Step Out of Your Algorithm

independent bookstoreThis has been a really interesting summer so far.  I am writing a book – hence the blogging hiatus, Hachette and Amazon are “duking” it out and independent bookstores seem to be coming back into vogue as a legitimate and fun places to buy books.  Just this past week, I saw an article that I had to share.  This is from esquire.com and was written by Stephen Marche.  While it is written from a secular perspective, it has a lot to say that is meaningful to Christian bookstores as well.  I am in Atlanta this week for one of my favorite events of the year – the International Christian Retail Show.  This article and all it suggests for the future are part of the reason that I am writing my book and why I love bookstores.

The article was entitled, “How to Quit Amazon and Shop in an Actual Bookstore” – Read and Enjoy

The movement to boycott Amazon has been picking up speed for several weeks now. In the wake of strong-arm tactics in its negotiations with Hachette publishing, Amazon has managed to offend the actual writers whose books Hachette publishes, including Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, and JK Rowling. That wouldn’t matter so much if one of them wasn’t Stephen Colbert. He has promoted stickers that viewers can download from his website, which read, I DIDN’T BUY IT ON AMAZON. Amazon has responded by telling customers that anybody inconvenienced by the battle with Hachette should buy books elsewhere.

Until publishers decide to start a competitor website selling books, which eventually they are going to have to do, anyone wanting to follow Colbert’s or Amazon’s advice ought to venture into actual physical bookstores. Unfortunately, by now, purchasing print books in a brick-and-mortar building is something of a lost art, like taking snuff or drinking brandy after dinner. Which is not to say that it’s not worth doing. Quite the opposite. Buying books in a bookstore is one of life’s great, quiet pleasures. It leads to the purchase of better books. It leads to a deeper relationship to reading. It is a joy in and of itself.

Therefore, for those who need reminding, and for those who perhaps are too young ever to have been in a bookstore, a short guide to buying books in them:

1. Take your time.

In every bookstore, there is a book that is perfect for you, right now, at this exact moment of your life. That book will change you. Your job is to find it. It probably won’t happen right away. When you go to a bookstore, schedule a good half-hour there. You spend half an hour at the barber don’t you? You can spend at least the same amount of time looking over the life’s work of strangers who only want to make something you’ll love.

2. Do not go into a bookstore just to pick up a title.

The new Glenn Greenwald book? The latest Knausgaard volume? They’ll probably have it. But if you want something unusual, they might have it and they might not. In the past, what you used to do is “put a book on order.” The book would then arrive, with luck, inside a couple of weeks, at which point the customer had to go back to the bookstore to buy it. The pain of this process was the entire reason Amazon was started. The best reason not to go into a bookstore with a title in mind is that the book in a bookstore that you want is the one you don’t know exists. That’s the beauty of bookstores. They are labyrinths to get lost in.

3. Ask the people who work there.

In my experience, most of the people who work in bookstores are either about to be writers or are failed writers. Bookstore people (“employees” always seems like the wrong word to me) know what is happening in the world of books more than reviewers or publishers or authors themselves. In smaller bookstores — and as far as I’m concerned, the smaller the bookstore, the better — virtually everyone knows a great deal indeed about what books are going to fit what people. You have to be choosier in big-box bookstores, those Blockbusters of the mind, where at least a portion of the staff aren’t so much “in books” as they are “in retail.” I advise finding the man or woman with the weirdest glasses. They’re usually sulking around the poetry section or around the back. Those are the ones who usually know what’s good and what’s not.

4. Buy more than you think you’re going to read.

People make a big mistake going into a bookstore and purchasing a single volume. A good book arrives when the mood for it has arrived in the reader. And who can know his own moods? You should buy a whole bunch of books and then see how each strikes you. The plain fact is that a softcover book is one of the best value purchases in the world. If you buy four books and spend $60, you are going to get $60 worth of value if even one of them is worth reading. A good measure is to compare the price of a book to the price of food at a sporting event. Suddenly $26 for a book doesn’t seem exactly unfair, does it?

