Sharing the Gospel through Spanish Arch Books

I’m sitting at Newark Liberty International Airport as I write this, en route to the U.S. for a biennial stretch of “home service.” About a week ago, I had the foresight to request a few books at the public library in the St. Louis suburb where my parents live. Real, print books. I can already hear the protective plastic coating crinkling as I crack the spine, feel the creamy paper beneath the pads of my fingers, and smell the comforting must engendered by the raw materials of bookbindery and heightened by years of metal shelving in climate-controlled air.

Reading: The Ticket to Anywhere

Don’t get me wrong, though; I love my ancient Kindle, a gift from a friend a week before my move abroad. I’m rarely without an e-book. It’s the best I can do to maintain one of my many introverted pastimes while serving internationally. Reading transports me in time and space: to the Cinque Terre, to a Polish death camp, to 1950s Paris, to the Wyoming woods. For all its whimsy, though, it’s a form of escape my host culture doesn’t likewise embrace.

Taking Things Literarily

The only library I know of where I serve is the growing theological one at Concordia the Reformer Seminary, and the bookstore chain run by the same conglomerate as my favorite supermarket pales in comparison to Barnes & Noble. Most homes don’t have oversized hardbacks stacked on coffee tables, bookshelves brimming with novels, or playroom floors littered with dog-eared picture books. One of my colleagues tells the story of gifting board books to some friends’ daughter for her first birthday. “Why does she need books,” her parents had asked, “when she can’t read?”

Instilling a culture of literacy isn’t going to happen overnight. Sweeping change will grow and take root over generations, starting with today’s littles. Concordia Lutheran School in Palmar Arriba is doing its part. The institution, with 50+ students ranging from 3 years to 3rd grade, named literacy its focus for the 2023–2024 school year. True to form, a table of books has permanently graced the atrium area since September. Around Valentine’s Day, a giant butcher-paper sign entreated “ENAMÓRATE DE LA LECTURA” (FALL IN LOVE WITH READING). Fostering a fondness for the printed word has long been preeminent in Director Mercedes Gil’s mind, though. In June 2023, a volunteer team of high school Spanish students got in on the fun.

Spanish Arch Books

The LCMS Office of International Mission invites “Synod’s members and partners” to collaborate in advancing its strategic efforts: Spreading the Gospel, Planting Lutheran Churches, and Showing Mercy. In Latin America and the Caribbean, short-term volunteers are often the engine behind such collaboration, especially “Mission Education” teams that come and see what God is doing in a particular field in a customizable, experiential way. Those who visit during the academic year almost always commandeer Concordia’s daily “Christian formation” slot, planning an hour of Bible-based activities, but the aforementioned team went above and beyond. They’d arranged to bring Spanish Arch Books in bulk, so small-group story time was a logical, win-win add-on. Their Christian formation lesson didn’t end with a closing prayer; instead, the high schoolers divvied up the Dominican students and exercised their language abilities by reading aloud to groups of four or five.

Wiggles abounded as so many pairs of tiny eyes and ears took in the “colorful pictures and creative poetry.” But squirmy or not, we know from Scripture and firmly believe that “faith comes from hearing,” (Romans 10:17). The next clause clarifies: “and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Having that Word in printed form, in one’s heart language, and being able to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it is crucial to church planting. Thanks be to God for the availability of solidly Lutheran theology for all ages and for willing hands to help disseminate it far and wide. I don’t typically have much leisure time—or time, period—while hosting Mission Education teams, but their enduring value and the relationships they engender are beyond worth prying my nose up from between the pages … er, tablet case? … for.

Scripture: ESV®.

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Erin Mackenzie

Erin Mackenzie is an LCMS career missionary in Latin America and the Caribbean, based in the Dominican Republic. When she’s not traveling—too often, according to her cat, Freddy—in her role overseeing the regional short-term volunteer program, Erin enjoys reading, solving crosswords, trying new recipes, and challenging people who claim they can beat her at English or Spanish Scrabble®.

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