A Novel Idea: Sending Books to Samfya


eager to learn

The third time was a charm for Lisa Backus, teacher and Willow North Shore member. After participating in three mission trips to Samfya, where she worked with teachers in the classrooms, Lisa vowed to do something about the lack of books. As a teacher, Lisa could not imagine trying to teach a subject without reading materials. Yet, that was the situation in Samfya, where children struggled to learn English without any reading books to practice with and without a story time when the teacher read to them. After her third trip, Lisa resolved to help by sending the schools a box of children’s books.

An Unexpected Chapter
Back home, Lisa acted on her resolve but was shocked to find out how costly it would be to ship a box of books all the way to Samfya. Trying to avoid expensive shipping costs, Lisa searched the web for a way to purchase the books in Africa. She found them, but unfortunately, they proved too expensive as well. So Lisa came up with another plan.  The high school where she taught equipped students with newer editions of math books and would be getting rid of the used ones. Feeling strongly that the books should be donated as opposed to discarded, Lisa and fellow Willow Creek member and teacher Diane Riendeau discovered an organization called Books for Africa.

Books for Africa operates warehouses in Minneapolis and Atlanta for general book donations. Because one of Lisa’s daughters happens to live in Minnesota, her daughter drove the math books to the warehouse site. In a “light bulb moment,” Lisa thought to ask Books for Africa if they were capable of sending particular books, such as children’s reading books, to a particular location. “That’s exactly what they do,” Lisa said, only on a grander scale than what she originally envisioned.

The Plot Thickens to 22,000 Books 
Books for Africa ships and organizes donated books in large containers at the shipper’s expense. After working out the details, Lisa emailed Willow’s local partner in Samfya to ask if the schools could use 22,000 books. Willow’s partner said “Yes!” and Lisa took on the task of raising $16,000 to ship the container.

Even though she had always avoided fundraising, Lisa became a “Container Captain,” and contacted everyone she knew who might be interested in helping. She raised $10,000 leaving her with a $6,000 shortfall. Then through God’s perfect timing, she was invited to join Celebration of Hope’s lobby exhibitions in 2012; the remaining money was raised through Celebration of Hope funds.

The final hurdle was making sure Books for Africa had enough books in stock, because the organization had filled a significant number of orders prior to Lisa raising the $16,000 for her container shipment. Once again, everything worked out. Lisa got the call that with an eleventh hour donation, Books for Africa received enough books to guarantee the 22,000 book shipment—enough to supply 12 schools in Samfya with an entire library of books.

Looking back, Lisa says, “It’s almost surreal. With each stumbling block, I didn’t know how to move forward.”  But God did. “God blows my mind,” she says. “I set out to send one box of books to Samfya; God sent 22,000 books.”


Category : Celebration of Hope, Global Connections


Great story! For added value WCCC member Ed Elliott has bookstores in Africa serving the needs of the poor. He was Moody alumnus of the year in 2012. Also Love Packages in southern Illinois ships donated Christian materials worldwide in containers. Used Seeds tapes by the truckload have been shipped through them. Small but effective ministry.
a great way to bless the world!

What a great story. I lived in Samfya in 1957-58 where my parents were missionaries. I was last there in 2011. Congratulations to Lisa.

What a great story. As a former teacher, I know how important books are for teachers. Way to go!

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