Going Home

IMG_3455In many ways it was like going home.  This week, I visited the island of Barbados where I spent many of my formative pre-teen and teenage years.  Our family moved to this beautiful place in 1980 so that my father could lead the CLC bookstore ministry in the Eastern Caribbean.  During those years, I learned how to spear fish and snorkel, and I discovered what it meant for my faith to become my own.  My parents encouraged my growing spiritual inquisitiveness by finding a church where I could ask questions and get biblically grounded answers.  For a part time job, I started to work at the local CLC Bookstore in Bridgetown and loved seeing and reading so many books that addressed the very questions I was wrestling with in my heart.  The adults that mentored me where not afraid or intimidated by my questions.

One New Year’s eve my pastor preached a sermon that changed the trajectory of my life.  He preached on the topic of being “lukewarm” and I thought he was speaking only to me.  How could he have known the path that my life was taking?  On Sunday’s I was winning Bible memorization contests and during the week, I was living a life that did not honor the God I said that I served.  He challenged me to get off the fence, to be courageous in my faith even if it meant I would be ridiculed in school and to make my life count for Christ.  I knew I had to make a decision and to go in a different direction.  To God’s glory that direction involved publicly telling others about my faith, digging into God’s word for myself and leading a small student ministry at my High School.

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The CLC Barbados Bookshop

The purpose of my visit to the place that meant so much to me was to be an encouragement and support to the local CLC team.  Much had changed on the island since I had lived here and a recent change in my own role in the CLC ministry now means that I have oversight of the work in the North America and the Caribbean.  Barbados has seen much growth and development in the last thirty years.  Once known primarily for tourism, fishing and agriculture (primarily sugar cane), today the island is a hub for multi-national companies that are doing business in the Eastern Caribbean and has a significant industrial sector.  Entire areas that were once sugar cane fields have now been developed into office parks and shopping centers.  The middle class has expanded greatly and with their economic growth has come many typical consumer expectations and needs.

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With Bishop Gerry Seale and Gerardo Scalante

For a small island (only 21 miles by 14 miles), it has a significant population of over 250,000.  Most people would self-identify as a “Christian” of some type and about 35% of the population would consider themselves to be evangelical.  There are many good local churches of all different types including Methodist, Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal.  Like many churches in the west, however, there is a deep concern among the local clergy for the spiritual health of the next generation.   I had the privilege of meeting with one of the most important church leaders on the island and he said there is no longer a generation gap, but instead it is a generation chasm.  He is convinced that the church must refocus its energy on young people if it hopes to have a future.

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With Gerardo Scalante, Wilbert Charles and Paula Phillips

The CLC Bookstore is located on the edge of the downtown area on a main road.  It is easy to find and has served the Christian book resource needs on the island for nearly sixty years.  Unfortunately, finding parking near the store can be challenging and with the explosive growth of cars and drivers on the island, it has become an even bigger problem over the years.  As a result, foot traffic in our store has declined and the store has faced significant economic struggles.  Earlier, this year, Wilbert Charles became the new National Director and he is seeking God for a new direction and growth of the ministry in the years to come.  It was my joy to work with Wilbert in dreaming about a new future and planning to innovate and not stagnate.  Right before I left, Wilbert and I worked on launching the CLC Barbados Facebook page and I pray that this effort to utilize social media will be a part of the move of God to reach this next generation in a way that is relevant and meaningful.

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His First Speech

gerardoThe room got quiet and most of us were on the edge of our seats.  The anticipation in the room was almost palpable.  Gerardo Scalante had just been elected as the new International Director for CLC and this was his first opportunity to present his vision for the future.  The decision to elect Gerardo into this role represented something of a seismic shift for our organization as he is the first Latino to serve in this way.  What would he say?

As he stood up to speak, Gerardo made a very interesting opening statement.  He said that while he did not have any new revelations from God about CLC and its future, he did have some convictions and dreams.  In setting the foundation for the rest of his talk, he then went on to say,

We are a Christian organization fulfilling the Great Commission.  We simply accomplish this through the use of Christian literature and bookstores.  We are a missionary organization.”

This statement may not sound revolutionary, but it was deeply encouraging to hear.  While CLC was birthed out of WEC International and was entirely staffed by missionaries and volunteers in the early days, today the vast majority of our team members work as nationals in the own countries and receive sacrificial salaries.  In the face of the reality, Gerardo was reminding us that while some of our methods have changed our core purpose remains the same.

What came next was a presentation that I dubbed “The Seven Dreams of a Leader” and each dream was captivating in its own right.

