Half a century spreading the Word
For the past 50 years -- including 46 in Shelbyville -- Bible & Literature Missionary Foundation has been printing Bibles, Bible excerpts and tracts for disribution around the world.
The ministry will celebrate its golden anniversary this week at its scripture conference, which runs Monday through Thursday. Most activities will take place at Victory Baptist Church on North Main Street, but on Monday and Thursday, there will be opportunities for the public to visit the B&L facility at 2101 U.S. 231 South.
In the late 1960s, the late Bob Lemmon Sr. was a Baptist preacher in Fort Worth, Texas, and his son Bobby Jr. was assistant pastor, youth director and music director. The church had a small offset press, which Bobby Jr. had been operating since age 14, and began using it to print tracts and Bible excerpts (for example, a booklet containing just the Gospel of John) in English and in Spanish. Within a year, the Bible printing operation had grown so large that it was occupying most of Bobby Jr.'s time.
In 1968, the Bible & Literature Missionary Foundation was created, with the intention of printing New Testaments and full Bibles in many languages and make them available to missionaries worldwide.
Bob Sr. resigned his pastorate and began traveling around raising money for the project.
He made the decision to move back to Bedford County, where he'd grown up and where his parents lived. He wanted to start a church, which he envisioned as being the parent organization for the Bible foundation. He bought a building on South Cannon Boulevard which had previously been owned by Cannon United Methodist Church. The idea was to use that building both for the church and the foundation.
The printing operation was moved to Shelbyville in 1972.
The Lemmons thought that if they could get the fundraising for the ministry on solid ground they could focus their attention on the church -- but raising money became a full-time job in itself.
"Raising funds is our greatest challenge," said Bobby Jr.
The ministry continued to thrive, however.
Bob Lemmon Sr. passed away in August 2007. Bobby Jr. became director and Shannon Lemmon, Bobby Jr.'s son, became associate director.
Eventually, as output continued to grow, more space was needed.
In 2014, the ministry purchased its current home, a never-occupied structure that had been planned as a luxury horse barn. B&L added a concrete floor in the barn area, as well as the air conditioning units essential to successful printing. When Willis Carrier first invented the modern air conditioner, it was for a printing company in Brooklyn, and its purpose wasn't to keep humans cool -- it was to keep paper dry. Changes in humidity can wreak havoc with a web press.
The new location has enabled the ministry to dramatically increase its production -- and it could be increased even further if funding becomes available. Last year, B&L produced 1.5 million scripture-based products in 41 different languages.
"I can't speak these languages," said Bobby Jr., "but I've learned to identify them."
The ministry also produces a number of English-language King James Version Bibles, some with themed covers -- for example, a camouflage cover for distribution to sportsmen.
Of the million-and-a-half scriptures produced last year, 288,000 were full Bibles, with the rest being New Testaments, individual Gospels or other Bible excerpts. This year, the total number may go as high as 2 million. By the end of the year, the ministry will have used about 17 tractor-trailer loads of paper.
Bobby Lemmon Jr. stays close to the printing operation, while Shannon has taken his grandfather's place raising funds to keep the presses rolling. If B&L is able to run at full capacity, said Bobby Jr., it could produce 2 1/2 to 3 million scriptures a year.
The ministry has 12 full-time and six part-time employees. It also hosts hundreds of volunteers each year, including individuals as well as church groups from throughout the South. Volunteers generally help to collate pages, stacking them in the right order so that they can be bound into Bibles.
"We have a standing offer for volunteers to come any time," said Bobby Jr. Individuals can set their own scheule and work at their own pace.
B&L first hosted a scripture conference back in the 1980s, but it had fallen by the wayside until Bob Sr.'s death in 2007. A new conference was held in his memory in 2008, and the conference has continued as an annual event since that time.
An open house will be held 2-4 p.m. Monday at B&L as part of the conference schedule, but the public is invited to attend as well. There will also be activities Thursday afternoon at the "Bible Barn," as a container of scriptures is loaded up for shipping. Other conference activities will take place at Victory Baptist Church, with which B&L has had a long-time relationship.
For more information about B&L, or the conference, go to http://www.biblelit.com or call 931-684-0304.