A good bookstore isn’t just a place to buy books. The really good ones are bespoke tailoring for your narrative impulse. And that experience, it’s worth pointing out, is available in every town, and it’s free. The real problem with Amazon isn’t that it’s strong-arming Hachette; it’s that it leads readers to buy books that they’ve already heard about. When you pick out a summer novel for yourself online, you’re going to pick the book that everybody else is reading, almost automatically. But the book that you want probably isn’t Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. It probably isn’t another James Patterson. A good seller in a bookstore is infinitely superior in every way to a personalization algorithm. Even by entering a bookstore, you’re faced with literally a thousand choices that you’ve never been faced with before. Somewhere in there is something that’s entirely fresh to you, and will reward your soul by exposure. That’s what good books do, and good bookstores, too. They let you step out of your algorithm.

I hope you are enjoying your summer too.  If not, get a book and start reading.  Things will start looking up.

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Taking the Plunge

taking the plungeSo I have decided to dive in to the deep end of the pool. After several years of writing this blog I am now going to try my hand at writing some books. As a publisher who sees new book proposals on a weekly basis, I know that this is a risky venture. Nearly 300,000 new titles are published in English each year in the USA and the average book only sells about 300 copies in that same year. Anyone who chooses to write needs to do it with both a passion for their subject and a pragmatic perspective on what is possible. The initial books that I am going to work on are for a very specific audience and birthed from a particular burden I carry.

For a while now I have been concerned that Christian retailers have been closing their doors too quickly. The realities of tough economic times, a changing market and increased competition have driven many committed Christian business people to shut down their operations. Over the last decade many more Christian stores have closed than have opened. Even those committed to keeping their stores going have a difficult time finding successors when they reach retirement age. Not nearly enough younger entrepreneurs are considering investing in Christian retailing as either a viable business or a worthwhile ministry.

Today, we are at a tipping point and something has to be done. My first book is tentatively entitled, The Bookstore that Matters, and will be part memoir and part manifesto. I firmly believe that a bookstore that matters to its local community can survive and even thrive. Running a Christian bookstore is a high calling and a business worth committing your life too. If run properly, it will attract people, impact the community in significant ways and actually help in transforming lives in the here and now and for eternity.

My new book will draw on my own personal experience of running a Christian bookstore with no prior experience and no special training. Just as in the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, some bookstores can go from simple single digit growth to significant increases in impact and sales. I know because I saw it happen. We do not have to accept the standard wisdom of the pundits and the naysayers. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see miracles take place in our day and time, even in a Christian bookstore. It is time to begin a new revolution, a new movement of Christian book pioneers and innovators.

So why am I so urgent about this? Something strange is going on. While the number of independent Christian bookstores continues to decrease, independent secular bookstores are on the rise. For the past five years in a row, the American Booksellers Association has reported a net increase in its membership. This should not be. During this same period of time, many Christian publishers have been purchased by secular companies and now the vast majority of Christian books and Bibles are published by people that do not name Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  (Please Note – There are a large number of dedicated Christians still working for the companies owned by these new corporate parents.) While this may not seem to have had a dramatic impact yet, it will in the years to come. We are already seeing the ripple effects of this with the recent news of Waterbrook/ Multnomah pulling out of their membership from the NRB (National Religious Broadcasters).

Independent Christian Bookstores are as important as independent Christian publishers and possibly even more so. No one is going to share the truth of the gospel with a lost soul in Barnes & Noble or the local ABA bookstore. No one but the Christian bookstore is going to stock a wide variety of resources for the local church and make them available when it is too late to get the same products from Amazon before Sunday. When these stores are closed it really does matter. The trees are falling in the forest and people can hear it. So who is going to respond to this crisis?

