From Here to There
The incredible journey of the Adult Bible Study Guide
First, there is the commissioning of an author, or what the Adult Bible Study Guide Department headquartered at the Adventist Church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, calls the principal contributor. Then come the writing, the reviewing, and the editing; finally, it is printed. It takes time.
Approximately 2.7 million adult study guides—which includes all five editions (standard, teachers, easy-reading, abridged easy-reading, and large-print) in 85 languages and dialects—are printed and distributed worldwide each quarter through Adventist Book Centers and local churches, according to Gary Swanson, associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department. Most church members who use the Adult Bible Study Guide, however, are probably not aware of the long production process and give it little thought when they open the study guide to Lesson 1 at the beginning of a quarter. But while most of us may take our study guide for granted, that mindset isn’t universal.
A LABOR OF LOVE: Some local missionaries, pastors, and church elders living in remote regions of the South Pacific Division walk two or three days to pick up copies of the Adult Bible Study Guide.For many people in remote parts of the globe, such as in the South Pacific Division from where I write, the Adult Bible Study Guide is precious and appreciated. For English-speaking people in the South Pacific, and that’s most of them (although French is also spoken), they know its true worth, which is somewhat greater than what it costs. For some, it’s one of the only pieces of Adventist literature they will ever own besides a copy of Adventist World. To them, it’s “gold.”
In developing economies of the Pacific there’s often little infrastructure outside of the capital city and a few regional towns. In order to reach the many remote communities in a timely fashion, the study guide must begin its journey to them months before the quarter begins. It’s to the credit of the church that on any given Sabbath throughout the world, its members are all studying the same topic and bringing an amazing diversity of thought to focus on it.
The Journey Begins
Once a study guide is given its final confirmation by the approving committee of the General Conference, it is physically prepared for production. While still in electronic form, it is distributed to church-authorized translators and to many of the church’s publishing houses in various divisions around the world. In the South Pacific Division, for instance, it is printed by the Signs Publishing Company in Melbourne, Australia.
Once printed, the study guides are bound and boxed, ready for dispatch. There always seems to be a squeeze on production in order to make the next “sailing,” and tradespeople will often work into the night or during a weekend in order to meet the deadline, sometimes pushing back other urgently needed production. The study guides are shipped out of Melbourne for a voyage of up to three weeks to the island nations of Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. Boats to these countries are relatively frequent and regular, but that isn’t the case for many others.
To Remote Regions
Most Pacific nations consist of vast tracts of ocean, dotted with tiny islands. So when the study guides arrive at the national union or mission headquarters, the shipments must be broken down into island lots to be forwarded to their next destination—the local mission stations—by interisland barge or trading vessel. By the time they arrive, as many as two or three months may have passed since the Adult Bible Study Guide was printed.
But that’s only the beginning of the disbursement process. Now word goes out by UHF radio and radiotelephone to district directors and pastors of the scores of hilltop churches and atoll outposts in their care: their supply of precious lesson guides has arrived.
HAND-COPIED STUDY GUIDE:This adult quarterly was hand-copied by a church member in Romania during a time when owning such literature was illegal in that country.Local missionaries, pastors, and church elders then make the journey to the mission or district headquarters to pick up their study guides. For those in the PNG highlands, where roads don’t connect with most villages, that might mean a two- or three-day trek—one way. Of course, if they’re lucky, a mission plane may deliver the study guides to an airstrip just across the valley. That’s only a one- or two-day hike in precipitous Papua New Guinea, and although you could almost shoot an arrow across the valley, the descent and ascent in each direction is a real “killer.” For the island churches on the atolls of the huge Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands, for example, it could mean paddling a canoe from island to island for a number of days. Although powered canoes are available, petrol (gasoline) is largely unaffordable, even if obtainable.
While the Adventist church most remote from its headquarters in the South Pacific is Pitcairn Island, the Republic of Kiribati, which consists of 33 islands dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles), is probably the best example of remoteness, both in distance and access. Its nearest island to union mission headquarters in Fiji is still 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) distant, while its most distant is about 2,000 miles (3,300 kilometers) away. Adding to distance is access, as very few boats ply its outer islands on a regular timetable, so getting those study guides out requires ingenuity and patience. But it’s worth it.
The Bread and Butter of Bible Study
Piuki Tasa, Adventist Book Center (ABC) director of the Papua New Guinea Union Mission, says the Adult Bible Study Guide is the bread and butter of Bible study and daily family worship in that field. He’s lived and worked in both PNG and the Solomon Islands as a pastor and an ABC manager, so he knows this is true. He says that when the study guides don’t reach the outlying communities until the fourth or fifth week of the quarter, they’re greatly missed. He describes the Adult Bible Study Guide as a “great blessing” to the church members in his region, and says the members just love to study it.
“The study of the Sabbath school quarterly brings spiritual strength and insight to the Sabbath school members,” Tasa says.
He adds that the study guide has a way of finding its way into all manner of surprising places. Members of many denominations regularly purchase the study guides on sale in the ABCs, as they, like their Adventist friends, have little else in the way of spiritual publications they can both afford and read with understanding.
Study Guides Come to the Rescue
Brian Brunton, Publishing Department area manager in PNG until 2005, tells how on one occasion two literature evangelists visited Daru, on the country’s remote southwest coast, for a training seminar followed by a selling outreach. They had walked for three days through the jungle, crossing flooded, crocodile-infested rivers from their home village to attend the seminar, and needed money to get home. But they soon ran out of trade books to sell. Then someone remembered seeing stacks of out-of-date study guides in the storeroom of the local ABC. The study guides had arrived too late for the quarter’s lesson studies and had been abandoned. Armed with these, the men again went door-to-door selling the pamphlets to eager purchasers who ignored their dated and somewhat shabby appearance. The two men left for home, selling more study guides in villages along the way.
I’ve heard other such mission stories too—of people who’ve used the Adult Bible Study Guide to roll cigarettes, tearing out the pages one smoke at a time, until they began reading the remnants, and eventually found their way into the church as a result.
The End of the Journey—or Not?
We value most those things that cost us the most. So for the Pacific island fishermen and PNG highlands gardeners who know what the Adult Bible Study Guide costs in terms of time and effort to reach them, it is often their most prized possession. Their study guide isn’t discarded at the end of the quarter. Rather, they become the library of their owner, and continue to be thumbed through and shared until they become so grubby, worn, and torn that reading them is almost impossible.
There is no end to this journey.
Lee Dunstan is managing editor of the Signs Publishing Company in Victoria, Australia.