This article originally ran in the Cleveland Daily Banner on February 13, 2019
Behind every man is a great woman, and this rings true for Jill Caywood, wife of the future interactive biblical museum’s Trek Thru Truth president Doug Caywood.
The 43-year-old served as the secretary for Trek Thru Truth for several years, but recently stepped down to become the head of the events and planning committee, and to ensure the future museum gets the attention it deserves.
The idea for the museum was something of a collaboration between Jill and Doug, who will have been married 15 years in May. While their infant son, Xander, was in the NICU several years ago, the Ronald McDonald House gave the Caywood’s tickets for the Creative Discovery Museum, which they took their oldest son, Caleb, to visit.
“We’d gone to the Discovery Museum before, but it’d always been on trips with schools and not just our family,” Jill said. “After we left, Doug said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we found a Bible-based museum just like that?’ So that’s what spurred our interest.”
The couple then began research on other museums around the country, and were stunned to find that only a few attractions were based in Scripture.
Throughout their research, the couple visited the Boston Children’s Museum, the Holy Land Experience, Ark Encounter, Creation Museum, Science Museum, Titanic Museum, Coca-Cola Museum, Alligator Adventure, Tellus Science Museum, multiple zoos and several other places to get an idea of how each attraction operated, how they designed their exhibits and other tricks of the trade.
As an emerging museum, Trek Thru Truth is a member of the Association of Children’s Museums, which is made up of over 300 museums that are just getting off the ground. Trek Thru Truth is the only emerging museum in Tennessee, and currently the only one in the entire nation focused on the Bible.
Doug and Jill had only been married a brief time before Xander was born, and Jill said Doug’s focus shifted from being a traveling bachelor to seeking options for their children, one of the reasons they were drawn to the idea of a ministerial children’s museum.
“There were a lot of emotions for Caleb, Xander’s big brother, when Xander was in the NICU, and us going to the Discovery Museum really helped distract him from his worries,” Jill said.
Jill and Doug serve as Sunday school teachers at Samples Memorial Baptist Church, and incorporate 52 Bible stories from Trek Thru Truth into their lessons. Jill joked her Sunday school students became the museum’s guinea pigs, to determine what stories worked and which ones didn’t.
She believes many lessons in Sunday school classes today only skim the surface of the Bible, and don’t go in-depth in analyzing these larger-than-life characters.
Initially, the Caywoods were told they were crazy because detractors felt giving the “meat” of the Scripture to 4- and 5-year-olds would be a wasted venture because of their lack of retention skills; however, due to review questions asked each week, the kids have proven their mettle and retained their lessons.
“We send some items home so the parents can work with their kids on the lessons, and we’ve gotten a lot of comments from these parents saying they learned new things as well or remembered that story or that character from the Bible after reading their children’s Sunday school lessons from us,” Jill said.
They’re also utilizing various props to ingrain stories into the kids’ memories, such as serving beef stew to the children when they discuss Esau giving up his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. This plays into Trek Thru Truth’s goal of touching the five senses of each guest.
Their son, Xander, is interested in supporting the museum as well, and hopes to spearhead the movement to bring live animals commonly found in Scripture into the museum.
As the head of the museum’s events and planning committee, Jill ensures Trek Thru Truth is represented at most large community gatherings. Events she has planned to attend for 2019 include the Apple Festival, Cowpea Festival, Church of God of Prophecy Assembly conferences and the museum will even have a float in this year’s Christmas parade.
When not planning for the museum, Doug serves as an architect with Lewis Group Architects, which is also the company over the project in collaboration with the two museum exhibit design firms it currently works with. Jill takes care of her children and grandchildren.
“We’re the only museum in the nation focused on the Bible. We want to collaborate with other organizations in the community like dance troupes, 4-H, the schools and we want to be a big field trip destination,” Jill said.
Trek Thru Truth is expected to be break ground in 2020. The Caywoods encourage everyone to keep their eyes peeled for any updates on the project.
For more information, go to trekthrutruth.com or check out its Facebook.