  1. That we would fully understand who and what we are (as CLC).
  2. That would keep alive those things from the past that made us a great mission – Faith, Holiness, Fellowship and Sacrifice. These must be applied in fresh ways in our daily lives and local contexts.
  3. That we would have a renewed commitment to CLC’s mission and vision – never losing our Global perspective because of a local emphasis.
  4. That CLC will be attractive to people in such a way that they “will want to give their life to that organization”.
  5. That people will see us as a distinctively missional organization when they enter our stores.
  6. That we would create a more effective system for encouraging, supporting and implementing more cross cultural work.
  7. That we would develop deeper connections to the local church in our communities. That we would not be separate from what God is doing in a given country.  That we would be an important arm of the local church wherever we are located.

I was particularly taken by the idea that God would allow us to be an organization that would be so attractive that people will want to “give their life to that organization”.  This seems so counter-intuitive at a time when most young people anticipate working for multiple organizations before they retire.  At the same time, it is highly motivating to anticipate being a part of a movement that is so God directed that it compels people to abandon their life agendas and consider “going out on God”.

As I pondered what Gerardo was sharing, I could not help but think how delighted my grandparents would be to have heard this speech.  Ken and Bessie Adams, the founders of CLC, may have said some of the very same things themselves, but they would also have been excited to see how these ideas would become a fresh reality for a new generation.  In another great irony, I could not help but think about how both Gerardo and I had started in CLC as young people (he was only a teenager) and we had committed our lives to this organization ourselves.  Somehow we had been compelled by the idea of the life changing power of Christian literature and how CLC could change the world one book at a time.  Now it is our turn to lead and to present that same vision in new ways to young people who are longing to make their lives count for the kingdom.  What an exciting job, what a big vision and what wonderful dreams to consider.

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Transplanting the Heart of a Ministry

IMG_3411Jim had a problem.  A customer had walked into his bookstore in Miami and was looking for an Italian Bible.  While his particular bookstore did happen to be bi-lingual, the materials were in Spanish and English, not Italian.  Not deterred by this challenge, Jim picked up the phone and called the only people he knew that were likely to have this item in stock – Jay and Jean Krause.  Sure enough, their small ministry called Multi-Language Media (MLM) had the exact Bible Jim’s customer needed.  The customer was amazed and delighted and was looking forward to giving the Bible to his friend who would now be able to read God’s word in his heart language.  This would not be the only time that Jim made a call to MLM in the following years.

Jay Krause is a quiet guy with a big heart.  In the 1980’s, he was on one of the Operation Mobilization ships traveling around the world.  He worked with their huge floating bookstore and saw firsthand that power of Christian literature to change lives.  In addition, he helped to find books and Bibles in the local languages of the countries where the ship docked.  This required a lot of research and relationship building.  When he returned to the USA, God put a burden on his heart to start a ministry to people that spoke and read in foreign languages in America.  Nobody was really doing anything comprehensive about this need and yet ministries to foreign students and ESL programs were beginning to grow all over the country.  With his contacts in so many countries already established, Jay was ideally positioned to start this new work.

At the time that Jay began, both CLC and WEC had small multi-language sections of their ministries in the USA, but Picture1both encouraged Jay and in fact gave him materials and advice to get started.  Over the years, CLC and WEC discontinued this aspect of their own work and Multi-Language Media grew and flourished.  As the years wore on, Jay and his wife Jean, saw God do amazing things through their ministry.  Thousands of Bibles and Books were sent out in languages like Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Urdu, French and many more in the native languages of our nation’s immigrants and they began to get letters about the impact of these materials.  People were seeing their friends and relatives give their hearts and lives to Jesus as a result of reading and many young believers were growing in their faith.  God was truly blessing the work of this faithful couple.

After thirty years of growth and development, Jay and Jean realized it was soon time to retire, but they wanted their vital ministry to continue.  When the Lord put it on their heart to pass this ministry on to a like-minded organization, they picked up the phone and called CLC.   In a great irony, the person who answered that call was Jim, the same guy who had called them so many years before about an Italian Bible.  Jim had harbored a dream for many years that one-day Multi-Language Media might become a part of CLC.  Now working in leadership at the Fort Washington, PA headquarters of CLC, Jim was ideally positioned to help make this dream become a reality.

