In this interview, Sylvia Friesen tells us how "Mount Lehman Christmas Home Tour" began.
Sylvia, tell us about yourself and your family.
Bruce and I have four adult children, three are married and one is single. We all have the wonderful privilege of living in what we call “our village,” located at the end of Mount Lehman road. We purchased homes that are quite close to each other. Ever since our children were little, we always included them, in whatever it happened to be that we were doing. For example, when Bruce started his business, the whole family went and cleaned up before they moved into the space. Our son, Brent, was rolling coins at six-years-old. We’ve always done our lives together. So now we find ourselves living in the same neighbourhood, able to do things together for wonderful organizations like IJM.
One of the things that you are doing together is the Mount Lehman Christmas Home Tours. Tell us about this and how did this idea get started?
Bruce, myself, and our daughter Cara went to IJM’s Liberate event in 2018. One of the speakers was Blythe Hill – who launched Dressember – and she challenged everybody in the room to “use what you have.” It was such a compelling weekend filled with stories (both difficult and successful) that the three of us were sitting on the airplane flying home and we thought to ourselves, “well, what do we have?”
The answer is that we have our wonderful neighbourhood. It’s a dead-end road down by the river where we have two little streets, and a handful of houses where we all live. We call it our little ‘Mount Lehman’ village. But there are other neighbours that live there, and we thought, “let’s get together, have a summer barbeque, and see if we can get our neighbours involved in a Mount Lehman Christmas House Tour – with 100% of the proceeds going to IJM.” We hosted all of our neighbours, shared stories of rescue, and we were so excited because our neighbours said, “Yes, lets do this!”
Some of the neighbours wanted people inside their homes, some of them chose to put up stars on their barns and ribbons on their mailboxes, but everybody did something. We had one neighbour who was excited about making cut-outs for the outside of her yard. She designed Grinch story cut-outs and was completely excited. None of these neighbours had heard about IJM before, and they were very positive about doing something meaningful at Christmas. It has been really great to bring our neighbourhood together to celebrate what we have.
Our homes have also been used in about 25 or more Hallmark movies. So we realized we could open up our homes for a house tour – interest people from the house aspect – but we can also get people purchasing tickets out of interest in the movies. Guests can come and play the Hallmark game where they try to see if they can find which houses were filmed in these movies. We had the Hallmark piece, we had the home piece, we had the IJM piece, and we had the neighbourhood piece. We really felt this was something we could share with our community.
With all the various pieces, what excites you most about the event?
It is so fun to see peoples’ response. They come in and they go, “Oh, such beautiful homes!” But they also say, “This is something with meaning and it’s something that we can do to change our world.” We generally hear all about negatives in our news, but very rarely is there something practical and positive that we can do right at home. People have really, really enjoyed the opportunity to do something in their community.
Our last house, number six, is our coach house. My daughter Cara got her young adults home group together and they decided that they wanted to do something. They’re in an age group that’s often under-utilized and not inspired to be involved in life. They are single professionals, and without the family piece they are often left out of our communities. Cara and her group got together and decided they were going to do the coach house. They chose to put a giant tree in the middle and took gift catalogue items from IJM, cut them into gift tags, and wrapped 200 presents – some of them huge, some of them small – to represent the various items. They are encouraging people to buy a present with meaning this Christmas.
Some of our friends have said, “You know, my brother has everything, I’m just going to go to the coach house and buy a gift of meaning for him. I’ll put it under the tree, and that’s his gift. This is what you are getting this year.” It’s an idea that has really caught on. We’re very excited to do something a little bit different, with purpose at Christmas.
What are you hoping the guests will get out of attending?
I hope they have a delightful time through coming, and that they are given an experience with a purpose. It’s my wish that people are inspired and know that there is hope and there is freedom at Christmas. I think we have adopted IJM’s tagline, “For those of you who are still enslaved, hold on, we’re coming.” It’s been fun to tell people, when they thank us for opening up our homes, “How could we not when there are people who really need our help?” And so, we have invited people into the story of hope and freedom this Christmas.
This is an event that is pretty big scale, so what has been the most challenging part of organizing an event of this size?
Well, the idea came about two years ago and we were going to do it that first Christmas but we decided no, we can’t. So the idea has been percolating for the year, and we started in earnest this August. We had weekly meetings and have really tried to inspire each other to do it.
The surprising piece has been the huge amount of administration and marketing work that I just didn’t realize was going to be necessary. That’s been the greatest challenge. We also didn’t realize how big it would get. I’m a show designer so when I create shows there’s always one more idea. First it was decorating the homes, and then it was, “We have a magic attic room, we really need to include that.” And, “Well then, we need to include the train room that’s in the attic.” “Oh, I can tell a story about that!” And, “We can have a magic Christmas village!” “Oh, but there’s an ocean, so we can do an underwater scene as well.”
That is my problem, I’m creative and the ideas just keep growing. This morning we were scrambling to decorate our tractors and our trailers, so that we could give people rides all around the neighbourhood. We couldn’t just use a tractor and trailer, we needed the trailer to have Christmas decorations and bells and blankets. The ideas just kept mushrooming and it took a lot more time, and a lot more effort, and a lot more energy than we bargained for. But I have to say the response and the results have exceeded our expectations.
Do you have tips or suggestions for people who might want to do something similar to this?
Yes, do it! But you need a big team. It really was the four of us – myself and my three daughters – that spearheaded this. What we have discovered is because we are a close knit family, we work a lot together on projects, always have, and we help each other out. But this time we were all in our separate homes and we found we had to rely on our larger community. It turned out to be a real blessing because people responded positively. They went, “Yes, I’m excited about that, I’d like to help,” and “hey, I can do this, I can do that.”
That’s what we’ve learnt, to open up our community and to really invite people in. It’s amazing to discover that if you have a leader, people come on board and they will be excited about what it is you’re hoping to achieve. A lot of people just need someone to inspire them or someone to be a leader and they will come along. So, make your team big and go for it.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers??
We are inspired by IJM’s morning prayer and devotions in all the offices, so we determined to have prayer at every planning meeting and often in between. We did not want to do this without acknowledging our deep need and dependence on our Lord Jesus Christ. We are humbly thankful for His blessing and for all your team’s help and support. We are always better together.
For someone who wants to find out more about the home tour and come, how can they find out more information?
We have a website it’s through our home, Heronsbridge Weddings, and there’s a link on there to the IJM Christmas house tour. You can also go on the IJM website and there’s a link there to the Christmas home tour. You can also find it through Tuscan Farm Gardens which is another one of our homes which there is a link on her website too for the house tour.