I hope that my book will be an inspiration to a new generation of young Christian entrepreneurs and to the current generation of Christian retailers that are thinking about giving up. Pray for me as I begin this endeavor. In order to carve out the time needed to make this happen, I will be taking a blogging hiatus for the summer. Keep your eye on this space for news of my progress and periodic updates on the book. This fall, I hope to be able to share much more about the release plan for the book and how soon you will be able to purchase it. Oh – while you are waiting, why not go to your local Christian bookstore, buy a book and be an encouragement to someone who has dedicated their life to this great cause.

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The Spring List – 10 Book Recommendations

Finding great Christian books that are worth the time, edifying for the mind and good for the soul is not as easy as it used to be. With so many Christian publishers having been purchased by secular entities, it becoming harder to find that “gem” that is a must read. With that in mind, here are my recommendations for the spring.

A Loving Life1. A Loving Life by Paul Miller – I did not think it was possible for Miller to top the writing in his seminal book, A Praying Life that has now become the go to book on prayer. This is certainly my favorite book of the ten that I am going to recommend. In it, he tackles the tough questions at the heart of our struggle to love head-on. Drawing from the book of Ruth, A Loving Life offers the help we need to embrace relationship, endure rejection, cultivate community, and reach out to even the most unlovable around us as we discover the power to live a loving life. I was profoundly challenged to evaluate how I love those in my life in a way that reflects how deeply I am loved by my heavenly father.

2. Everyday Church by Tim Chester & Steve TimmisEveryday Church– I am currently reading this book and enjoying every page. Written from the context of doing church in the post-Christian world of Great Britain, it has a lot to say about doing church in the USA as well. Many of the leaders in my own local church are reading it right now and being impacted by the concepts and ideas that they discuss. Their premise is that we live in an increasingly post-Christian culture. More and more we find ourselves on the margins as less and less people have any intention of ever attending church. What used to work doesn’t work anymore and we need to adapt. I really like their emphasis on living out the gospel in every sphere of life so that like the early church we will once again attract people because of “the aroma of Christ.”

show them jesus3. Show Them Jesus by Jack Klumpenhower – As a Sunday school teacher of both children and adults, I am always drawn to Christ centered material that will help me point people to Jesus. In this new book, Jack makes the point that millions of church kids are growing up and deciding to leave the church. They listened attentively in Sunday school, made friends, and seemed committed. But one day, they quit. What happened? The Bible says we love God because he first loved us. So if we are not primarily teaching our kids about God’s love for us in Christ, we may miss our opportunity to capture their hearts. I love the fact that Show Them Jesus challenges the culture of low-stakes, low-expectations teaching and invites teachers to do nothing less than teach and treasure the good news of Jesus in every lesson.

4. What’s Best Next by Matt Permanwhats best next – As a follow up to Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy, this is a great companion piece. In it, Perman states that productivity isn’t just about getting more things done. It’s about getting the right things done—the things that count, make a difference, and move the world forward. He shows us that when we take God’s purposes into account, a revolutionary insight emerges. Surprisingly, we see that the way to be productive is to put others first—to make the welfare of other people our motive and criteria in determining what to do (what’s best next). I love his emphasis on doing work that matters and giving me a practical approach for increasing my effectiveness as a leader.

taking god at his word5. Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung – This prolific young evangelical writer has taken the Christian book publishing industry by storm and recently won the coveted Christian Book of the Year Award. In this new book, he unpacks what the Bible says about the Bible. He deals with practical questions that both Christians and non-Christians have about the Bible. His aim is to show that the Bible is knowable, necessary and enough and how that should impact our lives. In a day when the word of God seems to be diminished by every new blog post that comes down the pike, this book is very timely. Far too many younger evangelicals are being persuaded that the Bible is too complex, insufficient for the modern world that we live in and not really relevant to the problems we face. I am delighted that CLC will be publishing a new book this fall called Blurry Bringing Clarity to the Bible, which will be a great companion piece.whats your world view

