National Lutheran News

Giving sight and insight to those who are blind

John Gustav Erickson had completed his seminary education at the Augustana
Synod seminary at Rock Island, but he wasn’t ordained for quite a while. The
synod didn’t know if a blind person could serve as a pastor.

“John knew it was hard to access the Bible and spiritual materials in Braille,”
explains Barb Hawkinson, current staff person at Lutheran Braille Evangelism
Association (LBEA). “After serving in many fill-in pastorates throughout
Minnesota, he was eventually ordained,” adds the Rev. Dennis Hawkinson,
executive director of LBEA and Barb’s husband.

His experience and his passion for the Gospel drove Erickson to establish
LBEA in 1952. Since then, this group has been providing services to the blind
community.

“Our mission statement states we are ‘helping the sightless to see the Savior,”
Barb explains. “We provide Christ-centered materials for the blind and those
who cannot read regular print.”

The LBEA provides a wide variety of resources for persons who are blind and
those with limited vision. “We have a variety of resources, starting with Tract
Messenger, a magazine that is sent free of charge to hundreds of blind
persons, both here and overseas,” Dennis mentions. “And that includes a
number of countries in Africa, as well as India and Bangladesh,” adds Barb.
They believe that the magazine’s name comes from Erickson’s inclusion of
evangelical tracts in the magazine mailings.

“We also have the Christian Magnifier, a publication provided either in large
print or audio editions for people who are sight-impaired,” Barb explains.
“It’s published 11 times per year in 18-point bold typeface, and it usually is
given free of charge to blind or sight-impaired persons, but we like to get $7
for it.

“And we give away most of our Braille Bibles, though they cost $508 dollars
each. Sometimes we receive a thank offering; and occasionally a congregation
will underwrite a Braille Bible for someone,” Dennis states.

This Revised Standard Version of the Braille Bible, published by National
Braille Press in Boston, comes in 24 volumes, each measuring three inches
thick and about 16 by 12 inches. “So you need a wagon to get it around,”
Barb says.

That explains the Hawkinson’s excitement for BibleCourier, or the “talking
digital Bible.” The size of a hand-held cassette recorder and with a 12-key
telephone-like pad, the BibleCourier uses a computer chip and a synthesized
voice to offer access to the entire Bible for those who cannot see. “And it fits
in one’s pocket or purse,” says Barb.

“We offer the BibleCourier at a subsidized cost. We charge $75 for each one,
but we pay $125,” Dennis states. “And we must do a minimum of 500 units,
so we spend a lot up front.”

In its latest version, BibleCourier includes two versions of the Bible. “Lots of
blind people have told us that they can look up verses now faster than
sighted persons in their Bible study group,” Barb adds.

What is Lutheran about LBEA? The bylaws of this non-profit organization
mandate that the board be primarily Lutheran, but doesn’t dictate what
tradition. The LBEA treasurer is an Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
member, while Hawkinson himself is an Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America pastor. In fact, all three directors have been Lutheran pastors. In
addition, Luther’s Small Catechism is included on the BibleCourier.

The Hawkinsons have been involved in this ministry since 1988, and have just
celebrated their 20th anniversary with LBEA. “We feel confidant that this is
what the Lord wants us to do, so it is not a burden,” Barb explains.

For more information, visit the LBEA Web site at www.lbea.org or call the
Hawkinsons at 651/426-0469.