From Beijing to Kabul, Melbourne to St Petersburg, Buenos Aires to Jos, Chicago to Capetown – people come from every continent and many languages. They come with words of hope and joy. LittWorld 2015, Singapore (1st-6th November), is the thirteenth, and largest gathering of its kind, staged by Media Associates International (MAI), founded thirty years ago in Chicago to promote Christian writing and publishing worldwide. More than two hundred-and-fifty participants from fifty-four countries signifies the rapid expansion of Christianity in Africa and Asia where relatively new churches, growing in confidence and becoming more articulate, take on the challenges of their particular parts of the planet.
The energy and depth of the gathering can fool the casual observer into thinking that the places these people come from are good and happy ones. But this is far from the case. Each comes with stories of marginalisation, suspicion, and persecution as they try to uncover their Christian lights in the world’s darkest and corrupt corners. They operate within the constraints of totalitarian regimes, to write, translate, publish and print material to support mission and Christian care. As well as those who make it to Singapore, we are also well aware that there are many others who dare not or cannot travel. Some who have made it will not allow themselves to be photographed in case it angers the authorities back home. This was especially true of those from the Middle East. Yet the good news is, that Christians there are becoming increasingly bold. No longer being allowed to keep a low profile, they are finding a voice in the face of persecution from Muslim extremism. The hunger for Christian literature is on the rise.
In the West, however, the picture is not so positive. Here Christian literature is by no means immune from the widespread shrinkage of book sales in all areas of life in recent years. The explosion of electronic media has led to rapid reading of the short statement. Concentration spans are reducing. Sentences are brief – thoughts pared to a series of phrases without verbs, articles or grammar. Fewer and fewer people are likely to pick up a book, even an e-reader. The same applies just as much to Christian literature as any other. Andrew Choi of Breakthrough Ltd in China, asks the question, “What in the digital world are we doing?” This causes my head to swim, and I give thanks that I am a writer and not a publisher in today’s fast changing communications scene.
Nevertheless, the art of writing is by no means dead. We hear from Emily Lim, an award-winning children’s author in Singapore, and a group in the Philippines (Lovestruck) getting alongside their vulnerable teenagers with convergences (rallies), books and radio to try and turn the tide of teenage pregnancies. Davis Bunn, a successful author ‘licensed to thrill’ in America, gives novel writers guidance, and Joel Borboryoe of Ghana urges us to authenticate our writing through research. In the final analysis, it is Kornel Herjeczki from Hungary who reminds us that, “[Christian] publishing is not about making books and selling them, but about fulfilling a larger calling: to spread the Good News to our hopeless world, by the help of the Holy Spirit.”
On the final day, we melt into the terminals of Changi airport and head off home in every point of the compass. But we leave encouraged, and determined to do our own bit for the people around us who have not heard in their own language how God can heal and love.
Trevor Stubbs (author of The Kicking Tree and the White Gates Adventures series.)