By JASON REYNOLDS
(I originally wrote this story for the Times-Gazette. You can read it and view a video here: http://www.t-g.com/story/2267261.html).
Bible printing is perhaps one of Shelbyville’s better-kept secrets. But a family-run ministry here printed 1.2 million Scriptures for 125 nations last year.
The Scriptures were a combination of complete Bibles, New Testaments and other combinations of Bible verses, said Dr. Robert Lemmon Jr. He is the director of the Bible & Literature Missionary Foundation. B&L prints Scriptures mainly for overseas missionaries.
B&L is at 2101 U.S. 231 South, the site of a large building that had been partially constructed to serve as a fancy horse training facility. That 32,850-square-foot building was never finished for its original purpose. The foundation began operating from its new location on Jan. 12, 2015, exactly one year and one day ago, Robert Lemmon said.
“It was a miracle the Lord allowed us to buy this building,” he said.
The new building is also known as the Bible Barn. Directors dedicated the building in October 2014, before operations had actually moved there, because B&L was holding its annual Scripture conference. The old building, 12,000 square feet, was at Cannon Boulevard near its intersection with Lewis Avenue.
“I said we would never fill this thing up,” Lemmon said of the new building. But it’s occupied more fully than he imagined.
B&L’s goal for 2016 is to print 2.5 million Scriptures, Lemmon said. Some have said that is impossible, but with the larger building and an expanded press, he said the only limitation is money.
That goal would cost nearly $1.1 million, according to a B&L quarterly newsletter.
The capacity increased during 2015 when B&L added a third web press, Shannon Lemmon said. The press went from printing 32 pages at a time to 48 pages. That works out to about 30 feet of paper printed every second at a cost of about $1,200 per hour, he said. One 1,000-pound roll of paper costs $785, which can produce about 500 Bibles, he said.
B&L has printed 30 million Bibles, New Testaments and portions of verses during its 48 years, Shannon Lemmon said.
A complete Bible costs $2.25 to print, Shannon Lemmon said. The cost is kept low because volunteers collate the pages. B&L has a staff of 11. Missionaries stationed overseas when they receive the Scriptures receive them at no charge, while missionaries requesting the materials while in the United States are asked to help pay, he said.
Those volunteers come largely from churches in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, Shannon Lemmon said. Occasionally churches as far away as Illinois and Delaware have sent volunteers to Shelbyville to collate. Church groups visit 50 to 70 times per year, with some of those groups repeating several times a year.
The ministry has started to ship pages to churches as far away as North Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky so their members can collate Bibles at home, Robert Lemmon said. Three of those churches have binding and trimming machines and can finish the Scriptures and ship them directly to missionaries.
B&L prints in 40 languages for 125 nations and will soon add Zomi, a language from Burma, Shannon Lemmon said. A shipment was scheduled to leave this morning for Africa, he said. Languages range from Albanian and Apache to Vietnamese and Wayana.
Robert Lemmon said the ministry sometimes hears back on the impact the Scriptures are making. One of his favorite stories is of how a Christian in Brazil heard that a missionary may have had some Bibles available (which were printed in Shelbyville). The man paddled a canoe down the Amazon River for a week to reach the missionary. He went home with as many Bibles as would fit in his canoe; the return trip, which was upstream, took three weeks.
“That’s the extent that people are willing to sacrifice” to receive a Bible, Robert Lemmon said. “God is doing great work in these foreign fields.”
English-language Bibles largely go to U.S. prison ministries, Shannon Lemmon said. They are bound in vinyl or paperback.
B&L was founded by the late Dr. Robert Lemmon Sr. in 1968 out of the Hemphill Baptist Temple in Fort Worth, Texas. The ministry moved to Shelbyville, where the Lemmon family had roots, in 1972, said Robert Lemmon Jr..
B&L’s website is at biblelit.com.
T-G City Editor John I. Carney contributed to this report.