From Here to There
The incredible journey of the Adult Bible Study Guide
By Lee Dunstan
From its gestation to church pew, the Adult Bible Study Guide—formerly called the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly—takes about three years to produce.
First, there is the commissioning of an author, or what the Adult Bible Study Guide Department headquartered at the Adventist Church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, calls the principal contributor. Then come the writing, the reviewing, and the editing; finally, it is printed. It takes time.
Approximately 2.7 million adult study guides—which includes all five editions (standard, teachers, easy-reading, abridged easy-reading, and large-print) in 85 languages and dialects—are printed and distributed worldwide each quarter through Adventist Book Centers and local churches, according to Gary Swanson, associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department. Most church members who use the Adult Bible Study Guide, however, are probably not aware of the long production process and give it little thought when they open the study guide to Lesson 1 at the beginning of a quarter. But while most of us may take our study guide for granted, that mindset isn’t universal.
In developing economies of the Pacific there’s often little infrastructure outside of the capital city and a few regional towns. In order to reach the many remote communities in a timely fashion, the study guide must begin its journey to them months before the quarter begins. It’s to the credit of the church that on any given Sabbath throughout the world, its members are all studying the same topic and bringing an amazing diversity of thought to focus on it.
The Journey Begins
Once printed, the study guides are bound and boxed, ready for dispatch. There always seems to be a squeeze on production in order to make the next “sailing,” and tradespeople will often work into the night or during a weekend in order to meet the deadline, sometimes pushing back other urgently needed production. The study guides are shipped out of Melbourne for a voyage of up to three weeks to the island nations of Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. Boats to these countries are relatively frequent and regular, but that isn’t the case for many others.
To Remote Regions
But that’s only the beginning of the disbursement process. Now word goes out by UHF radio and radiotelephone to district directors and pastors of the scores of hilltop churches and atoll outposts in their care: their supply of precious lesson guides has arrived.
Local missionaries, pastors, and church elders then make the journey to the mission or district headquarters to pick up their study guides. For those in the PNG highlands, where roads don’t connect with most villages, that might mean a two- or three-day trek—one way. Of course, if they’re lucky, a mission plane may deliver the study guides to an airstrip just across the valley. That’s only a one- or two-day hike in precipitous Papua New Guinea, and although you could almost shoot an arrow across the valley, the descent and ascent in each direction is a real “killer.” For the island churches on the atolls of the huge Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands, for example, it could mean paddling a canoe from island to island for a number of days. Although powered canoes are available, petrol (gasoline) is largely unaffordable, even if obtainable.
While the Adventist church most remote from its headquarters in the South Pacific is Pitcairn Island, the Republic of Kiribati, which consists of 33 islands dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles), is probably the best example of remoteness, both in distance and access. Its nearest island to union mission headquarters in Fiji is still 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) distant, while its most distant is about 2,000 miles (3,300 kilometers) away. Adding to distance is access, as very few boats ply its outer islands on a regular timetable, so getting those study guides out requires ingenuity and patience. But it’s worth it.
The Bread and Butter of Bible Study
“The study of the Sabbath school quarterly brings spiritual strength and insight to the Sabbath school members,” Tasa says.
He adds that the study guide has a way of finding its way into all manner of surprising places. Members of many denominations regularly purchase the study guides on sale in the ABCs, as they, like their Adventist friends, have little else in the way of spiritual publications they can both afford and read with understanding.
Study Guides Come to the Rescue
I’ve heard other such mission stories too—of people who’ve used the Adult Bible Study Guide to roll cigarettes, tearing out the pages one smoke at a time, until they began reading the remnants, and eventually found their way into the church as a result.
The End of the Journey—or Not?
There is no end to this journey.
Lee Dunstan is managing editor of the Signs Publishing Company in Victoria, Australia.