Story by Cindy Solomon
What started as a seed of an idea in 2008 to promote global education and sustainable resourcing with an emphasis on the African continent, has blossomed into a robust and thriving program. Since its beginning in 2013, the E-reader Project has provided access to resources—once difficult or even impossible to acquire—to dozens of seminary schools and hundreds of college students in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and the Philippines.
Durable, transportable, and used by more than 25 United Methodist theological schools in Africa, e-readers are capable of containing over 1,000 books and allow students to read material beforehand and have the textbooks they need to study and write their papers. In addition, the e-readers work well without Internet access and hold an electrical charge for two to four weeks.
Acquiring and providing e-readers to seminaries and students brings together people from United Methodist churches and general agencies such as the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and Discipleship Ministries. “Such efforts are important to the program’s success story but there’s another component—the books themselves,” said Robin Pippin, Director of Contextual Resource Development and Distribution, Discipleship Resources International (DRI). “Without digital content, these technological marvels are just another piece of hardware.”
On board as a partner from the beginning of the program, The United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) provides a large number of titles for the e-readers. Thanks to deep discounts offered, many Abingdon Press titles and official United Methodist resources are available to students and faculty at minimal cost.
“We had early conversations with Steve Bryant [director of Discipleship Resources International] in 2010,” said Tammy Gaines, CFO/treasurer at UMPH. “Our challenge at that time was figuring out how to ship products overseas, get them through customs, and find funding for shipping costs. We talked about investing in e-readers to make the content more mobile and eliminate shipping issues. By 2014, UMPH and DRI had developed a list of United Methodist official resources and Abingdon Press titles for seminary use.”
To date, about 90 different titles have been offered to the Project, resulting in nearly 20,000 uploads of Abingdon Press books to e-readers. Currently, an average of 15 Abingdon titles are carried on most English e-readers. Many fall into the textbook category and focus on subjects such as homiletics, church history, Wesleyan history, biblical commentary, and church leadership. UMPH staff actively work with the DRI team to identify and provide new titles benefitting students and teachers.
To keep costs to seminarians and faculty at a minimum, UMPH sets the deepest possible discount that still results in royalty earnings to authors, thereby enabling UMPH to honor author contracts. “Being part of this effort,” said UMPH President & Publisher Brian K. Milford, “aligns fully with our role as publisher and distributor for The United Methodist Church.
Dr. Amos Nascimento, associate general secretary of Global Education and New Initiatives for GBHEM, is pleased with UMPH’s contributions—past, present, and future—to the E-reader Project. “This project has touched and enriched many lives,” Nascimento said. “Recently there was an e-reader training session in Monrovia, Liberia. Once again, we heard about the difference the project is making in the way students read, learn, and apply their knowledge.”
Nascimento continues, “Having access to UMPH e-books on e-readers is a great blessing. A whole chain of people are affected by it—from donors and workers involved with the project; to deans, faculty, and students using the resources; to community members served by seminary graduates.”
The benefits of the e-readers and their contents are not lost on students or faculty. Mashaka Mutoma, a student at East Congo School of Theology at Kindu in the Democratic Republic of Congo studying theology, said the devices are bringing modernity to the university. Another student, Jocia Tembo Bienfait, said he couldn’t have imagined using devices like the Kindle in rural areas like Kindu.
Pastor Leo T. Mayson, from the Monrovia District of the Liberia Annual Conference, said “I am very thankful to God for the E-reader Project that was put together for pastors in seminary to have access to and learn from materials that will help with our ministry in our area of assignment, be it a local church or teaching in a school.
Mayson, who was one of the first beneficiaries of the e-readers at Gbarnga School of Theology, expressed this hope: “My prayers are for this good work of the Lord to go throughout the United Methodist seminaries to give pastors the opportunity to learn without access to the internet. This e-reader has transformed my personal life, ministry, and teaching.”
Reverend Antoine Otoka, a faculty member at East Congo School of Theology at Kindu, believes the e-readers are doing more than putting a “library in the pocket” of the students. “After reading many books in the e-readers,” Otoka said, “I found that the tool is helping to equalize the resourcing available to students studying in Congo. The e-readers help reduce the ‘inferiority complex’ of pastors trained in Africa and those trained in Europe or America.” He added that the devices are equally helping both students and faculty.
Pippin, director of the project, expressed gratitude for the partnership with UMPH. “Tammy Gaines, Brian Milford, and editors such as Paul Franklyn helped to shape the e-libraries we are able to offer to our schools in the central conferences,” Pippin said. “Their contribution to the project can’t be overestimated, and their cooperation with us has made possible the distribution of a very high-quality Methodist library to many who formerly had access to very few books. They are really strengthening the global connection in this important way.”
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.
The E-Readers for Theological Education initiative is a partnership with Higher Education and Ministry and Discipleship Ministries and is committed to providing e-libraries on e-readers with important theological texts to the libraries of United Methodist-related and sponsored theological schools in Africa and the Philippines. Learn more about the E-Reader project and donate today ª