IMG_3412This past week, a ministry “heart transplant” took place.  All of the books and Bibles were moved from Ephrata to Fort Washington and placed in the very heart of the CLC warehouse building in space that had been specially prepared for this very purpose.  The transition team had worked together for several weeks ahead of this momentous move and had expected it to take a couple of weeks until “the dust settled” and orders could be processed.  Surprisingly, it only took a couple of days for the set up to get going and orders were coming in right away.  In just the first few days they got orders for materials in Haitian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, Hindi, Shona, Tigrinya, Russian, Vietnamese and Japanese.  This multi-language literature ministry really is at the heart of what CLC is all about as we seek to make evangelical Christian literature available to all nations.  With so many foreign languages spoken America these days, we are well positioned to meet the needs and to carry on the important work that Jay and Jean pioneered many years ago.

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Why Run a Bookstore at All ?

community bookstoreThe Bookstore that Matters

Chapter One Excerpt

I  was in a hurry. I had quit my job, moved my family to the big city, and was beginning the dream. My dream—of working in a bookstore, reading books, recommending books to others, and somehow doing something that mattered. I had worked in corporate America long enough to know that doing something that mattered was not normally on the agenda at weekly business meetings. Making profits, taking care of customers, and earning a comfortable living had been the daily agenda for my colleagues and me. Now don’t get me wrong. That might be plenty of motivation for most people, especially the “earning a comfortable living” part, and it had been for me too—for a while. Then the gnawing questions started in the middle of the night: “Is this really what you want to do for the rest of your life?”

I had a sneaking suspicion that if I kept on the same trajectory, I would actually succeed in accomplishing my career aspirations. But was that what God wanted for my life? My wife and I attended a local church and were actively involved. We both read the Bible, prayed, and tithed regularly. For goodness’ sake, we even helped run the nursery and served on the missions committee. What more could God want? But as God revealed His will to us through His Word, it became clear that He wanted us to surrender our careers, our future, and all our plans to Him. This seemed crazy. Still, one thing I knew for sure: I would never be fully content until my gifts and God’s will intersected.

The gnawing questions had led to a full-blown life crisis that landed me in the bookstore in Philly. I was finally here, but I did not have a clue what I was doing. Every day seemed to prove my ignorance and inability to be of real help to those coming through the door. Ironically, that did not dishearten me in the least. I was a sponge, soaking up what I could learn from a woman who had been assigned to train me and who loved books. Nothing my mentor said, however, prepared me for that Tuesday. Nothing ever could have.

I was standing at the counter, eager to help anyone who came in, when I saw her for the first time. An elderly African American woman walked in, looked around, and seemed a little bit lost. At first she did not seem to want help, and then she motioned me over. I greeted her in my cheeriest voice, convinced that for once I would be able to make the right book recommendation on the first try. Then she told me her story.

She had just come from burying her son who had been murdered, and she did not know what to do with the grief. I was a twenty-something white guy listening to an older black woman pour her heart out, and it was clear that I was in deep. Nothing in my life to that moment had prepared me for her question. No one in my family had ever been murdered. In fact, no one I knew at all had ever been murdered.

Not knowing what to do, I did what Clara had trained me to do in moment like this. I began to pray for wisdom, for some idea as to what to say, and for some way to be a comfort to this woman. I had totally forgotten about recommending a book or that we were even in a bookstore. Somehow we had been transported to a sacred space where she could ask this question of a complete stranger and hope to get an answer for her pain. Just at that moment, a voice piped up, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.” I thought for a moment that my worst nightmare was about to take place. Some know-it-all woman had been eavesdropping and would now want to share her “wisdom,” and this grieving woman would be in even more pain.

Without skipping a beat, the gracious woman I had been talking to listened to what the other woman had to say. Instead of coming up with some pithy statement of encouragement, the second woman simply said, “My son was murdered too.” Looking up, she pointed to a book in our grief and consolation section and said, “That book really helped me come to terms with it, but it still hurts.” With tears in her eyes, the woman I was supposed to be helping grabbed the book and started reading.

At this point, I thought I was having some kind of out-of body experience. How likely was it that when someone needed a book recommendation because her son had been murdered that another woman who had experienced the same thing would be standing nearby listening to her conversation? This was no coincidence, and this store was no ordinary place. This was a store that mattered.

To purchase and read more from my new book, visit www.clcpublications.com

 

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Forever Grateful

13502009_1066368696762184_2818132769632638351_nI was not there when it all began.  A young couple made a choice that would affect my life forever.  In the midst of World War II in England they decided not to cower in fear, but to advance forward in faith.  With very limited resources, they trusted God for his unlimited supply and gave their lives away for a lifetime of adventure.  This young couple were my grandparents, Ken and Bessie Adams and they founded CLC in 1941 “not knowing wither”.  How could they know all that God had planned for them and all that would be accomplished in His name through these “reasonably obedient” servants.