6. What’s Your World View by James Anderson – As a parent of teens who are facing big life choices, this book is of real interest to me. This innovative book is an interactive journey of discovery aimed at helping you understand and evaluate the options when it comes to identifying your worldview. Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief for World Magazine had this to say “What’s Your Worldview? is a brilliant concept, because each generation stumbles into its own ways to learn about God. Francis Schaeffer spoke about truth to many now old. James Anderson speaks to the young who grew up with ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, where the outcome depends on the choices readers make. A great gift for thoughtful teens who need to choose wisely.”

the world is not ours to save7. This World is Not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson – This is a very practical and necessary book for the next generation of young adults growing up with the pressure to live “radical” lives of meaning and purpose. So many really do want to save the world, and have a dizzying array of worthy causes to pursue. But passionate enthusiasm can quickly give way to disillusionment, compassion fatigue or empty slacktivism. As they move from awareness to mobilization, they bump up against the complexities of global problems—and liking Facebook pages only goes so far. In this book, Wigg-Stevenson casts an alternate vision for doing good based on the liberating truth that only God can save the world. This has to be good news to a generation that can sometimes see “missional” as the “necalled to stayw legalism”.

8. Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey – Written from a millennial to his own generation, this book is passionate plea for his contemporaries to consider staying in the church and making a difference. In Called to Stay Breakey takes a refreshingly honest look at the church, the problem of Millennials leaving, and the stark reality of why the church desperately needs them. He holds nothing back as he unleashes an ambitious rallying cry to heal the church and inject his generation’s desire for truth, passion, and conviction into other believers. I love what renowned Christian author Kyle Idleman has to say about this book, “Before you leave your church, before you spread rumors about your church, and before you abandon the church altogether, read Called to Stay. If you read this book with an open mind, it just might change your perspective of what it means to be a church member.”

walking with god9. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller – One of my favorite authors has tackled an issue that has plagued the church for millennia. It is written in the same vein as the two classics, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, which was published more than thirty years ago, and C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, published more than seventy years ago. It is destined to become the definitive Christian book for our generation on why bad things happen and how we should respond to them. I highly recommend it to anyone dealing with grief and suffering.visions of vocation

10. Visions of Vocation by Steve Garber – I am including this in my list because it is so highly recommended by my fellow book lover Byron Borger. This is what he had to say about it, “I’ve mentioned more than once that this has been, in my experience, the best book I’ve read in years. It is so eloquent, thoughtful, interesting, and important. Garber’s call to care deeply about the world, even as we sense its hurts and brokenness, and to be responsible agents within the contours of history, is beautiful and vital. If you know young adults who are idealistic and care deeply about the world, this would be a significant gift to honor them at this season of their life.” This one is moving up the list of my “must read and recommend” books for the year.

 

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Getting the Word Around the World

photo 33It took twenty five hours to get there, but it was worth it. This week I traveled to South Korea for the first time to participate in a Global Publishing Conference being hosted by our parent organization, CLC International. It was a wonderful time to connect with my colleagues from India, Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan, Myanmar and Colombia. Each of these teams has been publishing Christian books in their countries for a number of years or is about to begin doing so.

Here is an overview of what CLC is doing around the world in publishing:

Korea – CLC has been publishing books in Korea for over 40 years. Their focus has been on producing academic materials for the fast growing Seminary and Bible College community. Given that the Presbyterian Church is one of the largest evangelical groups in Korea, the emphasis has been photo 5on translating and publishing books by reformed authors. Over the decades, the team has published 1500 books and they currently have 800 in print. CLC Korea is the largest publishing house in the CLC World and operates from a beautiful four story building in downtown Seoul. They have recently built a new and larger warehouse space to house the books they have published. With the growth of the evangelical church in Korea, the team is now looking to expand their publishing emphasis beyond the academic niche they have developed so well. It was great to see two of the books that they acquired from CLC Publications in the USA being featured in their showroom.

photo 22India – The team in India has reignited their publishing efforts in the last seven years. They are the second largest publishing house in the CLC World with over 600 titles in print. More than half of these are in the Tamil language. The team leader, Christopher Robert, has led the way in re-establishing their English language publishing initiatives. We have worked very closely with him and many of the titles that CLC USA first acquired are now being produced for the Indian market at very affordable prices. In the last 18 months they have launched a growing e-commerce website that is filling orders from all over the country.

