Sometimes it helps to get away from the familiar to get a proper sense of perspective. This week, I traveled to Vancouver, Washington and had the chance to visit the historic Powell’s bookstore in downtown Portland. This store is a Mecca for book lovers and is touted as the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi. It was amazing to see how busy it was in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon in August with many people using baskets to hold all the jewels they had found. One interesting thing that sets Powell’s apart (besides how huge it is) is the fact that they display new and used books side by side on the shelf. For a Christian book purchaser it might be a little jarring to see books about missionaries right above a section on modern feminism, but certainly there was no lack of selection in this store that sits on an entire city block and is five stories tall. This store embodies much of what is great about independent book retailing. No one would question why they exist or the need for this kind of store even in this age of the internet and the e-book. They matter deeply to the people that come through their doors every day.
As I pondered this store, the current state of Christian retailing, the pace of change in technology and the ministry of CLC around the world I am convinced that knowing that you matter and why is core to growing and thriving in this day and age. It is so easy to listen to the prevailing media perspective and begin to have that creeping feeling that you are no longer relevant – maybe even a relic of some bygone era (or about to become one). In that light, here are my thoughts on why we (in CLC) matter now, maybe more than ever.
- We matter to the little boy in Sierra Leone who will learn to read for the first time from books in his school library now fully stocked by a global CLC effort in a room that once had no books at all.
- We matter to the atheist in Paris who would never go to church, but will darken the doors of the quaint CLC store to see what others have to say about this God she does not believe in.
- We matter to the transvestite in Venezuela who would likely have killed himself in the bathroom of the bookstore if not for the love of God, the courage of our team and the aroma of Christ in our store that day.
- We matter to the isolated pastor in Chile who walked for several days to get a Bible and learn how to prepare sermons from the unique chain references once developed by a man named Thompson – all at a conference sponsored for free by CLC.
- We matter to the people of a little country in Central Asia where decades of corruption, oppression and government control are still an everyday reality. That fact that the CLC shop is open at all may be the one ray of hope in an otherwise dark existence where anyone can learn about true freedom in Christ.
- We matter to the young person in England who has never been to church and sees more mosques being built than cathedrals. He can still find a little shop on the high street proclaiming the truth of the gospel every day. An answer to his nagging spiritual questions is one book or conversation away.
- We matter to the pastor of a store front church in Philadelphia who was preparing for his first service and realized that he needed communion supplies. Like many busy bi-vocational people, he did not have time to get them during the week and we were his only source on the day before this momentous service.
- We matter to the thief in Papua New Guinea who never thought he would get caught by an off duty police officer in a Christian bookstore. He certainly had no way to expect that the store manager would extend grace and forgiveness and lead him to the foot of the cross where he could find ultimate forgiveness for all his sins.
- We matter to the Muslim cleric in Pakistan who has always wondered about the Bible and Jesus but had no safe way to investigate these questions. Despite death threats to the local CLC team in Karachi, he can still ask these questions in a neutral location – a store that sells copies of the very book he so desires to understand and can explain what it is that he is reading.
- We matter to the Bible college student in Myanmar who is so grateful to be able to study God’s word. Because of the simple faith and perseverance of the CLC team, he can now read and study Bible reference books in his own language. As he begins to plant a local church, he will be able to help his congregation grow with many new books being translated and published each year.
For 70 years, despite overwhelming odds, CLC has been keeping the flame lit in Christian literature lighthouses all over the world. While others have responded to the call to make the gospel known in the hardest places to reach through ministries of mercy, church planting or mass media, CLC has done it through the means of ordinary commerce on the high street – one book and one life at a time. These little shops on the corner offer thirst quenching, life giving water to a drought stricken world. May the CLC of the future continue to reach the passerby who will never enter a church, but will respond to a well placed item in a shop window.