It 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.