Two LCMS Recognized Service Organizations that have served blind and low-vision people for many years — both in the United States and worldwide — pooled their resources July 1 to become one entity.
Leaders of both Lutheran Blind Mission (LBM), based in St. Louis, and Lutheran Braille Workers (LBW), in Yucaipa, Calif., describe the move as beneficial for all: the ministries, the volunteers who serve them, the donors who fund them, and those with vision impairments who depend on the organizations for assistance.
LBM, with about 1,000 volunteers, produces Lutheran Service Book and other congregation-based materials in braille and large print; operates one of the world’s largest Christian libraries for the blind; and oversees about 65 “outreach centers for the blind,” where some 1,500 people meet regularly for fellowship, training and worship.
LBW, with more than 5,000 volunteers, produces the Bible and other Christian materials in braille and large-print formats in 30 languages, and provides them free of charge to visually impaired people in more than 120 countries.
“Unifying these two ministries is good, right and proper for many reasons,” said LBW President Rev. Dr. Phillip M. Pledger. “This merger of ministries [creates] one exciting, distinguished and highly effective ministry that serves people with visual impairment throughout the world.”
Pledger says the combined ministry will “bless” blind and low-vision people worldwide by providing “one focused and comprehensive ministry” that can serve “a broad range of needs” through Christian materials, fellowship groups, library services and discipleship training.
It will “bless” volunteers, he said, by erasing any confusion they may have about the two ministries and allowing them to “embrace a larger vision of the ministry they currently serve.”
Pledger added that the integrated ministry “will encourage current donors that we are excellent stewards of God’s gifts, have placed people with visual disability first, and that this … is the most capable ministry in the world to bring the message of Jesus to the more than 161 million people with visual disability throughout the world.”
Although each entity is retaining its own name, at least through 2012, LBM is now a ministry of LBW, which remains at its current location in California. Pledger serves as president of the new organization, and the Rev. Dave Andrus, former LBM executive director, remains in St. Louis as its administrator of Christian outreach. In that role, Andrus — who is blind — oversees the outreach centers and speaks to congregations about blind ministry.
LBM’s Library for the Blind has moved from St. Louis to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, Fla., but will continue to provide free, on-loan, braille, large-type and audiocassette materials to those with limited or no sight. Holy Cross, an LBW braille work center, has ample storage space to house the library’s 6,500 items, plus about 100 volunteers who can help with the ministry.
“We have — on and off over the past 25 years — thought, why are there two groups? There really should only be one,” Andrus said, referring to the leaders of both blind ministries. “It makes more sense to have one, both for the donors and for the volunteers,” he told Reporter, and “it’s going to simplify services also for those who are blind and visually impaired.”
Andrus said that, at least initially, both ministries “will be pretty much remaining the same, and the effort will be on integrating and learning from one another. We each have different strengths, and that’s another reason to come together. [LBW is] very strong in manufacturing products, and we’re very strong in hands-on ministry.”
The combined ministry will have one administrative staff, one development department, and a single production-oversight and order center.
“We want to see this ministry, which serves people who are blind, survive and grow,” says Andrus. “If we unify, there is strength in a larger unit” and “a larger opportunity to reach out worldwide.”
Perhaps most important, he adds, is that “the strengths of both organizations working together can accomplish more for Jesus than when they work separately.”
For more information about what services are available for blind and visually impaired people, contact Lutheran Braille Workers at 800-925-6092 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, visit its website at www.lbwinc.org.
Posted July 18, 2012