LERWICK CHRISTIAN BOOKSHOP
We are sometimes asked the question, “How and when did the bookshop start?” There is no doubt in our minds that it was first of all in the heart of God, for He knew the need of a place in Shetland where people could obtain good Christian literature. Then He put it into the heart of one of His servants (a colporteur) in the Metropolitan Mission, Glasgow, to visit Shetland and to go door to door in order to contact people and to leave Gospel literature in the homes.
A well known and highly respected Christian lady, Mrs. Florence Flaws, who lived in the Dunrossness area, was one person the missionary visited. At the time Mrs. Flaws was desirous of enrichment and encouragement in her spiritual life. She bought a Christian magazine, the Message of Victory, from the caller. In a later (the May-June 1951) edition of the Message of Victory, Mrs. Flaws writes: “How wonderful God works. How eagerly I read and reread the pages. It seemed to suit my need. I did not have any difficulty as to the fact of God being willing to receive me. I knew I must first yield myself to God a living sacrifice, lay my all on the altar—time, talents, money and everything I possessed. I rose from my knees with a calm, settled peace and with an assurance that I had received what God had promised to those that obey Him.”
We believe this was in 1934 and that Mrs. Flaws kept in contact with the Metropolitan Mission during the years that followed and was a regular visitor to the Annual Convention in Glasgow, held by the Mission. God gave Mrs. Flaws a concern for the spiritual needs of Shetland. Many will still remember the Sunday School for local children which she held in her home every Sunday afternoon. She also arranged for an Evangelical Campaign to be held for a few weeks in Dunrossness, led by Rev. and Mrs. E. F. Harvey, accompanied by a team of Mission workers. Mrs. Flaws, sometimes assisted by one of the workers, conducted a weekly Bible Study in her home as a follow-up after the campaign. This was a great help to a number of Christians and new converts.
About this time, two properties in Lerwick (which she had inherited) were donated to the Mission by Mrs. Flaws—a house at No. 13 Market Street and a property at No. 30 Market Street. The latter was used at times as a temporary accommodation for Mission workers and also part was used as a bookstore. This was later developed into a Christian Literature shop open to the public in the early 1950’s. Through the years various workers were given the opportunity of working in the shop and of developing the work and witness at and from the Centre. The Mission ran the shop until it was taken over by Message of Victory Evangelism (M.O.V.E.) in the 1960’s.
At this point we want to include a few reminiscences from some of the workers, and these contain not only the work in the shop but the very necessary door to door work, etc., which was carried on for many years. The door to door work, especially in the earlier years, covered most of the islands and was a means not only of spreading the Gospel, but it gave the opportunity to inform the islanders of the presence of the bookshop in Lerwick. It also helped to augment the bookshop takings.
From Betty Gates, Glasgow.
Early in 1955 . . . I was assigned to help with the bookshop in Lerwick, assisting with Phyllis McKane who had arrived there some weeks previously.
Well I remember my introduction to the Shetland islands!! The small (very small!) plane taking me to Shetland looked very fragile and did not do a great deal for my initiation to air travel but my nervousness was helped somewhat when I looked under the seat in front of me and saw a reassuring bundle there. “Oh,” I thought, “that is fine! At least we all have parachutes should the worse come to the worst!” There was no one there to inform me that the “bundles” were life-jackets, not parachutes! Truly, “Ignorance is bliss” sometimes.
When the plane did arrive at Sumburgh Airport we boarded a small bus that was waiting there to take us to Lerwick, but had hardly started our journey before the sky darkened rather ominously and then the bus stalled and the driver had to get out to try and solve the problem. When he got back into the bus, he looked like a snowman—being covered from head to toe with snow. We had arrived right in the middle of a snowstorm. We did arrive in Lerwick safely some time later and I was thankful to get to my new “home” for the time being.
