Lessons of a Book Bee

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Nancy Kuhlman, center, back to camera, organized volunteers for this June Book Bee at Christ Lutheran, Costa Mesa, CA.

“I was surprised by large numbers of people who thanked me for letting them be part of this. People want to serve. We [in the church] don’t always describe a clear connection for volunteers between their task and serving God and carrying out their part of the Great Commission. But that’s what the Book Bee was. It gave people an opportunity to make a literal connection. They knew what they had done, and what it was a part of.”

Nancy Kuhlman, a volunteer leading other volunteers, is speaking of a Book Bee she organized at her home congregation, Christ Lutheran in Costa Mesa, California, and the truths she’s learned about church volunteerism through her experiences.

“It’s important to help people understand the connection between the work they’re doing and how it fits into God’s plan. It’s not just doing a job that has to be done at church.”

After she retired three years ago, Nancy’s love of missions led her to accept a request to provide administrative assistance to Rev. John Davies and his wife Maila, members of Christ Lutheran who work through Lutheran Bible translators doing Bible translation mission work in Papua New Guinea, where they’ve served since 1972.

“I’ve had the same joy as the other volunteers: the knowledge that I’d done something that God wanted me to do. He granted the success. I’ve grown in my ability to work with volunteers by simply letting the Lord lead and realizing that he’s working in all these people too, and not working just through me.”

Nancy has led about six Book Bees so far. “They just get better and better. Each time you do it you learn. Everyone who participates comes up with ideas.”

At the most recent Book Bee, 50-60 people assembled and stapled 1800 small paper books, from 8-16 pages each, and 1000 calendars with scripture, then boxed them for mailing to Papua New Guinea; all in about 90 minutes. The books are selected portions of actual Scripture that have been translated by the Davies into the Kobon, Ti and Haruai languages, languages previously unwritten until the Davies began their work. These books are the textbooks for a network of 30 Christian schools begun under the Davies’s leadership, to teach children to read and write their language. (A photo of John Davies and children with the books is on the Kobon ministry website home page.)

The challenges Nancy has faced are ones faced by all who lead a team of fellow workers. “It is a challenge to keep my cool when people don’t follow my plan. But it’s also a challenge to let go of the idea that everything has to be done my way. I try to listen open-mindedly, and to know the task well enough to know whether a new idea is going to work or not. If the idea is not going to work, it’s a challenge to explain that in such a way that it’s not a put down to the person who suggested it.”

“For example, one step in the book assembly process is “quality control and do-over.” If a page got put in upside-down, the book has to be taken apart and reassembled. One lady insisted it would work better to take all of the problem books apart at once then reassemble all of them, rather than doing one book at a time. So she went ahead and did it that way. But the books were of different stories in two different languages which we couldn’t read, so pages got mixed up. Now it’s a rule to “do-over” one book at a time. There are going to be mistakes. I try to handle it gracefully and not make the person feel small.”

More observations from Nancy:

  • “I start in reverse. I first think about what the finished product is going to look like. Then I analyze the steps needed to get there and develop a task list.”
  • “I believe in advance planning. I start way early and aim to finish each step a week before deadline, to allow time to handle any problems that come up.”
  • “I look for ways to involve as many people as possible, to give people a feeling of ownership. I break things down into clearly defined small tasks.”
  • “I find if I say, ‘We’re going to make books,’ I get a glassy-eyed stare. If I say, ‘We need help cutting these pages,’ people are more eager to get involved. If people can’t help at a certain time and in a certain way, I try to find another way they can get involved. I’m as flexible as I can be within reason.”

Nancy has one problem that’s not very common. “One of my greatest fears is not having enough work for all the people who show up. We’ve cut down on the publicity the last couple times because we get so many volunteers that I am afraid people might be frustrated because they were not needed.”

“People are so excited when they’re told what they have accomplished working together. People are just in awe – they’re thrilled that they could literally get involved in the work of a missionary.”

“People truly want to serve. They really desire to do something meaningful and helpful.”

For more info on Nancy’s experiences, contact her at nkuhlman@pacbell.net or visit these websites:

site maintained by Nancy Kuhlman; Lutheran Bible Translators site; Christ Lutheran, Costa Mesa, site.

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