November 2017 – Since its beginning, the gospel message has been in perpetual motion. The Spirit-birthed words of the apostles were written, copied repeatedly, then carried countless miles to multiple locations, so that all men might hear and believe on Jesus Christ.
The teachings of those early disciples are renowned, but the envoys who carried those New Testament words to early believers are, for the most part, unknown. Yet, without their diligence in carrying those words of life, the modern church would not exist.
Then and now, the gospel message requires messengers.
One noteworthy contemporary gospel messenger is Love Packages, a ministry whose small staff and countless volunteers collect, sort, package, and ship about 140 tons of donated Christian literature each month free to mission fields around the world.
In today’s high-tech world, many might assume that all magazines and used Sunday school books are relics of the past. Who uses paper any more?
“If you live in a dung hut in Nairobi, Kenya, there is no online website, no book sale, or hardly any stores,” Jason Jenkins of Love Packages told AFA Journal. “Even if print was available, the people can’t afford it. So, this is a way to get materials to them.”
John Fulks, a missionary in Kenya, told AFAJ how critical the ministry of Love Packages is around the world. Fulks is former president of Global Theological Seminary in Uganda.
“Good conservative, biblical materials are like gold in East Africa and often not attainable for national pastors and Bible schools,” he said.
“The 20-foot container that [Love Packages] helped us get to GTS was half full of good books for the GTS library. The other half was full of Sunday school literature that was given to local pastors, increasing their personal libraries with commentary material. Only God knows the vastness of impact upon discipling souls that container has had and continues to have in East Africa.”
Cleaning off the dining table
Founded in 1975 in Butler, Illinois, by Steve Schmidt, Love Packages began after repeated nudges from God to offer to missionaries the excess Christian literature always piling up on the Schmidts’ dining table.
Surprised to discover that missionaries could use and want the English language materials he offered, Schmidt quickly mailed packages to four different locations. By year’s end, he and his wife had shipped out 60 packages filled with used Bibles, books, magazines, Sunday school materials, tracts, and devotionals.
Word spread, and soon others began sending literature to the Schmidt family. Volunteers began helping sort and package the donated materials. And slowly but surely, their ministry grew from the Schmidts’ dining room to their basement to a warehouse facility.
In 2016, Love Packages expanded to include Edwin L. Hodges Ministries, a similar literature ministry run by Pastor Hodges for 20 years in Decatur, Alabama. When Hodges retired, Love Packages was the perfect ministry to keep the Hodges legacy going forward.
Subsequently, Love Packages now operates out of both sites. Jason Jenkins recently gave AFAJ a tour of the Alabama location.
“I was sent here from Illinois in 2016 to manage this site when Love Packages officially took over the ministry of Edwin Hodges,” Jenkins explained. “This was a great opportunity for Love Packages – and for me.”
Jenkins pointed out two large maps in the ministry’s main hallway. A world map denotes places where Love Packages have been delivered, while a U.S. map marks where donations have come from.
Covered in colorful pins, the maps are testimony to God’s accomplishments through Love Packages, the volunteers’ time, the donors, and the recycling of Christian literature.
Blessing the giver
“Love Packages is not only a ministry for folks overseas,” Jenkins said. “We feel like it gives people purpose here, too,” said Jenkins. “Individuals, families, or youth groups can volunteer at either location, and they’re doing something that’s eternal. They’re going on a mission trip without having to leave the country.”
Thousands of people across the country do exactly that – view Love Packages as their own personal opportunity to work in a mission ministry. Jenkins spoke fondly of several senior citizens who purchase and donate books and volunteer.
One lady in particular, now in her 90s, still goes out “booking” weekly to purchase appropriate materials at yard sales, book sales, or discount stores. Jenkins said she recruits friends to transport her book finds to Love Packages in Illinois.
A man in Huntsville, Alabama, does his “booking” differently. He periodically shops online at Christianbook.com and has his purchases shipped directly to the Alabama site.
Jenkins introduced AFAJ to a family of volunteers – Lynn, Debbie, and Kristie, who had driven nine hours at their own expense to work in the Decatur warehouse, sorting, bundling, and packing materials.
As the family volunteers worked, Jenkins explained how the donated literature was first brought from the warehouse and then opened and sorted for placement in one of six designated categories: Bibles; reference materials; Sunday school literature; books; magazines and daily devotionals; music and DVDs.
Churches, individuals, and even corporate donors like LifeWay send excess literature – new or used, one piece or cases at a time. The largest category of donations is Sunday school literature.
One church might send two leftover student booklets and four used teacher manuals, while another sends two teacher manuals and 12 student books. When enough copies arrive, the pieces are bundled together. Each bundle represents about $400 worth of literature, more than the average person in a third world nation earns in a year.
Practicing good stewardship
Finally, the bundled literature is taken into an outer warehouse, ready for loading onto a 20-foot shipping container – no pallets or packing materials allowed.
“As a nonprofit, volunteer ministry, we want to be good stewards,” Jenkins stated. “That’s why we literally pack materials into the shipping container from floor to ceiling. We remind ourselves that every hole could be a soul.”
Love Packages ships 41,800 pounds of literature in each seagoing container at an overall freight cost of ten cents per pound. That is impressive stewardship, compared to the $8 per pound it would cost for an individual to mail a package overseas.
Once materials are shipped, it takes around two months before the containers are opened and distributed. And the last step for the donated materials is probably the most impressive of all, according to Jenkins.
He recounted how men and women from impoverished countries around the world will walk for days over untold miles in order to receive the treasures packed into those shipping containers. Many of them have never seen printed copies of Scripture verses, much less owned their own Bible.
He recalls again the faces of those who receive the Bibles and books: “I’ve seen it for myself. When they get their Love Packages, they’re smiling ear to ear.”
Those smiles and the souls they represent are the mission of Love Packages. In accordance with the Great Commission and the words of Mark 13:10, they are working to “publish the gospel among all the nations,” one shipping container at a time.
▶ Pray for staff, volunteers, and those who receive packages.
▶ Pray for the Bibles and other literature distributed.
▶ Take a mission trip, one day or several days, to sort and pack books.
▶ Collect (or purchase) materials to send to Love Packages.
Learn more at lovepackages.org, 217-532-6701, or christianbook.com.