Do you know what the Christian Record Braille Foundation is doing? It produces five monthly brailled magazines, including one in large print, one on records, and one on tapes. It conducts a Bible correspondence school in Braille and on records; operates a large Braille lending library; produces several "talking books" on records, such as The Desire of Ages; supplies the thirty-one regional libraries of the Library of Congress with generous quantities of recorded books, and likewise supplies various overseas libraries; initiates new types of services, such as the Full Vision Library for blind parents of sighted young children; conducts a preschool nursery for blind children; grants scholarships to blind youth; does a great deal to inform the public of the needs of blind and visually handicapped children and adults; employs sixty full- and part-time district representatives to visit blind people in their homes and help them in every possible way, and to solicit support of our services from the businessmen. (We always need more men and women representatives.) We send our services into seventy-seven countries around the globe.
The Christian Record Braille Foundation is a General Conference institution, as are the Voice of Prophecy and Faith for Today. It began back in 1899 in Battle Creek, Michigan, and moved to Lincoln in 1904.
Sixty-five per cent of the blind people in the United States become blind after they reach fifty years of age. Cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes, accidents, and miscellaneous diseases rob them of sight. More than 37,000 persons in the United States and Canada became blind in 1963.
Unfortunately, blindness can strike any of us. In the United States and Canada we are somewhat aware of this possibility. But since both city governments and various organizations that serve blind people have joined in an effort to remove blind beggars from the streets, many in this country seldom think of sightless people. Our fellow workers in overseas divisions, however, see scores of blind people. Trachoma, an irritating granular disease of the inner eyelids, which often leads to loss of sight, is rampant in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the subcontinent of India. We are informed by authorities that one person out of every seven in the world population has trachoma.
The Christian Record has been referring to the scope of blindness as 18 million blind people in the world and 126 million more who are visually handicapped. This is a total of 144 million! It was only a few short years ago when 144 million was the total population in the United States. We have gathered statistics from various organizations, and we discover a wide difference in them. One nationally known organization says that there are 10 million blind people in the world. Another authority who has as ready access to information says there are more than that number in India alone. Our figure of 18 million, we believe, is conservative and defendable.
The legal definition of blindness used in the United States includes two main points: first, a blind person must be within 20 feet of a given object in order to see it, whereas a person with normal vision can see the object when at least 200 feet from it; the second qualification is that a person's field of vision must not cover an area wider than a certain maximum angle.
Our estimate of the number of visually handicapped—not legally blind—people is arrived at by observation in the United States and Canada, and by projecting a much higher incidence in certain foreign countries where authorities recognize that multiple incidences exist. By the term "visually handicapped" we mean people who, because of their visual difficulties, are not able with the aid of eyeglasses to carry on normal activities.
One of the tasks of our church is to reach these 144 million people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Could you stand where I am for a while, you would see that the church has done very little to evangelize these millions of blind and visually handicapped people—almost an entire continent of them. As a denomination we wouldn't think of operating anything short of a worldwide evangelistic program. Therefore these people should not be passed by.
We are not blaming anyone for our not tackling this particular problem. We all have been busy. But let us get this situation into its proper focus and then start thinking and planning. Let us make use of the best of all pertinent information and counsel, not waiting, however, until every pebble has been removed, not waiting for a satisfying answer to every question, but in at least one major language start something that is carefully and prayerfully thought out, gain experience, and make adjustments accordingly. Our present methods of evangelizing these people are not sufficient.
In the North American Division some may ask, "Where is the fruitage of your operations here?" When the general public provided the funds to conduct our doctrinal Bible courses and to braille the These Times magazine, blind people were being baptized in this division every month. On one occasion we had answers from more than seventy blind persons who declared they believed God's message for this hour; that they were either keeping the Sabbath or wanting to do so. Now, fellow ministers, here are the facts: We processed these names through regular channels. A few were baptized, but most were never contacted. Many continued to read our books and magazines. But they needed personal attention. Of course our ministers cannot encompass all the work, but there are willing laymen who would gladly respond to the challenge. Why not train them by taking them into the homes of the people as a publishing leader takes a recruit? Jesus trained His disciples by taking them with Him. He also told them they would do a work even greater than His.
In 1959 we were faced with the declaration that the national accrediting body of workers for the blind would not grant us accreditation again unless the denomination would pay for our doctrinal services to blind and handicapped people. They had warned us about this for several years. But as we had no system of securing funds from our own people we could not say we were paying for the doctrinal services.
We took the problem to our board of trustees, thence to the officers of the General Conference. It was later brought to the autumn council and the General Conference voted an appropriation of $30,000 to pay for the "doctrinal" services that year. Also it was planned for a general church offering to be taken up on a certain date once each two years beginning in 1960. We were very grateful! Now we could look any person in the face and tell him the only funds we solicit from the public are to pay for free services that benefit the general blind public and that those are nonsectarian and that our church members pay for the doctrinal services. That cleared the consciences of our soliciting representatives. They now work with great freedom.
But this was only the beginning of a solution. Some of us actually used twelve minutes of sermon time each Sabbath in all sizes of churches across the continent for a questionnaire. Had our people ever heard of the Christian Record? Did they know it was a General Conference institution? Did they know what the organization does? Six out of seven Adventists in the North American Division did not know a thing about the Christian Record! And we were about to approach them for an offering!
We wrote articles, preached in many churches, met with our ministers in workers' meetings, attended union sessions and camp meetings, produced a film. We sent out promotional material and tapes and envelopes to aid in the offering.
But hundreds of churches missed the offering that year, because in 1960 nine camp meetings were held on the offering date. In 1962 fourteen camp meetings convened on the offering date, and at the same time each church was raising its quota for the special Million-Dollar Offering to be reported at the General Conference session that summer. Now, in 1964 sixteen camp meetings have been held on the offering date, June 13. With such obstacles, plus the fact that this is not an annual offering like almost all other such offerings, we receive considerably less funds than we need, and therefore we have had to stop producing some of the real soul-winning doctrinal services. Harvest depends upon at least seed and God's blessing. He will bless even a few seeds. But what a difference it would make if we could plant for a full crop! Our people will give when invited to do so.
Many of our workers have the idea that the Christian Record has more money than it needs. I thought so too until a few days after I joined the organization. Then I discovered that the Christian Record was poor compared to the staggering needs of the people. We adopted the general program of spending all public contributions in the year in which they were received, by producing the equivalent amount of free services, and so informed the public. That action became a great blessing to blind people and produced immediate respect among city and State government agencies, the national accrediting body, and thousands of contributors. Like almost every local and union conference in North America, we needed interest or dividend money regularly to help pay operating expenses. Seeking counsel from our leaders and brethren of experience, as well as from several non-Adventist businessmen, we changed investment policies to effect an increased interest and dividend. Of our total budget of more than $400,000 annually we try to save for replacement or additional equipment and for new types of services about 5 per cent, or $20,000. This will need to be increased to about 8 per cent. Not long ago our annual budget was something over $100,000. Now it is over $400,000. It really should be over $4 million.
But another challenge is this, that we produce in the English language only. Many of the 144 million people we must reach with the gospel use other languages. We have so far to go before this part of the denomination's work catches up with the rest. Yet all must be finished before our Saviour's return.
Let us pray that this great missionary enterprise to win blind people to Christ will very soon shift gears from "low" to "second," from "second" to "high." Then as the ministry of the church sees and understands the situation we shall bypass "high gear" and get into "overdrive." This is where we should be, because millions, like Bartimeus of old, are crying: "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me."