EL PASO, Texas (BP)–On Nov. 17, 1905, J. Edgar Davis published his first book in Spanish on a foot-powered press in his kitchen in Toluca, Mexico. From that humble beginning, the Baptist Spanish Publishing House has become a modern, fully equipped enterprise now printing and shipping Bibles, books and other literature throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
Around 1910, Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa took note of the ministry at a time when he was in desperate need of paper and learned the only supply in Toluca was in Davis’ possession. Arriving at Davis’ home, Villa demanded use of the paper, even offering to pay for it.
Davis knew he would not be able to acquire any more paper without the revolutionary’s consent, so he proposed a deal. Davis would sell Villa half his supply of paper and even print Villa’s propaganda, if Villa would allow him to continue using his kitchen press for his own religious purposes. Villa agreed. Davis’ young son, Frank, recalled sitting on Villa’s lap as his leaflets came off the press.
As Villa promised, Davis was able to continue printing his Christian literature.
The city of El Paso officially proclaimed Nov. 17 as Baptist Spanish Publishing House Day in honor of the centennial of the world’s oldest Spanish Christian publishing house.
The publishing house, which relocated to El Paso in 1916, was operated by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board for its first 94 years. Since 1999, it has been self-supporting with assistance from the Foundation of the Baptist Spanish Publishing House and oversight by an international board of directors.
As part of the centennial celebration, the publishing house opened its new Joe T. Poe Historic Center relaying the ministry’s history via various displays of original furnishings, printing presses, books and other printed materials, photographs and other memorabilia. The center also features an interactive, hands-on program for children on the publishing house’s history.
The history center is named for former director Joe T. Poe, the ministry’s current historian who has been involved in various aspects of the work for 44 years. Missionary Alicia Zorzoli was in charge of the center’s development.
The publishing house’s bilingual centennial service was held at First Baptist Church and attended by Ted Driggers and Mary Wheat, grandchildren of J. Edgar Davis, along with present and former employees, missionaries and individuals involved in various related ministries.
Following an invocation by general director Jorge E. Diaz thanking God for 100 years of service, flag-bearers filled the El Paso church’s aisle with a colorful parade of flags of many of the nations where Baptist Spanish Publishing House materials now are distributed. The flags were carried by people representing those nations.
Diaz presented former directors and wives who attended the celebration: Tom and Connie Hill, Aldo and Dora Borda, Robert and Margaret Tucker, Roberto and Noemi Garcia-Bordoli, Joe and Eleanor Poe and Ted and Mary Stanton. He also introduced Jimmie Ross, whose late husband, Wilson, once served as director.
The centennial celebration included sermons by Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, and Luis Gabriel Cesar, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ciudad Satelite, Mexico.
Rankin said he sees evidence of the work of the Baptist Spanish Publishing House everywhere he travels in Latin America.
“Remember the past, as you honor those who have gone before, but also celebrate the future,” Rankin exhorted. “Rededicate yourselves to continue this work because of the millions of unreached people in Latin America.”
Rankin noted that King David could not rest in his own house until he built a house for God.
“Therefore, we must not rest until Christ is known throughout the whole Spanish-speaking world,” Rankin said.
Cesar noted that the purpose of the publishing ministry is to change lives and invest in eternity.
“Do not stop doing it now,” he said. “I remind you that the ministry in which you have invested your lives is long-term. This is a wonderful time to celebrate, but it cannot compare to the glory that is to come.”
Kay Madaris is a retired missionary to Mexico, now living in Ruidoso, N.M.