It is a country of incredible diversity and stunning visual sensations. One could spend a lifetime traveling the length and breadth of the nation and probably still not see all that is going on. Predominantly a Hindu nation, it also has a large number of Muslims and Christians living in a subcontinent with a population of 1.3 billion people. The church is growing and many people are coming to faith in a land where there is much competition for religious affection.
In this melting pot of religious fervor, CLC operates 19 bookshops under the name ELS—Evangelical Literature Service—and the ministry has been growing. Nine of these shops have been added in the last ten years. ELS India also has a vibrant publishing program with nearly six hundred titles in print in both English and Tamil. The work was originally founded by a man named Donald David and has been providing evangelical Christian literature for over sixty years. Today, the work is headquartered in Chennai and nearly eighty team members serve faithfully each day. The team is comprised entirely of nationals and is led by National Director Christopher Robert.
In November, I had the great joy of visiting this vast country for the first time and was able to see six of the bookshops in person. The CLC USA team has developed a significant partnership with the ELS team in India and it was a delight to see all that God is doing as a result of our cooperation. One key element of this growing relationship has been the publishing of English titles in India that were first published by CLC in the USA. By publishing these books locally rather than importing them, the cost has been kept as low as possible and enables ELS to sell the books for as little as two dollars each. Several of our key authors including Michael Catt and Warren Wiersbe have proven to be popular in India and one of our titles, Why Is this Happening to Me?, has become a best seller.
Another major project that has linked our two teams is the Christian BookLink program. Over the last few years, our team has sent many thousands of books via pallet, skid and container to the ELS team. These high quality used books are hand sorted in the USA and repackaged by category before they are shipped. This attention to detail has been greatly appreciated on the other end and has resulted in significant numbers of these books being sold at very affordable prices. Normally, the ELS team will hold a huge sale when the books arrive and can often sell a large majority of them in a week to ten days’ time. This event is highly anticipated by the public and deeply appreciated as well.
Our bookshops in India are very busy places. I was in the main Bangalore store in Fraziertown on a Tuesday morning and was astounded at the number of customers coming and going on a weekday. Our diligent team of nine workers is constantly helping the steady stream of people find the books and Bibles that they need. In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, I noticed a startling thing (at least it was to me). While we were in the store, five Muslim women dressed in full burkas quietly entered and began shopping. I quickly asked my Indian colleague if that was a normal occurrence and he said that yes, they had Hindu and Muslim customers coming into the store nearly every day. Many of these same people would never enter a Christian church, but they were willing to cross our threshold and seek answers through the books we make available.
The literacy rate in India has risen from 12% when the nation became Independent in 1947 to nearly 75% today. While this is still not as high a literacy rate as many other nations, it is an incredible increase in a relatively short period of time. Reading is a prized activity and education is seen as the obvious route out of poverty. Education is so highly prized that India is now producing some of the best engineers and IT professionals in the world. Our bookshops are ideally placed to meet this growing demand for books and knowledge and our team members are well trained to make effective recommendations of life changing literature
On my second to last day in the country, I was asked to speak to our Indian team at the headquarters and was blessed to share my thanks for their partnership with our team in the USA. Unexpectedly, I was honored by a ceremony where I was presented with a traditional shawl and garland that they put on me. As I spoke to the people in the room, I could not help but notice their respect for the past while they embrace the future. We were sitting in a room that was part of a complex built in the 1970s and still looked like that era. Despite this, I was enjoying the air conditioning and using a laptop and projector and discussing the arrival of e-books and iPads. Not surprisingly as the meeting closed, we stepped into the courtyard outside the room and began discussing the need to expand their warehouse. ELS is under construction and God is doing a mighty work in this dedicated team.