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Reading the Tea Leaves

- 11/18/09  

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November-December 2009
C O N T E N T S : 
< Singapore: Writer Finds Her Voice in Children's Literature
< Francophone Africa: Spreading the Word
< Reading the Tea Leaves

Hi, ! 

Award-winning children's author Emily Lim shares below how her entire writing and publishing career "has been a journey of faith." Her message was echoed dozens of times at our LittWorld conference by writers, editors, artists and publishers from nearly 40 nations. Each one is motivated to publish the Good News in his or her corner of the world.

Join us in praise for people like Emily, Ando and the hundreds of laborers in publishing who pursue the eternal bottom line and seek first the Kingdom. 

-John D. Maust, president

Singapore: Writer Finds Her Voice in Children's Literature 
Emily Lim, two-time winner of the IPPY Independent Publishers Book Award, recently released her newest title in her My Toy children’s book collection: Bunny Finds the Right Stuff.  This book tells the story of a toy bunny who has lost some of his stuffing and is searching for something that will fill him.  “My floppy toy bunny character feels he is missing out, only to discover that he was loved to bits by his toymaker,” says Emily, who self-published the book in her native Singapore.

The author of four picture books, Emily started writing during a sabbatical from her corporate job with hotel giant Raffles Holdings in 2005. She was tired after 10 years struggling with spasmodic dysphonia, a rare voice disorder that causes her to lose the power of speech at times. Emily began an overseas correspondence writing program which eventually led her in 2007 to participate in Singapore’s children’s book publishing initiative to nurture aspiring local writers. She also participated in MAI’s recent workshop, hosted by Armour Publishing in Singapore.

Emily’s first book, Prince Bear & Pauper Bear, “was my personal story about feeling defective, like my teddy bear without a mouth, and finding voice and restoration.” The book won the prestigious IPPY Award at the world’s largest book awards competition in 2008.

Emily’s second book, The Tale of Rusty Horse, was “about understanding that I am in my station of life for a purpose.” Her third, Just Teddy, was “about the realization of being one-of-a-kind – ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’” Just Teddy won the IPPY Award in 2009, distinguishing Emily as the first author in Asia to win two IPPYs.

“My entire writing and publishing journey has been a journey of faith,” she says. While her books are not overtly Christian, Emily weaves her own walk into her stories. Each book also has a short testimony in the back. Her future projects may include a testimonial/memoir, but for now Emily continues her writing journey through children’s literature.

- MAI intern Lily Panagiotis

Francophone Africa: Spreading the Word 

Zina Ando Ratovona of Madagascar is editorial coordinator of Presses Bibliques Africaines (PBA) based in Cotonou, Benin. PBA was birthed in 1985 out of the IFES student movement and has since published more than 60 titles to equip students and leaders across 19 countries in Francophone Africa. Ando shares about PBA and its marketing efforts.

Tell us about PBA. 
One sometimes hears the quote in Africa, “If you want to hide something from a Black African, write it down in a book.” While the statement is a stereotype and provokes strong reactions, it does point to challenges in the realm of reading, especially in Francophone Africa. It is a daunting task to get people to invest in books in strongly oral and media-driven societies.

Our vision is to serve, inspire and encourage French-speaking Christians in Africa and all over the world, by publishing relevant books for leaders and scholars written from an African perspective and mainly by African authors. Now we are considering expanding our vision to reach general readers.

Describe your "Kit PBA" marketing effort.
Up until 2004, our books had been faring quite well. However, the effects of the political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire [our former base] were beginning to be felt on the economy and PBA book sales took a dive.

In 2006, we created “mini PBA-bookshops.” Samples of our books were packed and sent to churches. We also invited students with motorbikes to sell books door-to-door for a 20 percent comission.
Other concepts evolved, such as the “Leadership Pack” consisting of books sold on credit to subscribers.The latest set is the “Conflict-resolution in Africa Pack.”

From these ideas arose “Kit PBA” in Benin. We packaged 16 books costing 30,000cfa (about $60), payable in 5 months in chunks of minimum $10. We encourage pastors to enroll their members and we plan to award a prize to churches with the most subscribers. Our target sales number is 1,000 kits.
What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is persuading people to read. One effort by the local Benin IFES movement is a Bible-reading competition for high-school students. Every year one school is awarded a prize after a televised Bible quiz broadcast nationwide. We also encourage leaders to refer to PBA books whenever they train students. 



Reading the Tea Leaves   

Some 150 men and women from 36 countries attended MAI’s recent LittWorld 2009 conference in Limuru, Kenya. On the day the conference ended, several of us stayed longer and decided to take a walk just outside the conference grounds.

Peter, Tony and I followed a grassy winding path down one hill, and then up another. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a tea plantation. I’d never seen one before. Lime-green, waist-high bushes stretched in all directions. The beauty of the vegetation under bright blue skies caught us by surprise.
We stood there staring, the only sound being the faint rustle of tea leaves in the afternoon breeze.

All seemed deserted at first, but then we spotted movement on a hill across the ravine below us. A small group of men, women and children, looking the size of toy soldiers, spread across the vast field. We could see them picking leaves and collecting them in baskets.

One man labored especially hard. A meter-long basket strapped to his back, the man moved quickly snatching leaves with both hands, then tossing them into the basket. Pick, pick, toss. Pick, pick, toss. He never slowed during the 15 minutes we watched.
The three of us never imagined this world existed just minutes from where our LittWorld meetings took place.

Glad I don’t have that job, was my first thought. Then it occurred to me: tea harvesters and Christian publishers and writers have some things in common.

Like the tea pickers, Christian publishers, editors and writers go almost unnoticed. They work behind the scenes, sometimes alone or only in small groups, not making a lot of noise or fanfare. They know the “harvest is great and the laborers few,” so they work methodically, daily, fighting through weariness, dread or even boredom. Like tea pickers, they toil with an end product in mind—in their case, a published piece that will delight the palate and warm the soul of the most discerning reader.

As the 150 LittWorld participants traveled home that day to the far corners of the globe, I hoped they would be as relentless and purposeful as these tea pickers, and that the fields would be filled with more of them.

>>Read what participants are saying about LittWorld.

>>Check out photos from LittWorld.

>>Read the blog post by Nigerian journalist Lekan 
J O H N   M A U S T

M A I   P R E S I D E N T 




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