I was making travel arrangements when it hit me. My two boys were going to be in a wedding and not as ring bearers. They were old enough to be groomsmen for one of their best friends. How did we get here so fast? What happened to endless soccer practices and reminders about homework? Then I read my last blog post and realized that I just wrote an entire post about pulling a muscle in my back. What happened to that young guy who could play soccer all afternoon and help a friend move his apartment in the evening without even noticing a twinge? OK – I admit it, I am a “man of a certain age” and definitely hitting that midlife hard. In my case, it’s just with a little less concern about what crazy car I might purchase and more thought about how I might effectively use all this time. Who knew that midlife came with extra time in the package and so many great choices about how to spend it.
This week, I met someone who is on the other side of midlife and still going strong. Ed seems to have just begun to hit his stride after a life of accomplishment. Not satisfied to work at a significant company in an important role, he stepped out and started his own when he was fairly young. His ambition, however, was not to line his own pockets, but to see God’s kingdom expand and that the least of these have real opportunity. Answering the call of a friend, he accepted the responsibility to help turn around a group of bookstores in Nigeria and led that effort for over a decade while still running his own company. As those stores began to thrive again, he founded a not-for-profit with his son to make great Christian books available all over Africa at affordable prices. In recent years, he has cheered and steered the efforts to help the Africa Study Bible become a reality all while serving on the board of strategically placed foundation.
When we met, Ed was excited, not to talk about the past, but to dream about the future. He is convinced that something unique is going on in Africa with the proliferation of cell phone technology, the growth of print-on-demand equipment and the rising of African authors. In his work with the African Study Bible, he had rubbed shoulders with numerous African theologians and authors, but was well aware of the lack of indigenous African publishing. Is now the time for that to change? Could a truly African publishing industry be developed and nourished so that in the years to come, it could flourish? A younger man like me could see all the obstacles, but Ed seemed to simply see possibility and I began to catch his enthusiasm. It was contagious. Most really big visions are like this and Ed has really big vision.
As we were talking, he reminded me of a quote from the famous pioneering missionary, J. Hudson Taylor that had been a real motivator for him,
“I have found there are three stages to every great work of God: first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.”
Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish theologian and pastor once said, “Regardless of how large, your vision is too small.” That thought seems to haunt Ed as he looks at the future. In talking about his vision for indigenous publishing for Africa he admitted that we were in the dreaming stage when things seem impossible and he couldn’t wait to get to the difficult part. With a wry smile on his face he looked at me and said the Africa Study Bible was once impossible, then difficult and now it’s done.
Thinking about the years ahead, I realize that I have not been promised even one more day, but I have been promised that God will be faithful. Why not dream a little? Can I believe that simply providing Christian books and Bibles to the world is not enough? Will I settle for the conventional wisdom that says that Amazon, Google and Apple will provide all Christian books at some point in the not distant future? No way – I choose to envision a different future where a band of bold believers remembers how books change lives and dedicates their lives to being a part of that change. A world where new Christian authors emerge, new publishing methods are embraced and many more people find Jesus in the pages of a book. A world where the local Christian bookstore is once again an oasis in a cultural desert and a source of life in world gone mad. I choose to be a person of peace and to push back the darkness right where God has placed me. What adventure is right around the corner? If Ed’s life is any indicator, it is something pretty big.