Love Packages ensures that people around the globe have Bibles and other Christian reading materials.

In 1999, after reading that the Zambian president said there was no Christian literature in his country, Steven Schmidt wrote that nation’s leader a letter about his missionary outreach Love Packages that sends Bibles and other items around the world.

At the president’s invitation, Schmidt went to the southern African country, where he met with Zambia’s evangelical fellowship.

“The first question was, ‘What kind of Sunday school literature do you have?’ ” Schmidt said.

People looked at each other. Someone finally spoke.

“He said, ‘I don’t know whether I can speak for everybody,’” Schmidt said, “ ‘but as far as I know, there’s not a church in Zambia that has any Sunday school literature.’

“The guy that was sitting beside me said, ‘I’m a bishop. I’m in charge of 700 churches. I can tell you for a fact that most of my pastors don’t have Bibles.’ ”

So over the years, Love Packages has sent literally tons of donated Christian literature to Zambia, and countless additional items to more than 120 other countries, ensuring that Christians worldwide have Bibles, devotionals, magazines and other materials that support their faith.

Sometimes nicknamed “God’s Recycler,” Schmidt helps ship 20 tons (1 million pieces) of donated Christian literature a week overseas through Love Packages, the ministry he founded some 35 years ago.

Operating since 1995 at a former school complex in Butler, about 45 miles south of Springfield, Love Packages accepts new, used and outdated Christian literature and materials.

Americans don’t have a clue how much Christian literature means to nations that don’t have it because “we have so much,” Schmidt said.

“It’s overwhelming the need.”

Moving God’s word

Schmidt and his wife, Jeanie, started Love Packages in 1975 from their basement. A small stack of Christian literature that sat in their dining room became the ministry’s impetus.

“Every time I walked through there, God pointed his finger at me … . He said, ‘Steve, you’re wasting that,’” Schmidt said.

Schmidt wondered where to begin.

He wrote to men overseas asking if they could use Christian literature in English.

The response came quickly. “The letters … said, ‘Yes. We can use as much as you can get here as soon as you can get here,’” Schmidt said.

In the first year of operation, Love Packages shipped 60 boxes of literature to missionaries in four countries.

Love Packages grew from Schmidt’s home to a church and then to its current location. From there, the ministry expects to send out more than 1,000 tons (50 million pieces) in 2011. Since its establishment, Love Packages has sent more than 11,000 tons of literature overseas.

Testimony to the need

In many cases, people around the world can’t afford a Bible, even if one is sold in their country.

“The average income, per person, per year where we send our literature is $200 a year,” Schmidt said. For people earning a dollar a day, a $10 Bible would be a sizeable investment.

Individuals and churches help Love Packages raise support to ship literature overseas. The ministry needs about $200,000 for shipping expenses each year. The outreach sends 20-foot, ocean-going containers to port cities worldwide, with recent shipments going to Nigeria, Tanzania and Guatemala.

The literature the ministry sends is free thanks to donations from individuals, groups and several Christian publishing houses, including David C. Cook in Elgin, Ill., and Urban Ministries Inc. in Calumet City, Ill.

“We get about 7 tons of mail a week,” said Schmidt, including some literature in foreign languages such as Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Last year, 1,700 volunteers helped with duties such as sorting materials into six categories: Bibles, reference material, Sunday school literature, books and paperbacks, magazines and daily devotionals, and cassettes, tracts and miscellaneous items. Boxes are color-coded with dots so recipients know what’s inside.

Never-ending need

Schmidt once arranged to meet a literature distributor in northeastern India. Schmidt arrived as appointed. His friend did not.

His friend’s delay was caused when 10 men from neighboring Myanmar showed up at the friend’s home because they heard they could get Christian literature that was unavailable in their country. Schmidt’s friend offered them two boxes of materials from Love Packages.

“He said, ‘They sat down in my front room and just began to cry.’ They said, ‘Don’t you understand? We’ve come so far. We’ve walked so far. We’ve walked 15 days. Can’t you give us any Bibles?’” Schmidt said.

That night, Schmidt’s friend stood in front of the congregation, telling them about the men from Myanmar.

“That whole congregation gave their Bibles to these men,” Schmidt said. “That talks volumes about sacrifice and about the hunger that there is.”

Tamara Browning can be reached at 217-788-1534.