April 14, 2020

Selling Adventist Books in the Times of COVID-19

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division, and Adventist Review

In early March 2020, Antonio Casarrubias, a Seventh-day Adventist literature evangelist in the Yautepec municipality in Morelos, Mexico, was sure that his first quarter would be like no other in sales. “It was going extremely well in just the first two months of the year,” Casarrubias said. “Just unbelievable.” Then the coronavirus warnings came. Schools and businesses began to close, large gatherings stopped, and visits to homes became impossible.

In his 27 years as a full-time literature evangelist, Casarrubias has never experienced a time when he could not connect with people and do something he loves. He has visited school students, businesses, politicians, and artists over the years and held large conferences; and the list goes on.

“Things are terrible because people don’t want you to come near them, they don’t want to listen to you,” he said.

For Casarrubias, 52, that’s extremely unusual. He has been the number-one literature evangelist in his conference and union for five years. He is among a handful of outstanding literature evangelists in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union (IOMU) church region, who buy thousands of dollars’ worth of books to sell every year. He has put his oldest son through architecture school and has another son finishing high school.

A Call From God

“Honestly, I can already tell that April is going to be dead for sales,” he said. “But you have to be creative, see how you can improvise how to approach people, what you do and say these days.”

Casarrubias is practicing social distancing while following up with just a few clients who are willing to listen to him and purchase books.

“Many people are losing their jobs, and they have no income, so they aren’t able to buy much.”

But Casarrubias’s faith has not been shaken.

“A crisis is a call from God,” Casarrubias said. “You feel God in this ministry. I am not afraid of this coronavirus, because God has called me and will see me through as He wills.” He has seen more than 500 persons get baptized through the books and ministry of his literature evangelism.

Casarrubias leads as associate publishing ministries director in Cuernavaca, Morelos, in the South Pacific Mexico Conference. His group of twelve literature evangelists purchases an average of US$157,000 worth of books to sell every year. He said all in his group are keeping their faith strong. Still, he is afraid that other groups of literature evangelists are getting discouraged and may leave the ministry amid the pandemic situation.

Unshakable Faith

Like Casarrubias, Virginia Jiménez’s faith has not been shaken either. As a literature evangelist of nine years in the Juan Rodríguez Clara municipality in Veracruz, Mexico, she says the changes in book sales are already evident.

“I keep to my community these days and try to visit my regular clients, but most are not able to buy because they are not earning any money.” She keeps going out every day, keeping social distancing measures and inviting clients or people she finds on the street to watch her new book presentations from afar. “I love to preach the gospel. I love to give Bible studies. I put my mission before God and pray that He continues to use me to share this wonderful message.”

Jiménez has put her oldest through university and has two other children in high school, thanks to her work as a literature evangelist. Every year she purchases approximately US$12,000 in books and sells all of them.

“God has blessed me tremendously,” she said. Every time she puts in an order to the publishing house, she pays tithes and offerings before she sells anything. Her husband, who takes care of his aging mother, sells things in the market every day he can.

She goes out every day to see who she can impact with a word of encouragement or prayer, and, if the person has money to spend, a book. So far, she praises God that through her ministry, more than 50 people have been baptized into the Adventist Church.

Jiménez says she knows she will feel the brunt of the decrease in sales due to the coronavirus effects in her community, so she is thankful that church leaders have provided funds and food provisions for her family and those of other literature evangelists.

Financial Assistance

Casarrubias and Jiménez are among the 120 full-time literature evangelists who received monetary and food assistance last week, said Martin Olvera, IOMU publishing ministries director.

“We are very concerned for them because they are not receiving a steady paycheck, and these are crucial times for them,” Olvera said. He and the publishing team oversee 180 part-time literature evangelists and an average of 150 student literature evangelists across the region.

Olvera holds online meetings with his directors to continue encouraging literature evangelists through this slow process during isolation measures. The church plans to continue supporting its literature evangelists through April and provide or extend special credits for them starting in May and beyond, if necessary.

“Overall, I have seen that their faith is strong, and we value them because they are an integral part of evangelism in our union territory,” Olvera said.

Faithful in Every Circumstance

Erwin Gonzalez, publishing ministries director for the Inter-American Division (IAD), said that every single one of the literature evangelists across IAD — 1,714 full time, 4,000 part-time, and 2,950 student literature evangelists — play a key role in spreading the gospel.

“We know that they have been called to be special messengers of the Lord,” he added. “They are not discouraged as they face this situation, because they know that the end times will come, and their [literature evangelism] ministry is a blessed opportunity to reach others for heaven.”

Clemente González, 52, is among the 80 literature evangelists in the Dominican Republic who are feeling the effects of social distancing regulations. But he presses on even though he cannot do much visiting at schools, businesses, and homes.

“I am clinging to God,” he said.

In 2012, he decided to close his mini-market store to become a literature evangelist. It’s a decision he has never regretted. He goes out every day to see if any of his regular clients or church members need encouragement or a new book. González is the top-selling literature evangelist in his country and lives in one of the largest municipalities in Santo Domingo, with nearly one million people. He’s been able to support his five children through school and wonders why he didn’t start as a literature evangelist sooner.

“More members should take part in this ministry, because it’s so rewarding. This ministry builds your faith every day,” he said.

The coronavirus does not scare him.

“I’m not worried because God watches over us, and this is an amazing ministry to carry out for God,” González said.

The church leadership on the island has provided funds as well as food baskets for the family of each full-time literature evangelist, said Roberto Matos, publishing ministries director for the church in the Dominican Republic.

“We are working on the possibility of assisting them through April and have strategies in place to have them share more prophetic books and health books as soon as the quarantine measures are lifted,” he said.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.