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This week, I had the great joy of celebrating CLC’s 75th birthday with my friends and colleagues from all over the world.  It is hard to believe that I have been a part of this illustrious organization for the last twenty years myself.  We gathered in England at a conference center just north of London to celebrate on all that God has done while keeping our eyes fixed on the horizon to see what He will do in the years ahead.  So much has changed over these decades and yet the core purpose and values of the ministry remain the same – seeing lives transformed by the power of the Gospel through the printed page.

13490876_10208317155184427_2514108869496883121_oOne of the changes that took place this week was a changing of the guard.  It was not quite as spectacular an affair as the one that takes place each day at Buckingham Palace, but quite important for our organization.  Neil Wardrope, who has been our International Director for the last twelve years was stepping down and Gerardo Scalante was elected to replace him.  This momentous decision puts a Latino in the helm for the first time in our history and mirrors the move of the center of gravity of the worldwide evangelical movement as it has moved to the global south.  Gerardo has served in CLC in various capacities since his late teenage years and is clearly the right person for this important job.

My own role in CLC is changing as well as I was confirmed as the Regional Director for North America and the 13502900_10208338140909057_2246324540467683721_oCaribbean.  I will take on this new role in addition to my current responsibilities as National Director for CLC USA and will be committing about 25% of my time to working with my colleagues in Canada and four Caribbean islands.  As I look to the future, I am excited about what God has in store for our part of the world.  So many signs point to challenging days ahead for Christian retailing and publishing, but I am choosing not to pay attention to “the giants in the land”.  Instead I am to looking to my heavenly father who is bigger than any giants we will ever face.

13497590_10208351899133004_4414369329927161046_oOne of the great joys of this week was a full day of celebration that was dedicated to honoring the past and what God has done over 75 years in our ministry.  My parents, who have served in CLC for almost 50 years, were here for the occasion as well as many of my relatives that live in the UK.   It was remarkable to hear from so many “senior saints” as they recalled the impact of Christian literature in their lives and the part they played in the global expansion of CLC.  One thread connected all of their stories.  They all served a faithful God who provided in miraculous ways.  Very often, when they c13490674_10208351921453562_4918332466553739693_oould not see a way forward God showed up to provide an answer they had not even considered possible.

I am forever grateful for the choice my grandparents made to surrender their lives fully to God.  I am forever grateful that my parents followed in their footsteps.  I am forever grateful to be a part of an organization that is fulfilling the great commission in over fifty countries of the world.  I am forever grateful to be able to worship God with my brothers and sisters in so many languages.  I am forever grateful for the saints that have gone on before me to pave a way for the gospel to advance – changing the world one book at a time.

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Paradise Found

IMG_3115I woke up in Cornwall this week and thought that I was in a dream.  It couldn’t be real.  This land of my ancestors in southwest England had been the stuff of legend in my family and I was finally here.  Despite hearing about the village of Porthleven since I was a little child, nothing could really prepare me for the breathtaking beauty that is the norm in this part of the world.  The people that live here wake up to 13407453_10209537485616471_312743384_nsome of the most startlingly gorgeous scenery that I have ever experienced.  Hedgerows practically bursting with flowers line the narrow lanes.  Deep green fields dotted with sheep and cows roll over the hills right to edge of the sea.  The villages are tucked neatly into the cliff sides and surround the most picturesque harbors where the boats are neatly lined up for pleasure trips or fishing ventures.

IMG_3092Our tour guide for the week was one of our cousins (a couple time removed) named Miriam.   Before I go any further, I need to clarify – nearly everyone in Porthleven seems to be related to us.  My grandmother was one of twelve children and the descendants of her parents are now like the sands on the seashore – too numerous to count.  The purpose of our trip was to celebrate my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary in a place that has meant so much to them over the years.  It is the first time that Deb, myself and one of my siblings had ever been here and shame on us for taking so long to make the trip.  From start to finish, the trip was a delight and it seemed like every day was better than the day before.

The Cornish love their food and we love it too.  Known around the world for something called the Cornish Pasty, thisPasty meat and potato pastry is a treat that as originally developed as a quick hand held meal for the miners that worked in this area.  While the mines have closed, the Pasty remains king of the local diet.  Many other wonderful foods are popular in these parts including fish and chips and the “proper Sunday lunch” that must include a roast and Yorkshire Pudding.  My favorite discovery of the week has been Cornish Cream that is a must on locally baked scones.  I am afraid that eating here for more than a week could result in some serious damage to my waistline.

