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Getting the Word Out

In its 55 Years, TN Printing Ministry has Printed 55 Million Bibles, Shipping them to 125 Countries

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On September 21, 1968, a group of pastors and preachers gathered around a small 1250 multilith press in the Hemphill Baptist Temple’s former church property in Fort Worth, Texas, and asked for God’s blessing and direction to print His Word.

In that group was Pastor Bob Lemmon, who believed the church should be responsible for printing and publishing Scripture instead of outsourcing the work to commercial publishing companies—which they had been raising money for.

The pastors decided to print the New Testament and whole Bibles as soon as they could raise funds to purchase the necessary equipment. Thus, the Bible and Literature Missionary Foundation (BLMF) was born.

Lemmon resigned from his church in 1970 to raise support for BLMF by petitioning churches across the country. The following year, Lemmon and his wife moved to their former hometown of Shelbyville, Tennessee. BLMF printed its first New Testament in 1972 and the whole Bible in 1978.

BLMF, now a printing ministry of Victory Baptist Church in Shelbyville, prints its materials onsite and ships them to missionaries worldwide.

According to its website, since 1968 BLMF has printed over 55 million Scriptures in 55 languages for 125 countries, partnering with local churches.

MinistryWatch contacted BLMF to ask if they have processes to ensure items do not remain in a container or warehouse instead of reaching individuals in need.

BLMF Co-Founder and Lemmon’s son, Robert Lemmon Jr., replied, “You bet we do, it would be total lunacy for us not to!”

Lemmon Jr. said the cost of paper, materials, and containers to ship them in is tens of thousands of dollars, and BLMF has tight criteria for who or what missions they will send Bibles to.

Over 90% of the Bibles BLMF produces are shipped in 20-foot containers, weighing approximately 40,000 lbs. Each.

The paper and materials in each container range from $70,000 to $87,000, depending on the material used for the cover. Shipping containers cost an additional $6,000 to $20,000 each, depending on the destination and applicable customs and duties.

Lemmon Jr. said that once BLMF commits to ship a container, it continues communicating with the missionary in charge of receiving it.

“We notify them when the container ships, and they are required to notify us as soon as it arrives,” he said. “They are required to have suitable weather-tight storage to store them in until they are distributed.”

In 2022, BLMF sent 24 containers abroad. According to Lemmon Jr., in the 16 years that BLMF has been shipping containers, they have never lost one.

Lemmon Jr. also told MinistryWatch that BLMF undergoes much closer scrutiny and accountability monthly than most ministries.

He said seven pastors representing different churches govern BLMF as a Board of Directors. The directors receive a monthly financial statement, and BLMF holds tri-annual business meetings to discuss the stewardship of its funds.

According to Lemmon Jr., none of these pastors receive financial compensation for their service to BLMF, which is confirmed in the ministry’s latest public 990.

However, the document lists $561,155 in other salaries and wages. When asked how BLMF distributed the money, Lemmon Jr. said it went to their 20-22 employees. With last year’s substantial increase in production, most part-time people were working 30-40 hours a week.

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“We use a lot of volunteers also, but unskilled volunteers cannot—nor would we allow them to try to—operate any of our equipment,” he added. “It requires trained and experienced operators to operate our two web offset presses, three offset sheetfed presses, two digital printers, our 10 or 12 pieces of bindery equipment, and our sophisticated computer system.”

BLMF also gives its employees cost of living pay increases yearly, on top of working more employees for more hours.

“Realistically, this is an awful lot of money to me,” Lemmon Jr. said. “—but when you do the math, $561,155 in wages divided among 18 full-time and three or four part-time employees would tell you that some of our people are grossly underpaid, especially when you figure that we employ two experienced web press operators earning $30 and $35 an hour.”

In addition to salary increases, the ministry spent more on paper in 2022 due to a $10,000 increase per trailer load of paper.

Lemmon Jr. told MinistryWatch that BLMF will not be able to purchase its usual three loads per month until it increases its contributions by $30,000 monthly to cover the inflation.

Still, BLMF’s top goal every year is to produce and distribute more Bibles, New Testaments, and Scriptures than they did the previous year, and, as time and finances permit, add additional languages to those BLMF already printed.

Main photo: Photo via social media / Courtesy of BLMF

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Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.