Man and wife ship books to Africa NORTH--Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

HEEDING A CALL FROM GOD

June 02, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

At the flea market on Manchester Day, it will be easy to pick out Bill and Arlene Samson's table. The Samsons will be selling African carvings and decorated ostrich eggs along with their Bibles and Christian books.

The Samsons, who live in Manchester and attend Grace Bible Church, founded a nonprofit group called Christian Literature for Africa, dedicated to sending Bibles, hymnals and other materials to churches in southern Africa.

"Both my wife and I are full-fledged Christians," Mr. Samson said. "All the way through the Bible, you see nothing but missions, missions, missions."

Mr. Samson, a retired chemist, and Mrs. Samson, a bacteriologist by training, operated a Christian bookstore in Wayne, N.J., as part of their ministry when they felt a call to overseas mission work in 1984.

One day when Mr. Samson was speaking to young Christians, urging them to look into mission work, he said he felt God telling him, "Hey, I want you to get involved more completely."

The couple narrowed their options to two: an organization in Australia or the Africa Evangelical Fellowship, AEF, in southern Africa.

AEF wanted someone to set up a bookstore in Botswana. Mrs. Samson said that was the clue that helped them decide where to go.

"We have the background," she said. "It just seemed like . . . that's what the lord had been telling us."

The Samsons went to Gaberone, Botswana, for four years. They set up the Lesedi Christian Center, a bookstore providing books to churches and schools throughout the country.

Mr. Samson said he believes "the basic laws of economics" were given by God. The couple decided to operate their bookstore "as a good, solid business," he said.

Mrs. Samson said they found that people appreciated the books more if they had to pay for them -- even a small amount -- than if the books were a gift.

After their time in Botswana, the couple traveled to AEF missions in other countries, advising other bookstore operators.

On their visits home to the United States, the Samsons gathered books to send to Africa. Two years ago, they shipped a 20-foot container of books -- 15,000 to 20,000 volumes -- to Africa.

Then, 18 months ago, the AEF director suggested they set up a bookstore in Lubango, Angola.

"We said he was crazy," Mr. Samson said. Angola was reeling from a 16-year civil war.

But in the spring of 1992, they took up his challenge.

In Lubango, wood and other building materials were not available because of the war. The Samsons did what everyone else was doing and used what was available. They took two 20-foot shipping containers and welded them together into an L-shaped building that would serve as a bookstore.

To get windows and doors, they made a dangerous drive through southern Angola to Namibia.

"There was a lot of shooting everywhere," Mrs. Samson said, because, although the army had been decommissioned, nobody had confiscated the troops' guns.

Food was also hard to find. Mrs. Samson said the pair lived for several weeks on dried fruit, biscuits and Coke.

"I lost 15 pounds because I couldn't eat," Mr. Samson said.

"We didn't have any food to eat," agreed Mrs. Samson.

The couple said the people in Botswana and in Angola seemed grateful to have them there.

Mrs. Samson said people would often welcome them with generosity, offering gifts such as live chickens.

"They would just offer you food, whether they had any or not for themselves," she said.

The Samsons left Angola in September, just before the country was thrown back into civil war after disputed elections.

"We really want to go on from there," said Mrs. Samson.

Recently, the couple founded Christian Literature for Africa as a nonprofit group that can raise money to ship books to Africa as well as provide books at the lowest possible price.

The Samsons sell hymnals, Bibles and other Christian literature to American churches to raise money to pay for shipping books overseas.

It can cost $800 to send a container of 1,000 books to Africa, Mr. Samson said. The couple is also open to further calls to the mission field. They are considering traveling to Ethiopia, Mozambique and Eritrea to set up more bookstores.

"The church in Africa is growing in tremendous leaps and bounds," Mr. Samson said.

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