The Left Behind Series on the International Scene

It's a Big World After All

Americans often view the world as the little "blue marble" seen from space. We think of it as a pretty small place where everyone is quickly becoming more like us.

To bring you back to reality, check out the Tyndale International website looking at some of the publisher links you'll find there. Most are Christian publishers and organizations.

Even if you don't have a clue what the words mean, you'll get a quick trip around the world. It should give you a renewed appreciation of how big the world really is and how active God is in spreading the gospel to the multitude of languages and cultures around the globe. The Left Behind series is beginning to make a significant impact on the international scene.

God at Work: Russia

Often turning evil on its head, God has opened doors to the gospel that many missionaries thought would never occur in their lifetime. One of those places is Russia. But, as Roman Nosach, executive chairman of Mirt Publishers explains, the "previous oppression and subsequent fumbling of opportunity still affect the making and marketing of Christian books in Russia." These comments are taken from the English section of the Mirt web site, one of the publisher sites listed on Tyndale International.

Almost no Christian literature was published in Russia from the end of 1920 until 1989. Rarely was permission given to produce a few Bibles. We were allowed an occasional limited edition of a Bible commentary series or some notes for the few students who for cosmetic reasons were allowed to study theology. Otherwise, about the only Christian books believers received were smuggled from somewhere in Western Europe.

Some literature was printed by the secret publishing house "Christian," an arm of the unregistered Union of Baptist Churches. Portable printing presses were smuggled into the country or made from old machines. Paper was "found" months in advance of the presses coming to a district. Bibles were hand-sewn. All this was at great cost to those involved. Many people went to prison for their part in it.

Over a million pieces of literature were printed in this way. But with such a demand for Bibles, no one had much time to think of other biblical literature. The books we really wanted were laboriously typed through many layers of carbon paper and distributed secretly among friends. At that time, we did not know what a Xerox machine was. Each copy machine was registered on the special list of the KGB. Many stories could be written about the impact of those typewritten manuscripts passed from hand to hand and studied hungrily. Books were a treasured possession and every word was valued.

How our history handicaps us today

While we treasured the Word, we did not learn very much about publishing in a free market. In 70 oppressive years, our people lost understanding of how values work. A book has to be worth its price. Under Communism, words were used to manipulate. We learned to read between the lines. Books were subsidised and do not now have the same market value as in the West. Believers are suspicious of books that have been translated. They fear false teaching. People are willing to pay money for something in which they see real value, but they simply are not sure of the value of books.

As the USSR disintegrated, several changes occurred in the publishing world. New non-Christian publishing houses started and a new distribution system slowly emerged. At the same time, a lot of Christian books came freely from abroad. Well meaning foreign missionaries continue to provide books free or at such low cost that it is hard for indigenous publishers to price their books attractively.

Some of the national Christian publishing houses are led by Russians and some by foreigners. Some Russians set up organisations to help foreigners print the books they think should be printed. This has not always helped us to learn how the real market works. You do not need the discipline of leaning financial management when everything is free. You do not learn what people really value if you do not give them the chance to refuse your books.

Many people think that Russia has a large Protestant community. It does not. There are many believers spread over this large country but there are more in the Ukraine. We also sell books there, but that has not been easy because the Ukrainian economy was, until recently, completely unstable. With the Ukrainian economic picture apparently changing, the market potential there seems really good, but we also want to reach the non-Christian in Russia.

In order for us to succeed, the whole publishing industry in Russia needs to mature. We distribute about 6,000 copies of [our] newspaper each month through bookshops and churches. We have also started a readers' club. People get a discount if they order more than four books a year. We have exchanged books with other publishers if we think we can sell their books more quickly than our own, especially if they are in another part of the country.

The basic difficulties in our work

Not all our difficulties are attributable to our history, but all are real. They include:

• Too few good Russian authors. There are many writers and there are many good evangelicals, but, because so much has changed in the last few years, many who could write are still very busy with other things. People have too little time for reflection and writing. It takes time to understand the changes.

• Poor-quality translations. Many people speak English but few can really capture the concepts in good Russian.

• Poor management. (But we're learning!).

• The size of our country. There are many time zones between Western Russia and Vladivostok. Transportation costs are high, credit control and debt collection are traumatic. The postal service works slowly.

• Poor infrastructure. In our country, few systems work. The bank and the tax system change constantly. It is almost impossible to follow the laws.

• Lack of understanding of how the market works. We often work against ourselves, seeing potential partners as competitors. Jealousy and suspicion hinder partnership.

• Lack of trained sales people. No one had to really sell anything before. We were good at dealing but not at selling.

• Questionable affordability of books. It is possible for churches or groups of people to buy together, but few people think like that.

• The general low level of trust. This is even true in our churches. Although people work hard, distrust makes them work, in effect, against themselves.

• Lack of good models of how things work in other places and how they could work here.

Positive movements

The market for Christian literature is developing. People are gradually beginning to see the value of serious books. We're seeing a slow but steady increase in our sales.

A distribution network is starting to develop. We're still in the early stages, but we are getting to know people in other towns. Trust is building slowly.

We see new bookshops opening and people are being trained to run them properly. We want some bookshops to sell both Christian and secular books, rather than becoming Christian-only places.

People are coming to understand that it is necessary to pay for books.

They're seeing new books being published with money they've paid for other books.

The amount of free literature from abroad is decreasing. This allows the development of realistic prices, thus helping us become less dependent on help from outside. It frees us to publish what's really needed.

We're seeing good change. In our organization this year, we've sold over 100,000 books. In our three years of operation we've published 35 titles.

We've made some mistakes but we're growing in our experience as a team.

Although we're sometimes very tired, we're encouraged by stories that show how the books benefit people. We believe that in time these books will bring many Russians to Christ.

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