselves."

"The Third Story gets right to the heart of a teen’s heart, their dreams, hopes, fears, insecurities, questions and concerns. Each episode dealt with one aspect of a teen’s life and pointed the answers back to the Word of God and His love for us. I think it’s important for all teens, whether they grew up in the 70s or are growing up in the 21st century, to know that God is there for them." - Ellie Charach

The Third Story represented an ambitious new step for Square One into English-language TV. Music - mostly classical and sacred - had always been a big part of the ministry. The Third Story broadened the scope to include contemporary music that was more relevant for younger viewers. Lorlie's approach was also highly visual, a style that helped the ministry transition to the visual format of television. Lorlie looked at the Bible through the eyes of an illustrator. He maintained that 70% of the Bible included components like songs, parables, and stories that paint pictures. "The Bible is not strictly verbal," he said. "It's full of visual images."

In total, 91 episodes were produced over about 15 years and they aired on stations across Canada. The Third Story - your story, my story, and God's story.

Click here to view the new dedicated YouTube channel for The Third Story.

A gallery of cartoon art (by Lorlie Barkman) and production stills from The Third Story TV show and magazine.

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