Unfortunately, the severe snowy weather continued for up to three weeks, with few people able to enter or leave Lerwick during that time. . . So there we were, Phyllis and I, with a bookshop to run, lots of books to sell—and no customers!! As we were both new to Shetland, we didn’t know many Lerwick folks either. Probably, in a situation like that, one of us would have tried to carry out some colportage work right there in the town, but unfortunately, the Mission team which had preceded us had already been door to door in Lerwick, and it was just not possible to go elsewhere.
We decided we would take advantage of the quiet period to spring-clean the shop and do some painting and decorating. However, that did not bring us in any money but, faithful as always to His children’s needs, just as we were wondering what we would do to get a few groceries, the Lord sent a nice gentleman to the shop, clad in motor-cycle gear, who told us he was the vicar from the local Church of England, and he wanted to pay an overdue bill!! Were we glad??
Weather, etc., improved gradually after that and we were able to get on with our bookshop and colportage duties, etc. It was lovely working in the shop and gradually getting to know many Christian folks from various churches as they came in to buy books, Sunday School supplies, etc. The premises had limited space but we felt that Christian folk did appreciate having at least one shop in the town that was trying to meet these needs. Our general plan of operation was for one of us, week about, to man the shop and the other, weather permitting, to travel to the more outlying villages, etc., to sell our books, Bibles, etc. . . .
But apart from running the bookshop and carrying out colportage work, we gradually got involved in other things in Lerwick and elsewhere, such as visiting the elderly folk in Brevick Hospital on a Sunday afternoon and getting to know them. Then there were the weekly Bible Study meetings held in Dunrossness in the home of Mrs. Flaws, a long-time faithful friend and supporter of the work carried out by the Metropolitan Mission, where it was a blessing and encouragement to meet up with other Shetland friends—a number of whom had attended our Mission’s annual conventions in Glasgow. With the advent of Spring also, Phyllis and myself were able to take turns travelling further afield with our books to places like Burra Isle, Bressay, etc., and it was wonderful to be able to do this once again.
The passing months had enabled us to get acquainted with many of the ministers and other Mission-workers in Lerwick and elsewhere. The Salvation Army officers got to know us very well through the bookshop and seemed to find a wealth of information there to help them in their meetings. We became good friends, and were frequently invited to their quarters to share supper and fellowship with them on a Sunday evening, after all the services were finished for the day. . . .
One particular event we were asked to be involved in had to do with the Billy Graham Campaign being held in Glasgow that Spring of 1955. Many areas throughout Scotland were able to organize things so that the meetings were relayed to different venues in a number of towns. In Lerwick the churches worked together to do the same, and we were pleased to be approached with the request to provide a bookstall for the duration of the special meetings, something that would fill a particular need for any new Christians who would need nurturing and follow-up afterwards. This was a golden opportunity to introduce folks visiting our stall to books about the lives of godly men and women that could be a blessing and help to them in their walk with God long after the meetings were over and gone.
All in all, both Phyllis and I loved the time spent in Shetland, and indeed had some enthusiastic plans for the work if our time there was to be extended. However, that was not to be.
From Marshall and Martha Russell, N. Ireland
We spent almost four very happy years in Shetland from July 1956 to January 1960. We had just been married two months when we were asked to take a team there for special meetings. It turned out that we stayed there for that time and fell in love with the Islands and the people. We also have two lovely daughters who were born in Midgarth Maternity Unit. Those years have proved to be some of the highlights of our lives. We made friendships which we have treasured until now.
Marshall must have visited almost every home on the mainland, and on some of the islands. The chance to get good Christian literature into their homes and village halls, was much appreciated, and the reading of the Scripture and a word of prayer, encouraged many a lonely Christian or anxious soul. Martha kept the bookshop and had many opportunities to speak for the Lord and share a problem. She also was host to many who were in town and had time to spend, and a cup of tea was always very welcome.