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Colombia – The team in Colombia produces the Spanish language materials for the rest of the CLC World and has 150 titles in print. They publish as many as twelve new titles each year and work with many of the largest evangelical publishers in the USA to get high quality content. We have a special relationship with this team and have given them first right of refusal to publish any of our titles in Spanish. Over the years, this has been a fruitful partnership and many of our new titles are quickly translated into Spanish and made available to the public. The work in Colombia is growing so fast that they have recently purchased a sizeable new warehouse to house the books they publish and distribute.

Myanmar – CLC has been publishing books in the Burmese language since 1992. Today they have over 200 books in print and have published some very important books including the Lion Bible Handbook and the Purpose Driven Life. Jacob Mung, the team leader, has worked sacrificially with his team to make evangelical Christian photo 36literature available in this country that is closed to outside missionary influence. One local pastor has said that Jacob’s efforts have changed the trajectory of Christianity in his country. They are now beginning of creating the first ever Burmese Language Study Bible. Ideally it will be available by 2017.

Philippines – The CLC team in the Philippines produce books in both Tagalog and English. Today they have nearly 300 titles in print and are working on as many as twenty new books a year. It was exciting to hear their desire to produce more books by local Philippine authors. They have worked closely with CLC USA to get rights for English language printing and have made many of our new books available within a year of their first publication in the USA.

Pakistan – CLC publishes books in the Urdu language in this predominantly Muslim country. They are currently working on two books by Lee Strobel including The Case for Christ. Given the small number of evangelicals in the country, they have required external subsidy for publishing work. It is a dangerous place to work and our team members have had their lives threatened in the past. Despite this, they minister on a daily basis to Muslims that visit our bookstore.photo 3

At the conference, we were challenged to consider doubling our publishing efforts over the next nine years and to help a number of new countries get their publishing efforts started for the first time. What a blessing to worship, dream and plan together.

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Facing Fear

beesI hate bees. There I have said it. I understand that they have an important role in the earth’s ecosystem and we cannot live without them. Somehow, though, I can never watch enough documentaries about their necessity to negate one small fact – they can sting you. As a child, this hatred turned into a paralyzing fear and a family drama on more than one occasion. To this day, I am still reminded about the time I sat in the car the entire time my family was enjoying the beach because of a certain bush at the entrance to the beach that was infested with a swarm of deadly bees or so I thought. Years later, when I thought I had finally overcome the dread of that nastiest of flying insects, I actually swallowed one of their cousins – a wasp – while I was drinking ice tea. It is amazing that the incident didn’t ruin my delight in one of my favorite drinks.

There are a lot of things in life much worse that bees that are legitimate reasons for fear; earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes come to mind. Yet, those things are not what we fret about and what really keep us up at night. More often than not we can’t sleep because of worry. Worry over unpaid bills, worry about a test, worry about a job interview, worry about a relationship; worry about just about anything. Worry is so pervasive in our lives, that I once heard the phrase, “Why pray when you can worry?” It is an easy fallback position for most of us and can be terribly immobilizing. Many a great idea never got off the ground because of worry over the potential obstacles involved in implementing the dream.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow, I am reminded of the power of belief to overcome fear. My mother always believed in me me and mom– no matter what. She prayed me through many a childhood fear and still prays for me to this day. That simple belief in me was enough to help me make it through boarding school in seventh grade, to deal with being “height challenged” in high school, and to move away from home at the age of fifteen so that I could get a better education.

