I heard her tentative voice at the front counter. She was an older woman about to finish her purchase when she asked the question. Do you have a King James Bible with large print at a good price? It was not the first time that I had ever heard this question as I had served many customers in the years past who asked the very same thing. This time, however, she was not asking me. She was talking to Van Hayes, one of our dedicated team members who was following in my footsteps and serving with excellence. It didn’t take Van long to find a couple of Bibles that fit her criteria.
We did have King James Version Bibles that were in large print and were reasonably priced. She showed them to the woman and listened to her questions. As this senior saint was about to make a choice, she asked if we had this Bible in a black cover. Unfortunately, we did not. Van quickly pointed that the lavender one she was holding in her hand “looked good on her”. With that remark, a decision was made and the Bible was purchased. As she was finishing the transaction, the woman mentioned that her old Bible was just getting worn out and she needed something new to replace it. I could just imagine all the highlighting, underlining and writing in that old Bible and the many trials and triumphs this woman had seen as she read it every day and trusted in the promises it contained.
Bibles are the lifeblood of the Christian experience and the core item sold in our stores around the world. Most of our teams start the day reading a passage of scripture and considering its meaning for their lives. Recently, I had the joy of being a part of these devotional sessions with our team in Sierra Leone. It was close to Palm Sunday and the team was reading about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They discussed many aspects of this famous story and focused in on what it must have been like for the disciples to “take” the donkey from its owner just as Jesus has asked. Sometimes our Christian life requires obedience when we have no idea how things are going to turn out. Just like these disciples we are called to do our masters bidding and trust him for the outcome.
I could not help but see the irony in studying this story in our bookstore in Sierra Leone at this particular moment in time. We had just been discussing how difficult it was to serve in a country that “does not have a reading culture”. It almost seems like the height of foolishness to be operating a Christian bookstore in a place where people do not like to read, it takes weeks if not months for books to arrive from America or England and sometimes these books are not affordable for the average person. Yet here we were, reading the Bible together and agreeing that God calls us to do things that we might not understand.
At that point, Alie chimed in with a comment or two about the passage and I was delighted. You see, Alie, comes from a Muslim family. He had joined our team several years ago and was captivated by the truths of scripture found in the meager books and Bibles that we had in stock. He also asked lots of questions of our team and began to be drawn to a new found faith. Determined to follow a different path, he asked his father for permission to become a Christian and was graciously granted his request. Today, Alie helps others to find answers to their questions in the pages of the only book that will satisfy the longings of their hearts. It is for people like Alie that we have bookstores in this predominantly Muslim country.
This week, I found myself browsing our Bible section after overhearing Van serve her customer. It was a little overwhelming to see the breadth and depth of selection of Bibles we had to offer. No wonder we had the Bible this woman was looking for. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for our team in Sierra Leone. Despite the lack of a “reading culture”, the Bible is actually required reading in schools. When I asked what Bible the kids were using, our team said it was the RSV version, but they did not have any in stock. There is such high demand for this one particular Bible that the Bible Society could hardly keep it in stock themselves and did not have any to spare for us. Twice during the recent Ebola crisis, our team ran out of Bibles. My heart skipped a beat as I thought of all the hoops it would take to get more Bibles to Africa and then I remembered my Lord’s simple instructions to take the donkey. My job is simply to obey and to ask for what God has already prepared.