When Tyler Van Halteren was fifteen years old, his dad gave him a frayed, well-used copy of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s famous allegory of a man named Christian weighed down by the burden of sin as he journeys toward the Celestial City. Few books outside the Bible shaped Tyler more than Bunyan’s classic. The profound imagery of Pilgrim’s Progress stayed with Tyler while he was a student at The Master’s Seminary from 2010-2013, through his years as a pastor back in his native Ontario Canada, and when he and his wife Katie moved to Cambodia to teach at Phnom Penh Bible School.
Not long after the Van Halterens moved to Cambodia, he wanted to introduce Pilgrim’s Progress to his two young boys, but there was a problem.
“Each night, my wife and I would read Christian children’s books to our two boys, and since Pilgrim’s Progress had impacted me so much, I wanted to read them a children’s edition of it,” Tyler said. “But as I surveyed the market, I had a hard time finding a version of the story that was ideal for children two through ten years old. I couldn’t find a well-illustrated, simple version of Pilgrim’s Progress that young children could follow.”
At that point, most people would feel a bit of disappointment, then move on. That’s not what Tyler did. He decided to try writing the version of Pilgrim’s Progress he wanted to read to his two boys. He hired an illustrator and learned everything he could about writing a children’s book. Once the book was written and illustrated, he launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise $6,000 to self-publish and print the book. In just a few days, the campaign raised nearly $30,000, far more than his stated goal.
“The Kickstarter campaign showed that I wasn’t the only one interested in a version of Pilgrim’s Progress for young children,” Tyler said. “It was clear that many families desired solid resources like this.”
Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey was published one year ago, on November 5, 2020. In the past year, it’s sold more than 20,000 copies and there have been requests for more than that as the demand has surpassed the pace of printing.
The surprising success and wide interest in the book has led Tyler to write Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey Part II, which will release this November. This book is based off the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s the lesser-known allegory Bunyan published six years after the first Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s sequel follows the journey of Christian’s family as they seek to join him in the Celestial City.
Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey Part II is available for pre-order at lithoskids.com. That’s the website for a new publishing agency that Tyler founded. After the success of Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey, Tyler saw an opportunity to serve the global church by providing more doctrinally sound, biblically based resources for young children. There have now been requests to translate it into a dozen other languages.
“Lithos is the Greek word for stone. And as we know from Scripture, Christ is the chief cornerstone that we are to build upon,” Tyler said. “So with this publishing company, we want to produce resources that help children build a solid foundation on the rock of Christ.”
After Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey Part II, Tyler plans to publish a biblical theology for kids that traces the story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Along with this providential publishing ministry, Tyler plans to continue to teach at Phnom Penh Bible School in Cambodia. It’s a school, and a country, he has come to love over the past two years.
“Following a genocide in the seventies, and communism throughout the 80s, the country had few believers,” Tyler said. “That started to change in the late 90s and early 2000s thanks to the work of missionaries and a faithful remnant of local Christians. From the year 2000 to 2020, the church grew from 10,000 people to close to 300,000. Today, many believers in Cambodia are the first ones in their family.”
At Phnom Penh Bible School, Tyler equips these young believers to be pastors and spiritual leaders for the growing Cambodian church.
“Three-fourths of Cambodian pastors have little significant biblical training,” Tyler said. “Many men come to Christ from a Buddhist background and start leading the church without training. In those situations, the prosperity gospel makes quick inroads and damages the church.”
Tyler is grateful to be there, partnering with another TMS grad, and a couple alumni of The Master’s University, to provide theological depth and biblical precision in a country that desperately needs both.
“It’s a joy to train leaders, and to, hopefully, put a fingerprint in the cement that is the future of the Cambodian church.”
Though publishing a children’s book and teaching at a Bible school in Cambodia may not seem connected, Tyler sees a providential synthesis, connecting an entrepreneurial spirit he’s always had with a passion for missions and the global church. And alongside those twin desires, the Lord graciously provided a solid foundation at TMS.
“At TMS, I was given such a strong education in the Word, and that has born fruit both in my teaching and in my writing,” Tyler said. “The heart of the curriculum at TMS is to equip men to faithfully communicate God’s Word to God’s people. Having been equipped to teach, I now have something to model here at the Bible college. And having been trained theologically, and how to write with clarity and precision, I am able to serve the church through writing.”