One ministry God really blessed to ourselves and others, was the regular cottage meetings from Dunrossness to the Northern villages. We studied God’s Word and had prayer together. We also had a service somewhere in these areas on Sunday evenings. . .
Another outreach we hoped would reach souls, was evenings spent on the street when the shops were shut and boats came in for supplies, or tourists were walking leisurely around. We went down and mixed with folk, taking every opportunity to speak of the Lord. . . . There were also soldiers at the garrison sometimes and we reminded them as we could some of what they had learned in Sunday School.
We were privileged in all these ways to reach some who did not know our Saviour, and that Christians like ourselves would seek and find more and more of the fullness of Christ. This was indeed the desire of our good friend, Mrs. Flaws, who had a vision for her beloved Islands, and made possible our stay, and many others, and the work there that is so ably going on, and much expanded since our time there.
The invitation to come to the Islands, came from a lovely, God-fearing woman (the late Mrs. Flaws of Dunrossness). She, as a keen Christian woman, carried a great burden on her heart for the salvation of young men and women in the area. Her earnest desire and prayer to God was that many of her neighbours would be brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ. God heard her heartfelt cry, and to this day a good number, having given their hearts and lives to Christ at that time, are still serving Him today in various types of Christian work. . . .
Our team was royally treated by the Islanders. It seemed that they could not do enough to make us feel at home. One can never forget the Gospel meetings conducted in the Dunrossness Church of Scotland. It was a lovely old church, lit by oil lamps and heated by paraffin heaters. There were some wonderful sights of small lamps and torches lighting the paths across the fields, carried by those coming to attend the meetings. The presence of God was felt in those services, and sometimes we get a longing again—not for the hardships involved—but to see the same desire in the hearts of men and women to draw near to the Lord. Ah! Those were precious times. . .
The time came for us to leave Shetland, and to this day, we still get a longing to go back to Lerwick. . . On the occasional visit there, it has thrilled us to see the growth of the Christian Book Shop and the condition in which it is kept. There are many very good changes there now, and it is with great pleasure we noticed the warmth of the welcome we received.
From Aeronwy Murdoch, Lerwick.
It was 1952 when I made my first visit to Shetland. The Mission team, who had been working there, returned to Glasgow leaving Margaret Wilson and me staying in No. 13. By that time the Christian Bookshopwas functioning in No. 30.
By 1962 when I came to Shetland as a newly wed to Thomas Murdoch he was looking after the bookshop. . . The building at No. 30 was in a poor shape. Tommy had worked hard to keep it water-tight, etc.
Tommy and I occupied the down stair flat at No. 13, and the Mission sent James Selfridge to install a bat
hroom. James was preparing to go to Africa as a missionary. He spent six weeks in Shetland. Barry Tait was born in Shetland and was brought up with his parents in Australia. He was still in his teens when he came first to England where he got saved. He spent some weeks visiting relatives in Burra and Bigton. He asked James if he could work with him. He asked for no wages, but for his keep. It was God’s provision. They shared at our table, had morning prayers and then spent the day working.
The Building Project at No. 30.
The property at No. 30 Market Street that housed the bookshop was a considerable age, and while workers (one of whom was Mr. T. Murdoch) had endeavoured to do repairs as was very necessary at times, it became evident that, if it was to continue to be used as a bookshop, a major rebuilding project would have to be set in motion. This seemed almost too big. The approval of the Message of Victory Evangelism (M.O.V.E.) Trust was granted for the building project to go ahead. This was in 1981. A couple from the Mission, John and Peggy Black, were willing to go up to help. However, in order to comply with building regulations, acceptable plans had to be submitted for the approval of the Shetland Islands Council. How was this to be done? Jean Ward was working in the shop at the time and was very aware of the damage being caused during Shetland’s winter gales and she prayed much for God’s help and guidance. Help outside ourselves was needed. It was felt that if it was God’s will for the ministry to continue, His help and guidance would be given. How this came about was really beyond expectation.
