KAREN HANS reports on a visit of CLIS members on Wednesday 13 May 2015
Ada Hiley – who founded Book Aid twenty-six years ago with her husband Bob – kindly hosted a CLIS group at their London warehouse and shop in Kangley Bridge Road, Sydenham, South London.
Ada began by telling us the story of faith and circumstance that God brought Bob and her through to establish and develop Book Aid. They had both begun working for the Christian Literature Crusade. Bob’s role taking him abroad, at a time when foreign currency restrictions prevented many in African and Asian countries from purchasing Christian books. This made Bob determined to find a way to get Christian literature to those countries; he was eventually successful in working with Tearfund on a scheme to fund development work in Nigeria and Zambia by sending new books rather than cash, the books would then be sold in bookshops and the cash passed to the Tearfund partners on the ground.
The scheme was workable in the richer African countries, but Christians in much poorer countries such as Uganda found out about books becoming available and lobbied Bob to provide for them too, not just to look after Christians in the richer countries! Bob and Ada had been committed to providing Christians abroad with new, high quality, resources. At this point, however, they recognised the practical difficulty of ever being able to send only new materials to very poor Christians around the world. They realised that many second hand resources would still be welcome and useful to others and the Book Aid ministry of collecting, sorting and sending mainly used materials was begun.
Ada told us that they are still very careful to only send books that are in physically good condition and also to select books which are theologically sound and culturally appropriate. An exception to this is that some students of theology require critical texts as part of their studies. Book Aid have the freedom to send these when appropriate, whereas if the ministry was officially part of CLC that would be more difficult. Today Book Aid volunteers collect books from all over the UK, sorting them carefully to meet the actual needs they are aware of via the partner shops, Bible schools and churches on the ground. The links that Book Aid have with Christian publishers mean that donations of new books and Bibles are sometimes given, a recent example being a lot of boxes of the Good News Bible – the publishers having produced a new edition.
We saw the sorting tables with different categories of books, the multitude of boxes still waiting to be opened and the neat new fully packed boxes, labelled and piled high on pallets waiting to be shipped. Book Aid ship over one million books abroad every year! Books are sold to local Christians at a small charge, more money if raised for the operation thorough the five UK second hand bookshops, but most of the shipping costs are covered by individual Book Aid partners who covenant to donate £100 each per year. More of these partners and needed and more volunteers around the country to collect, transport and sort the books.
We were able to hear from a volunteer called Philomena who has been developing the work of Book Aid in Kenya. A Kenyan herself, Philomena has lived in the UK for many years, but with a burden for Christians in her home country. She could see when she visited Kenya that the Pastors were without the materials they needed to study the Word of God more deeply and develop their ministries. Philomena is now able to select materials here in the UK and oversee their distribution in Kenya, including God working in miraculous ways to provide bookshop premises.
At the end of our visit we were served refreshments in the bookshop above the London warehouse, which was an amazing sight for Librarian eyes! I fully recommend a trip there, with a strong bag or case for carrying away the many treasures you will want to buy. Don‘t confuse it with the secular book sending organisation BookAid International, which is also based in South London! The bookshop is open Monday to Thursday 9am-5pm and the other shops are located in Barnard Castle, Ranskill, Warrington and Northern Ireland.
In closing, please remember Book Aid in your prayers. Philomena will soon be back in Kenya. Bob has health issues which mean he has recently needed to step back from most of the tasks he was doing. Others are learning to pick up these tasks, such as the correct paperwork for international shipping, and Bob’s daughter is taking on his strategic role in the organisation. She needs prayer for wise decisions in how to take the ministry forward. Ada is still very involved, but will also be caring for Bob. It was a real blessing to meet her.
Karen Hans, BSc, MA, MCLIP, is Prayer Secretary for Christians in Library and Information Services.