ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Last fall, a copy of Donald Kraybill’s The Upside Down Kingdom landed on a Books Abroad cart and began a journey. In March, Kraybill’s volume found a new home in a Puerto Rican conference library.
Kraybill’s classic Anabaptist theology book arrived on the Books Abroad donation cart in “The Depot” in Goshen, Ind. – the largest of five regional centers around the United States. The other locations are in Bridgewater, Va., Ephrata Pa, Scottdale Pa., and Tremont, Ill. Together they shipped 15,577 pounds of books last year.
Joyce Schertz, director of the Books Abroad center in Goshen, has shipped books to over 40 different countries. In just the last seven months, she has shipped more than three tons of donated books to more than 100 locations in 20 countries around the world.
When Schertz picked up Kraybill's book from the pile of books that arrived that day, she noted a number of factors including the physical condition of the book, but also whether its content would be useful for a non-North American audience. For example, a travel guide to the Grand Canyon would have little use in Zimbabwe, but Kraybill's book could be very useful to a Mennonite seminary. So Kraybill's tome ended up on the theology shelf.
Schertz said there are many situations in which books printed in English can be helpful, even in countries where English is not the primary language. For students studying a specialized field such as medicine, there may be no books or no affordable books, in their language. In many cases, students must learn English because its the only language in which the books they need are available.
Elizabeth Showalter, a Mennonite mission worker and nurse, found herself in this situation while teaching in Africa in 1961. She only had one book for herself and her students. Her family sent her some books, and her church got involved. Soon other churches also began collecting used books. This effort eventually became the Books Abroad program of Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network.
Since its beginnings, Books Abroad has expanded to include a network of Mennonites around the world. In February, Schertz visited Camo, Puerto Rico, where she met pastor Angel Rivera, conference moderator of the Puerto Rican Mennonite Church. She visited the church's small library with books from as early as 1850 and most from the early 1900's.
When she returned to Goshen, Schertz packed The Upside Down Kingdom with 20 or 30 other books and sent them in a media mail bag addressed to Rivera. The shipping cost about a dollar a pound.
Not every book arrives intact. A mail bag sent in January to John Spurrier in Choma, Zambia, included one box of Sunday school materials and another full of miscellaneous books. The second box was destroyed in transit. Some of the books inside were slightly mangled. Despite the damage, Spurrier said the books would be both useful and used.
Jackson Ndlovu of Bilawayo, Zimbabwe, said he appreciated the beautiful books’ arrival, in part because of the relationships they help to build.
“Besides our relationship built aroud these book donations, we are more (close) to each other through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Ndlovu said.
“Thank you very much for the good books. I have been looking for some of these books,” Martin Maud, in Zambia, wrote. “[They] have answered my prayers.”
Books Abroad leaders usually find ministries needing books by word of mouth, though sometimes they discover connections through Mennonite World Conference. At the most recent MWC convention in Zimbabwe, Schertz collected 20 new addresses of recipients. In most cases, there are five or six different locations within in a given country, often including schools, seminaries, churches or missionaries. Books Abroad gives top priority to locations with Mennonite connections.
The program also sends books to locations in the United States. In 2006, 1,000 pounds reading material went to rebuild libraries in Mississippi destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, to jail libraries, Christian Resources, Goodwill and Salvation Army, among others.
Ruthann Brunk, director of the nationwide Books Abroad program, has been working hard to raise money for shipping as well as looking for more drop-off centers. Some Sunday school classes have taken Books Abroad on as a project. For example, a Sunday school class from Holdeman Mennonite Church, Wakarusa, Ind., has sent a donation every month to Books Abroad since before 1994.
“The amount doesn't have to be huge, but when it comes in every month, it makes a real difference.” said Brunk.
“We have thousands of books sitting on the shelf that could be sent if we had the funds” said Schertz. “People have suggested that we need more room, but what we really need is more money so we can send these books where they are needed.”
With sufficient funding, Brunk estimates they could ship three to four times the volume of books they currently ship.
Books Abroad needs include Bibles, Bible commentaries, Bible concordances, Anabaptist material and Bible studies. Quality children's books are also welcome, especially bible story books. Any medical material that is up to date within the last ten years is also very useful, leaders said. In some special cases, older medical material can be useful as well.
To find a book donation center near you, visit Books Abroad online or call 574-289-6864. Financial donations can be made through Mennonite Mission Network, designated for the Books Abroad project.