TUPELO, Miss. (BP)–Benjamin Hal Buchanan Sr. had a passion for making learning accessible. A veteran educator in Mississippi, Buchanan became known internationally in 1986 when he started Book-Link after his retirement.
Buchanan, who is credited with initially encouraging Southern Baptists to send their unused religious materials overseas, had a passion for aiding and participating in Southern Baptist missions and discipleship. First a public school principal and superintendent of education, he retired as dean of education at Delta State University in Mississippi. He “gave his whole life to education and was very committed to the improvement of education” and to making resources available, said his niece, Beth Holmes, senior consultant for the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s Christian Action Commission in Jackson.
Buchanan died July 7 of last year. During his so-called retirement years he went on many missions trips and saw firsthand the lack of materials in many parts of the world. “He was very concerned about missionaries having the resources they needed to help others,” Holmes said. “He was very serious about seeing people won to Christ and then having the materials necessary to be discipled and to grow.” Holmes also recalled her uncle’s conviction that, “The greatest efforts are the sustaining ones which provide resources to our brothers who keep crying out for help.”
Through the encouragement of his friend and fellow Mississippian, the late Owen Cooper — the only layman ever to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention — Buchanan worked through what was formerly the SBC’s Brotherhood Commission to establish the National Fellowship of Baptist Educators. NFBE, now affiliated with the International Mission Board, is “an organization of Southern Baptist educators and others who use the skills of education to carry out the Great Commission,” said current NFBE coordinator John Carter of Birmingham, Ala.
Book-Link grew out of an organization earlier founded by Cooper, Books for the World, established in the late 1970s to get books out of Baptist homes — “where they are just decorating the shelves,” Cooper is famous for having said — and into the hands of people who had no books. While Books for the World sought to collect and distribute a wide variety of written materials, Cooper encouraged Buchanan to set up Book-Link to focus on gathering unused Christian resources and sending them to Southern Baptist missionaries and the students and pastors they trained, especially those in developing countries.
At the beginning, Buchanan and his wife, Dorothy, who followed him in death last November, did everything themselves, then gradually other Southern Baptists helped, such as Tom Booth of Aberdeen, Miss., who urged his church to become involved after he read an article about Book-Link. Booth, who was Book-Link’s director of shipping from 1992-97, remembers a letter of thanks the Buchanans received from a missionary in Nigeria, Alma Rohm, who had just received 28 boxes of hymnals and books at the Baptist College in Iwo, Nigeria:
“I wish all of you who have sent books could be here to see the delight on the faces of those who will attend our Nationwide Baptist Music Workshop … when they are able to get a hymnbook with music, not just words!” she wrote. “As I sit surrounded by all these boxes, I know myself to be surrounded by your love and lifted to heaven by your prayers.”
Much love does go into the effort, Booth said, who remembers the Buchanans initially using their home as a place to receive the boxes of books and other materials and sort through them to take out things that really shouldn’t have been mailed to them, such as books in bad shape and broken cassette tapes. As requested items were grouped together, each shipment had to be repacked tightly in boxes to weigh about 30 pounds each and carefully taped and wrapped with plastic to make them as waterproof as possible, then hauled in USPS-issued canvas bags down to their rural post office for shipment, literally by boat since that service is least expensive. And until word of the need got out among Southern Baptists, the Buchanans even paid the postage costs themselves.
“Hal and Dot Buchanan did a wonderful job of establishing a precedent and standard for Book-Link,” said Jim Burton, a staff member at the SBC’s North American Mission Board. In 1987, when Burton was on staff at the SBC’s Brotherhood Commission, he did the first coverage of Book-Link as a video presentation for SBCNet, the convention’s former television news show. “Among my memories of that visit and story were how meticulous Hal and Dot were in packaging and accounting for each book sent,” Burton said. “Then Hal would take those heavy book bags down to a rural U.S. post office near his home. I often wondered how many rural post offices shipped items internationally like that one did.”
Buchanan set up Book-Link as the first of NFBE’s now 21 ongoing mission projects. June Rose Garrott of Waco, Texas, is the current NFBE president. A former Baptist worker in China, she now works as international student adviser at Baylor University in Texas.
Garrott said Book-Link is “a wonderful opportunity for people in all walks of life and in all circumstances to be able to take part in missionary activities around the world,” either by gathering books to send to Book-Link or by sending a check to help pay shipping expenses.
Funding is the most critical need, however, as Bibles and other books sometimes have to sit and wait for money to come in so they may be properly shipped back out, Garrott said. Books are now stored and packaged at the home of Olin Williams of Eubank, Ky., a friend of Buchanan’s, who took over the ministry after Buchanan became ill.
Postage and other shipping expenses are paid for as funds are available in the Book-Link Foundation, invested through the efforts of foundation offices of the Mississippi, Texas and Alabama Baptist conventions. Also, a memorial fund honoring Buchanan has been set up with the Mississippi Baptist Foundation. All together only about $30,000 currently is invested; at least $200,000 is needed for the fund to be fully endowed.
Typically about $1 per pound is needed to send out each shipment, which includes 79 cents per pound, the least expensive rate the United States Postal Service charges for international postage, as well as packing supply costs. An estimated $35 is needed to send out each box. Just during 1998, a total of 379 shipments were sent to 17 countries, including several areas in the United States, with a total shipping cost of $10,597.72, to send out 45,426 Christian resource items, including:
— 33,059 books.
— 4,917 journals.
— 5,462 tracts.
— 789 cassette tapes.
“This is a wonderful ministry,” said Geneva Faw, a Book-Link volunteer who received Book-Link’s first shipment in 1988 when she and her husband were missionaries in Nigeria. “If I didn’t feel like it was [a wonderful ministry], I wouldn’t do it, because this is just pure, plain hard work.”
But thinking of the end results keeps her and the other volunteers plowing through the sometimes dirty and musty books they receive, and then repacking them to withstand the sometimes several months of travel before they reach their destination.
While Book-Link is affiliated with IMB, it receives no Cooperative Program funds. All costs for postage and shipping materials are covered by donations. No one who works with Book-Link receives any salary or reimbursements.
For more information about Book-Link, call the Faws (until February 2000) at (606) 379-2005. Williams should return to Kentucky in February 2000 after spending a year in Zimbabwe establishing a Christian library network; his phone number is (606) 379-2140.
Donations of Christian materials — pre-paid, not C.O.D. – can be mailed to Book-Link, 4155 Highway 328 West, Eubank, KY 42567. With funds so tight just for shipping the books overseas, no money is available to pay for books to arrive in Eubank.
Monetary donations, made payable to Book-Link, can be sent to the Book-Link Foundation or the Hal Buchanan Memorial Fund, c/o Mississippi Baptist Foundation, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. All donations received are used strictly for postal costs and shipping materials, and all donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call the Mississippi Baptist Foundation at (601) 968-3800.
For information on becoming a member of the National Fellowship of Baptist Educators, contact John Carter, NFBE coordinator, at [email protected]; or write him at 2561 Rocky Ridge Road, Birmingham, AL 35243. NFBE meets annually during the summer IMB meetings at Glorieta (N.M.) and Ridgecrest (N.C.) LifeWay conference centers.
NOTE: Book-Link (properly spelled as a hyphenated word) is a separate entity from the several websites on the Internet with similarly spelled titles. As of August 1999, Book-Link does not have a site on the Internet.