Her belief in me was a powerful motivation, but it was not enough. No matter how much she prayed for me, wrote letters, called or visited when we were apart, I still dealt with nagging fears as I grew up. I needed something stronger to believe in that would be my sustaining anchor in the storms I would face as I moved into adulthood. The best gift my mother ever gave me was a deep abiding faith in her Lord Jesus Christ. I saw how much He meant to her and I knew I needed Him too.

Her belief became mine. I understood once and for all that the fears and anxiety would probably never completely go away. Instead, I would have a comforter that would never leave nor forsake me – no matter what. Today, I have traveled to many places that terrified me even to think about as a child. I have become a public speaker and writer even though I used to hate writing papers and presenting in class. I have dealt with untold heartache in the lives of others as I have led my organization and worked in my local church. I even quit a job to become a missionary just like my mom. In all of these scary circumstances, I have known the constant presence of the one who made me and sent His son to die for me.

As I head to Korea this week for another round of facing fears – did I not mention my aversion to strange foods – I go with the words of a familiar hymn in my mind:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

and one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

2nd Timothy 1:7

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (KJV)

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Buy – Read – Give

recycle poster outlineIt was one of the more embarrassing moments of my retail career. For a few weeks a nationally known music artist had been shopping in our store. I had only noticed him a few days before and asked one of my co-workers if it was the “real” person that I thought it was. Not satisfied with their answer, I was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. Putting on my best customer service hat, I sidled up to him and asked if he needed any help. Clearly startled, he said thanks, but he was doing just fine. Every time he came in after that I must have seemed like a stalker as I was always friendly and helpful and hoping to find out if this was really who I thought it was. Finally, my moment of clarity arrived. He had come up to the checkout counter and I was the one serving him. Out came his credit card and it dawned on me that his real name would be on that card. Not satisfied with that information though, I looked him in the eye as I handed him back the card and actually said, “Are you the real _____?” At this point the gig was up. He looked back at me and quietly said that yes he was that person and politely asked that he not be given any special treatment.

Having served many quasi gospel music celebrities over the years, this was not the answer I was expecting. So many people expect to be treated as if they are a VIP and here was a real live famous person and he did not. I thought that maybe I had offended him and we might not see him again, so I warned the rest of our staff about what he had said hoping that if he did come back, he would not be overwhelmed by others on the team who were curious just like me. Ironically we did see him again – many times. He came to enjoy making visits to our store as we gave him the space he wanted, treated him like a regular person and helped him when he needed it. Then something interesting began to happen.

This humble man started buying expensive Bibles and a lot of them. He would come in every few weeks and buy as many as six to eight leather Bibles at a time. At first we thought he was simply interested in looking at various translations and was then sharing the Bibles with his friends. Shortly after this began, he came back in with a stack of the Bibles and we thought we had a problem. Was he going to be returning all of these? Was something wrong with the Bibles he had purchased? Was he just buying them to browse through them and then bring them back because we had a friendly returns policy? What had we gotten ourselves into?

That day, he walked up to the counter and said something I will never forget. In his quiet and understated tone he simply asked if we knew some people who would benefit from these Bibles. Instead of returning them for credit, he just gave them to us and asked if we could find a good home for them. We certainly did have lots of people who would have liked those Bibles, but could not afford them. Very often we had given much less expensive Bibles to seekers or new believers who had stumbled across our store and did not have the money to buy a Bible at that moment. Now we had some really nice Bibles to add to the mix.

Our team began to pray and dream about who we could help with these Bibles and started to see answers to our prayers as people came in that were clearly divine appointments. It was not too long until all the Bibles were given away. This would have been a great story if that was all that had happened. In God’s amazing providence, this man kept coming to the store for years giving us more and more Bibles to give away and we found homes for each and every one of them. Who knows how many people were blessed by his generosity over the years and never knew who he was or why he had done this? We kept his secret.