IMG_3186In April, this trip was nearly derailed when my mother got quite sick after some food poisoning.  For several days, we wondered if we would have to cancel the whole thing.  Certainly, we expected that mom would have to take it easy and be careful not to overdo it during this week.  To our surprise and joy, she seems to have found something particularly healing in the air in Cornwall and has joined in on all our activities.  The highlight of the week was a planned walk along a path to the “lo-bar” where a sand dune separates a fresh water lake and the sea.  This involved several miles of walking and we wondered how my parents would fare.  Dad had two back surgeries in the last few years and mom is still recovering from eleven days in the hospital.  Saturday dawned with beautiful sunshine and my parents led the way down the scenic path to sea.  They made it all the way to our designated stopping point and proved that there is something life-giving about this place.

Now that I have met so many of my relatives for the first time, one thing is for certain – I am definitely coming back.  It IMG_3152is amazing how much love they expressed to people they had never met before.  This relatively unknown place was the proving ground for the faith of my grandmother who first led people to Christ in the towns and villages surrounding Porthleven.  I am deeply indebted to all that God has done in and through her and the family that reared her.  What connects this vast extended family today is our faith.  While not all of the relatives are born again believers, many are.  Some are ministers and others have planted churches of their own.  Today, I had the joy of preaching at “The Barn Fellowship” where one of my cousins decided to start a church on their farm.  How exciting to join with family and friends as they worshiped with gusto and made the old hymns come alive again.  May the Lord bring revival to this land of fisherman and farmers as they maintain the faith of their fathers and pray for a fresh wind and fresh fire.

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Where Have All the Years Gone?

Mike's GraduationWe nearly called him Katy.  That’s right, we thought our second son was going to be a girl all the way up until three weeks before he was born.  So much for effective ultrasounds.  Well, after all that, we named him Michael, after the archangel of course.  This week, he graduated from high school and is no longer “my little boy.”  Who knew the years would go by so fast?

Time has this pesky habit of moving in one direction and never stops to let you take a breath.  One day you are talking about what it might be like to have kids and soon enough you are in a delivery room.  Nobody really prepares you for these seismic shifts and how could they.  Life doesn’t give you much time to dip your toe in the shallow end of the pool.  More often than not, events can overwhelm us and make it feel like we are being thrown in the deep end with no life preserver.  At moments like that, it’s good to know who created this crazy world in the first place.

When Mike was born, he brought a new dimension into our family.  No longer was his brother an only child.  Kenny now had to compete for Mom and Dad’s attention, but he also had a new best friend.  It was clear from the beginning that Mike was going to bring laughter and joy into our lives as well as terror and surprise.  He loved being around other people and had no fear of trying new things.  Even as a little boy, he would bring a smile to our faces with the smallest gesture and the hilarious reactions he would have to people he met.

Growing up, Mike loved to play sports and tolerated school as a way of connecting with other people and getting a chance to play on various teams.  Deb and I spent many evenings and weekends on the sidelines of baseball and soccer fields as we watched him fearlessly learning to pitch or score goals.  Where other kids were afraid to step onto the mound to face experienced batters, Mike gave it a try right away and got better with every attempt regardless of the outcome.  It always amazed me how committed Mike was to get better at what he was doing, even if it required hours of practice and lots of physical exertion.

During his high school years, Mike came into his own and developed a huge number of friendships.  He had so many friends that we often had difficulty keeping up with who he was hanging out with at any given moment.  People just liked being around him.  During the summer between his junior and senior years, Mike made a courageous choice that impacted many of these friendships.  He chose to attend a new high school for his final year and accept all the challenges that go along with that kind of decision.  That decision allowed him to be a starter on the soccer team and a member of a record breaking basketball team.

Mike is headed for college in the fall and a whole new set of friends.  For many people, that reality can be pretty intimidating.  Somehow though, I think Mike is going to do just fine.  He gets one more opportunity to make people laugh and to make his mark on the world.  We are going to miss him around the house (maybe not the humongous amount of laundry he creates), but know this is the right step for him.

Deb and I are looking forward to more time together, but realize that parenting doesn’t stop when kids turn eighteen.  We are all headed into a new season and none of us knows what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future.  Even as we hope for a few moments to catch our breath, we are so glad that we serve the one who gave us breath in the first place.  No matter what lies ahead, we know that He has plan for us – to prosper us and not harm us, to give us hope and a future.  And he has a plan for Mike too – can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

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