As an old book editor, I’ve long felt the tension involved in the fact that most people don’t read a lot. They just don’t. I will admit that I’ve often wondered how a person can go through life and really not read much of anything. That sounds snobbish, but I don’t mean it to be. I genuinely wonder.
I’ve “evolved” over the years in how I see all this. Twenty-odd years ago, I was miffed that people weren’t eager to read 400-page books. And I’m talking non-fiction! I absorbed information from books and newspapers, and it was like oxygen. Over the years, our staff at the publishing house came to terms with the seemingly dwindling number of readers. As a Christian-based publisher, we were really committed to spreading the Gospel through the printed page.
I no longer ruminate over the lack of committed readers. God showed me the obvious: There are other ways to share the Good News. Recently, happenstance brought me a most wonderful story, and reinforced a great theme found in Matthew 28: Jesus commanded His followers to “make disciples of all nations.”
At breakfast one morning in our small town, I met John Rankin, a now-retired missionary. He and his family spent many years ministering on the South Pacific island of Samoa. In fact, John’s wife ran a bookstore that did good business.
The first Christian missionary to Samoa (an island two miles wide and 18 miles long) was John Williams in 1830, working with the London Missionary Society. The Society still operates on the island.
John Rankin can be credited to some degree with bringing a modern evangelical model; and not surprisingly, his church and the bookstore thrived.
And here’s where the story for me gets really interesting, because it hits close to home and illustrates the truly global effects of Gospel witness. I mentioned to John during our first meeting that in my hometown, Kerusso just celebrated its 30th anniversary in business. This is the world’s largest Christian apparel company and I’ve known the owner, Vic Kennett, since high school. He has a driving passion to use Kerusso (Greek for “preach”) to help make disciples in all nations.
Imagine my surprise when John lauded the work of Kerusso.
“You know, we did very well with Kerusso products,” John told me. He returned to this statement twice more during breakfast, remarking that the islanders thronged to buy Kerusso T-shirts and other product. Each piece produced at the Berryville facility has a purpose: to introduce the wearer to the Gospel. Scripture abounds, often through catchy phrases and eye-popping designs.
“The people on Samoa loved the colors of the shirts, and the quality was clearly the best of any company we worked with,” he remembers. John said that even the fabric was popular, as it “wore well” in the tropical warm climate.
I marveled at all this. A picturesque southern town in America is home to a “spiritual lighthouse” that produces products worn … in the South Pacific. Of course, Kerusso places products all over the world, but for me at breakfast that morning, I strongly felt the connection between home and far-off and exotic Samoa.
(Adding to the providential feel of the story: Vic, as a teenager, became a Christian largely due to his reading of “The Late, Great Planet Earth.” His inability to explain-away specific Bible prophecies led him to conclude that the God of the Bible is very real. From this, Kerusso was eventually birthed!)
The team at Kerusso has learned that in the lifetime of a T-shirt, its message might be read a staggering 3,000 times!
All this has led me to the conclusion there are marvelous and creative – and very diverse – ways to spread the Gospel. Communication happens in different ways, not all of it in books.
I marvel at John Rankins’ commitment to move half a world away, leaving a successful business and friends and family. I marvel at the attention to detail and quality at Kerusso, which tells me quite clearly the team there actually believes the very name of the business.
And it warms my heart knowing John Williams would be quite proud and pleased the different “worlds” of the South Pacific and the United States would link-up and join the family of God.
All this has taught an old reader and editor a few things: God uses all the parts of the body – not just heavy doctrinal books(!)– to do His work.
That is Kingdom-building at its finest!