It had been an impactful week already when I first saw the picture. I was co-hosting a gathering of our team leaders from all over the Americas and we were sharing our stories. Our Uruguay team leader Humberto was telling us about their mobile ministry where they use a van to take books and Bibles to remote villages and towns. In the picture, an old man sat at a wooden table in a very simple home. He did not seem to have much of worldly value and I wondered if he could even read. Humberto smiled as he showed us the picture and then proceeded to the next image that showed several bookshelves of books and chairs.
As it turned out, this man -Alberto – could not only read, but he was one of their best customers. He had been buying and reading books for a long time and they were his treasure. He took the time to number every one of the books and was even in the habit of lending them to other people in his church. His collection was so large that it was really a small library. Books had changed his life and he wanted to share that experience with others no matter what economic conditions they lived in. He had invested his own limited resources in things that would matter for eternity.
This story from Uruguay had powerful resonance as we listened to the plight of our team in Venezuela. The last few years have been a time of struggle and suffering as the economy of the country has collapsed and people cannot even find basic food and medicine. Over the years, our local team had grown to eleven stores and a warehouse and had been a catalyst in the significant growth of the evangelical church in this part of the world. They had also used vans and other vehicles as a part of a mobile ministry to take books to remote areas. Now they have almost no books in the warehouse and very few books on the store shelves. It is truly a season of mourning and lament in this once prosperous nation.
In a time when almost no one has money for new books in Venezuela, I couldn’t help but wonder how many old men had stockpiled their treasured books for just such a time as this. Now that electricity is intermittent and it is often dangerous to leave the house because of protests and violence in the streets, it may time for people to take some of the books off the shelves and read them once again. I can imagine that many people are reading and sharing books all over the country as they remind one another that God has a plan for them – a plan to prosper them and not harm them, plans to give them a hope and a future. This may even be the beginning of a spiritual revival as God grips the hearts of his hurting people and reminds them of His love through the pages of His word that was purchased many years ago.
Getting books to “the least of these” in remote places all over Latin America is a hallmark and legacy of our global ministry. In Ecuador, the local team even makes periodic trips up the rivers and into the jungles to visit the indigenous tribes with books ad Bibles. Carlos, our team leader, remarked that it was amazing how hungry they are for new resources and that they often saved up their money to be able to purchase whatever was available. He said that many of the tribespeople were Christians and the fruit of missionary work that had taken place over one hundred years ago. They not only purchased and read the books we provided, but they are growing in their faith and some even had deep theological questions for our team.
Spending the week with my CLC family members who are diligently exploring new ways to make evangelical Christian literature available to all nations renewed my vision and passion for our work. As I head back into the hustle and bustle of everyday work life this week, I know that I will be dealing with the reality that many of us face. There will be the typical barrage of e-mails, meetings and projects vying for my attention and social media posts trying to fill every spare moment. How I respond to this will be deeply impacted by that old man at the table with no computer, no phone and no internet. He has challenges of his own, be he has chosen to live an enriched life by investing his money and time in things that will last and will change lives forever.