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MAI Townhall: Christian publishers across globe serve readers and strategize amid pandemic

(Carol Stream, Illinois, USA)The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on global publishing and bookselling has been severe, but authors and publishers are seeking creative means to reach online readers and develop new strategies to stay afloat. Christian publishing leaders from seven nations, including China and Italy, gave updates and prayed for each other in MAI’s online “Global Townhall Prayer Meeting” with participants from 24 nations on March 31.

“For Christians this situation is a mirror to see and know ourselves better, to rely on God more,” reflected Larry Liu, general manager of Eight Blessings Communications in Beijing. Obtaining an ISBN in China and gaining approval for any Christian title was always challenging, but the process abruptly halted during the pandemic. Liu’s team seized the opportunity to launch audio books and a weekly online curriculum to help parents answer kids’ difficult questions.

In Africa where the pandemic is just hitting, “most Christian publishers don’t offer ebooks or online products, so book sales will suffer,” said Rose Birenge of Kenya, director of partnerships for Biblica Africa. With 60 percent of Africans living below the poverty line, a lockdown means immediate distress due to lack of food and other basics. “Pray for the Church to be the hands, feet and heart of Jesus at this moment,” she asked.

Latin American publishers are also hampered by an inability to deliver books without bookstores or churches open, says Ian Darke, coordinator of Letra Viva, a network of 30-some Christian publishing houses in Spanish-speaking Latin America. He asked prayer for a large consignment of Bible commentaries heading to Cuba and Venezuela to bless readers there.

In North America, where more than 50 percent of sales for many Christian publishers comes from Amazon, which has dramatically trimmed its ordering books until April 21 or later, the impact of the global health crisis has been severe, said Jeff Crosby, publisher of Intervarsity Press USA and Board chair of ECPA.  As sales slow following Amazon’s

focus on health and home necessities over books, the temporary closure  of Barnes & Noble and most Christian bookstores, many Christian publishing staff throughout the country fear for their jobs and wages.  All but eight of IVP’s 90 employees are working remotely or not at all—if their jobs don’t allow it, Crosby noted, requesting  prayer for publishers to honor their staff, authors and customers with all decisions that may need to be made.

Lebanese publishers were already reeling from the nation’s economic crisis. With 50 percent inflation before the coronavirus hit, Sawsan Tannoury had to cut staff wages at Dar Manhal al Hayat publishing house in Beirut. But bright spots exist: only two months ago the publisher launched an ebookstore on Kindle. And Syrian refugee families are finding hope via Christian publications and Bibles included with food boxes.

Filipinos describe their island nation as a social-media capital, so authors and publishers are busy creating daily resources for online readers.  A free weekly ebook, a prayer guide, downloadable kids’ activities, children’s storytelling and video messages from authors comprise #RejoiceInHope, the social-media campaign launched by OMF Literature, Philippines.

“Pray for books, ‘our little missionaries,’ that are now in many households nationwide,” said Yna Reyes, publishing and communications director. “May our books be used by the Holy Spirit to encourage those who are anxious, give hope to those in distress, and draw our fellow Filipinos to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Other writers and publishers echoed Reyes’ desire to find opportunities to spread God’s love in a time of despair. “What you’ve shared makes me feel less alone in the fight,” said Daniela Benevelli, editorial and copyright manager of La Casa della Bibbia in Italy, the world’s deadliest hotspot of the pandemic.  The Italian publisher has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse by sending a Christian book, a DVD and New Testaments to a field hospital for COVID-19 patients in the hard-hit northern region.

“It was an honor to have been with you all today from across the world,” Crosby wrote the other speakers after the online meeting. “You, your companies, teams and countries will remain in my heart and my prayers throughout the journey still ahead of each of us.”

“I think every attendee came away with a much clearer understanding of how the pandemic is impacting global Christian publishing and of the importance of prayer for the various ministries at this critical time,” said MAI President John Maust.  “We all felt part of the greater whole, a sense of unity with other Christian communicators around the globe.”

Watch a video of the online meeting, “At Such a Time as This: MAI global townhall prayer meeting.”

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