Today our ministry has launched a much bigger version of this program and we call it Christian Book Link. Lots of people give us their “gently used” books and Bibles and we work hard to find homes for them in countries all over the world. In parts of Africa where we serve, these books are the life blood of the work as they make resources available at prices that local people can really afford. I got to see this first hand in March when I visited Liberia and Sierra Leone. As I was looking at the shelves full of high quality Christian books available for as little as $1-$2, I could not help but wonder how many people will be in heaven one day as a result of the generosity of people like that man who I was so fascinated with many years ago.

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Seeking Shalom in the City

philly skylineThere was broken glass everywhere. For the third time in the same month, a vandal had thrown a brick through the plate glass window of our bookstore and I had gotten the call in the middle of the night. It was not getting up at 2AM and having to cleaning up a mess that bothered me so much. I just could not understand why a Christian bookstore was a target for thieves when there were so many other businesses nearby to target. As a missionary working in a cross cultural urban setting I also silently began to succumb to a nagging question, “Was this really worth it?” Couldn’t we run a bookstore in some idyllic suburban location that was just a “little” bit safer?

A few years later, I found myself crowded onto a Moscow subway hardly able to breathe because there were so many people surrounding me. As I looked around I could not help but notice that everyone seemed to be reading and what they were reading definitely not Christian literature. In a few minutes we arrived at our subway stop and took the long steep escalator out into the freezing streets and walked to our destination. Here in the heart of the Russian capital was a new Christian bookstore about to celebrate its official opening. Ironically the store was named Philadelphia to give it a cosmopolitan feel and it was CLC’s newest store at that time. It had taken us seven years of arduous work and incredible sacrifice to get this store open. As I stood in the midst of that wonderful shop, I could almost hear my grandparents whispering in my ear, “So is it worth it now?” Our family had been praying for the people of the former Soviet Union since I was a little boy. We had learned all about Brother Andrew smuggling Bibles into Eastern Europe and here I was looking at an entire store of Christian books and Bibles legally available in the heart of communism.

Serving people in the city is not an easy task. Life can be messy. There is a lot of brokenness to contend with and so much sin on display. Yet, somehow, I think that if Jesus had come to earth today he would certainly have arrived in a city. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus quotes from the Old Testament book of Isaiah and said,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As we open the doors of our bookshops each day, we never know who will come in. Given the strategic locations of our ministry in major cities around the world, we regularly minister to those who are captive to lies of post-modernism, atheism and agnosticism. We have the joy of sharing the good news of the Gospel and that Jesus is still in the business of giving sight to those that are spiritually blind. We get to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor every single day to a world that streams by our doors and window displays. Countless people have stumbled in wondering what kind of business we were running and ultimately made professions of faith for the first time in one of our stores around the world.

Seeking shalom in the city has meant many things for our teams over the years:

  • In Sierra Leone it meant providing adult literacy courses so that men and women could learn to read for the first time and begin to dream of a life not consumed by poverty and destitution.
  • In Chile, it meant ministering love and hope to people who had lost homes and businesses after a catastrophic earthquake.
  • In Thailand it meant making hundreds of meals in Chiang Mai that would be flown down to Bangkok to feed people suffering the devastating after effects of a major flood.
  • In Myanmar, it meant providing blankets, food and basic supplies after a devastating tsunami.
  • In Central Asia in meant reopening our bookstore after our worker had been assaulted and the lives of other team members were threatened.
  • It meant keeping a location open in Karachi, Pakistan despite an attempt by a gunman to assassinate our team.
  • In Venezuela it meant ministering in love to a transvestite who nearly took their own life in our bathroom.
  • In Philadelphia, it meant opening the doors in Center City even though we had been robbed twice.

Jesus never promised perfect peace and safety in this world, but He did promise us that He would never leave nor forsake us.

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