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Saddleback recycling effort nets 700,000-plus Bibles in 10 years

LAKE VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Without a word, and smiling from ear to ear, the Ukrainian man gently covered the Bible with cellophane and laid it delicately into his backpack.

Ron Baker watched in amazement. He’d never seen anyone react that way when receiving a Bible.

“The way he did it, it was like receiving a precious, precious gift,” said Baker, a member of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif. “It was like you gave this guy a million dollars and he wanted to take care of it.” It took only five recycled aluminum cans to provide that Bible, said Steve Rutenbar, a missions pastor at Saddleback.

For the past decade, Saddleback members have sent more than 700,000 Bibles around the world with the proceeds from recycling their aluminum cans.

That vision began with Al Panaro in the beginning of the 1990s. As communism crumbled, opportunities to share Jesus’ love with millions of Russians and Eastern Europeans trapped for decades behind the Iron Curtain seemed to be everywhere. What followed was one of the greatest growths of the evangelical church Russia and Eastern Europe had ever seen.

And Panaro, a Saddleback member, believed God wanted him to be a part of it. But before he could buy his plane ticket and join a Saddleback mission trip to Russia, Panaro’s doctor told him he had cancer and was dying. That didn’t stop Panaro from sharing his faith in a foreign land once he realized the new mission field needed Bibles as much as it needed workers.

Panaro soon discovered that if he took his aluminum cans and those of other Saddleback members and recycled them, they could purchase much-needed Bibles for upcoming Saddleback mission trips to Russia.

Now, almost 10 years after Panaro passed away, Saddleback recycles one large bin or $500 worth of cans a month, with the ministry having expanded far beyond the Russian border.

But Don Forsyth, the current recycling ministry leader, estimates only 100 members drop their cans off every week. He can foresee a larger ministry in the future.

“We’d like to see people lined up before and after every service to drop off their cans,” Forsyth said. “With our church membership, if we were able to get a couple of thousand cars dropping off cans, we could fill that bin every week.”

Forsyth sees his work in the ministry as his contribution to sharing the gospel in other countries.

“Not everyone can participate in the missions trips overseas, but we feel a great sense of satisfaction that we are a part of sharing God’s Word overseas,” Forsyth said.

Other churches can have that same satisfaction, Forsyth noted. Instead of leaving recyclable cans and number one plastics (most clear plastics) on the curb for the trash company, bring them by the church, he suggested.

“Not only are some paying for the trash company to pick up their recyclables but the trash company is making the money off of the recyclables,” Forsyth said. “We are just suggesting bring the cans to the church and put the money to good use.”

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  • Tobin Perry