Believers around the world are glad to see me when they pick me up at the airport, but not purely because of the friendship we share. They know that I usually bring books they cannot get in their countries. “How many books were you able to bring?” “Which ones did you bring?” “Have you seen the latest book by my favorite pastor?” These questions typically flow in rapid succession. There is no Christian bookstore in many countries, or the shelves lack recent publications and sound evangelical resources. When we provide books that have affected our own Christian education, discipleship, and thinking to brothers and sisters around the world who lack them, it is a profound and influential blessing.
When we lived on the mission field in days prior to the internet, we would go for months without seeing so much as a newspaper in English, much less sound evangelical publications. A friend from home sent me J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness, and it blessed my soul. The encouragement, instruction, and renewal of joy that came to me through poring over its pages and soaking in its richness overflowed to those I ministered to in a difficult place. My friend could not have known my thirst for this cup of cold water, nor the blessing it would bring to a tired missionary.
Imagine what it must be like for those who have never been taught these truths and long to find a sound source of instruction for their souls. Sending solid books to believers is an excellent form of discipleship.
Tell Me What You Know
More than 85 percent of the pastors around the world have never received theological education or pastoral preparation. Meanwhile, there seems to be no lack of trained leaders and opportunities to receive training in the developed West. The United States is home to great preachers, radio, bookstores, colleges, seminaries, and internet-based training. In the United States there is a trained Christian worker for every 235 people. Outside the United States, that figure falls to one trained Christian worker for every 450,000 people.
The proliferation of Christian training options in the United States blinds many to the dearth of options elsewhere. Some naively assume that national pastors can get training in biblical studies, theology, hermeneutics, and so on in their own contexts and produce their own literature as easily as it seems to flow here. Sadly, that is not yet the case.
The churches and pastors of the world are pleading for training. The ministry I lead, Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, is a pastoral training organization seeking to meet the need. In addition to the dozens of invitations urgently requesting our training, we receive an average of one invitation per day to come and train in locations where we have not yet begun our ministry.
One distinctive of our ministry is tailoring our teaching delivery system to the unique literacy level of each international context. This means we sometimes have to rely on oral-based teaching styles using Bible stories, catechisms, and mnemonic devices such as repetition. Our goal is to teach in ways that can be understood, remembered, and retold. For that reason we use oral methods, books, and other printed resources, or even a mixed method as appropriate. But everywhere we teach there are always some class members who will ask if we have the material we presented in written form. They want to be able to reference and review the content, ensure accuracy, and faithfully reproduce what they have heard—especially when they are hearing something for the first time. Many of the pastors with even a low literacy level place a high value on the printed word and proudly display the few books they own.
Of course the more creative-access areas such as Muslim and Communist countries prohibit or impede open sales of Christian literature. But many countries open to Christianity do not have ready access to sound evangelical literature, either. Sometimes this is due to government importing policies or cost-prohibitive taxes imposed on new shipments. Cases of Bibles and other Christian books sometimes sit on docks abandoned to rot and ruin, and believers must look elsewhere for literature. In other situations, owners of Christian bookstores prefer to carry books by preachers of health-and-wealth heresies, believing that their popular appeal will result in greater profits. Unfortunately, well-meaning inquirers shop the Christian bookstores in these countries hoping to gain the biblical and theological education unavailable to them elsewhere.
Every evangelist receives overwhelming blessing when hearing that a new believer has won another person to the Lord, and every teacher basks in the glow of a report that a former student is now teaching others. In like manner, the authors and publishers of sound Christian literature harbor a profound desire that God will use the books they produce and provide to disciple, teach, and develop more and better authors, scholars, professors, pastors, and disciplers for the advance of Christ's kingdom. We need to do everything possible to make that happen for God's glory.
Learn more about how TGC International Outreach partners with ministries like Reaching & Teaching International to provide Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church.