Is it possible to make mission inroads into the wild, remote and independent communities of West Texas? Through the work of Dr. Margaret Peterson, God is opening doors by opening books.
Throughout this year, Margaret has been looking at West Texas communities from a missionary perspective. Through much prayer, the support of Pastor Mike Fickenscher and the leadership of the Holy Spirit, Margaret discovered that local school districts need books for children, parents need books for their families, and local festivals are an ideal place to distribute the reading material—AND foster new relationships with community leaders and residents. The result is what Margaret is calling “The Lutheran Literacy Project.” The goal of the project is to connect with people in West Texas communities in order to show Christ’s love and build bridges to the Gospel.
2016 was the time for exploring and experimentation with the concept of offering free books in places and at events where large numbers of children were expected. Some venues for connecting with people included chili cook offs at Comstock, visits to Davis Mt. State Park and Balmorhea State Park, the community Cinco de Mayo event in Alpine, and the Marfa Lights Festival. Another approach was to go to where children regularly are: in school. The Marfa ISD allowed a visit to their elementary school with a book for every student. Slowly momentum began to build.
The Fort Davis National Historic Site agreed to allow the distribution of free books on days when it had special activities for children or when groups of children and youth would be visiting the park. Connections were made with more people over one weekend at Fort Davis than at the time spent at many smaller community events. Consequently, the number of books distributed increased by over tenfold! Hundreds of books were now being given away regularly.
While Texas State Parks do not allow religious material to be distributed, National Parks give permission. At Fort Davis, nature, geology, history and astronomy books were distributed along with Bible story books and Bibles prominently featured in the display. The Lutheran Literacy Project was becoming known, faith conversations were becoming more frequent, and relationships were being built.
The next step was to be present during special education days at the Frontier Forts in West Texas. School districts bring hundreds or even thousands of students to these events. Two of the Forts have their education event in the fall, Fort Griffin in Albany and Fort Stockton in Fort Stockton. Pastor Chandler and his congregation from Trinity Lutheran Church in Albany eagerly joined the Lutheran Literacy Project so they could see it in action. With their help, 450 books were distributed. At Fort Stockton, 350 books given away, bringing the total number of books given away in 2016 to 3000!
Due to the very generous donations from congregations, the book supply has been replenished. 2017 will bring more efforts at the Fort education days held in the spring and fall, as well as working directly with school districts. An initial projection is that 6000 books will be distributed.
At the 50th Annual Tolbert Chili Championship Cook Off in Terlingua in November, several new relationships were formed that will open the door for more book distribution efforts. This large event also set into motion the practice of mobile book distribution over a large area. That will be another new approach in 2017 at sites where it is appropriate.
If you or your congregation would like to donate books to this cause, please phone Margaret Peterson (432-697-6976) or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). She is willing to pick up books from generous donors.