A customer came into the shop one day and on hearing of what was in mind, volunteered his help. He was Mr. Bunn, an architect/technician with Shetland Islands Council. This was a great answer to prayer. He drew the plans and presented them to us in a short time, as his tithe to the Lord. The plans were approved in 1982.
Another answer to prayer at this stage was the tremendous help from a group of young Christians from the Cunningsburgh area. Malcolm Adamson was an electrician who, along with his brother, offered to do the electric wiring. He also was very helpful in advising about a reliable builder. Gair and Smith gave an acceptable estimate. Malcolm sometimes would come just at the right time to go over things with the builder which was a great relief to
Miss Jean Ward.
First of all, part of the building had to be demolished and all the interior cleared, and the roof removed. This meant that all the shop stock had to be moved over to the house at No. 13. Help again came from the Christian friends from Cunningsburgh and other local Christians.
Miss Ward next set up shop in the living room of No. 13. Customers continued to call there and were very understanding during this period of a few weeks before the ground floor flat at No. 13 was put up for sale. The new bathroom, etc., added to the value of the property, and the money from this sale, along with a grant from the Shetland Islands Council, helped with the cost of the work on the property across the street at No. 30 where there was now to be living accommodation as well as the shop and a secure garage at the back.
When the builder finished there was still much of the interior requiring finishing off before painting and papering could be done. Shelving had to be erected for the books and Bibles, etc. Shop fittings and flooring had to be in place. Once again Christian friends from Cunningsburgh were ready to give valuable help and advice and, along with the unstinting giving of themselves by John and Peggy Black who had voluntarily come up from England to spend six weeks helping in this project, it was accomplished in a remarkably short time. The builders, Gair and Smith, are to be commended for the good job they did in what was seen as record time.
It was wonderful to see the stock back on the shelves in a bright and inviting atmosphere. Everyone was full of praise for all that had been accomplished in a fairly short time because of the help from local Christian people who felt the importance of having a Christian Bookshop in their town. The wonder of God giving willing workers for this task—the architect, the electricians, the drivers, those who did scrubbing, taping, papering, painting, lifting, etc., etc., is still remembered with gratitude and awe. The history of the bookshop is one which shows people’s dedication to the Lord and a commitment to see the shop used for His Glory.
From Margaret Smith, Lerwick.
It was my privilege to be involved in the work of the Bookshop from September 1989 to May 1997, following Jean Ward’s years of service there. I had previously had some experience of bookshop work, as I had served in the M.O.V.E. Blackburn Christian Bookshop for four and a half years in the 1980’s.
When I came to the Lerwick shop, it had been recently refurbished, was well stocked, attractively arranged and with a steady flow of customers. It also had a very comfortable living apartment with mod cons, and, most importantly, a spiritually welcoming atmosphere. This was the result of the workers who had come before me, giving of their best in poor conditions, working diligently and prayerfully to contact people in isolated areas, walking miles with bags of literature at times, etc. All their efforts had helped to build what I had now walked into. Jean Ward continued to work two days a week in the shop for a time, which enabled me to do some door-to-door work in the country. I also took church services in different parts. Then too Christian events in Shetland provided opportunities to do book-stalls and thus contact people who might not have been in the habit of coming to the shop.
Working in the shop meant contact with people and endeavouring to meet their requests for literature. One request that really “made my day” was when a young person came in asking for a Bible. It was so good to place a copy of God’s Word in their hands with the knowledge that it could bring the light of Heaven into their hearts.
I will mention two highlights that occurred while I was at the shop. One was meeting a young couple from the North-east of England in the early 1990’s. They introduced me to Book Aid, an organization which collects and sends new and used books and Bibles to book-famine areas of the world. Immediately I felt that the shop should become a place where Shetland Christians could bring in books they wished to send to Book Aid. This they did, and it was always a great satisfaction to pack the books and have them sent off, knowing they would reach people who had so little in the way of Christian literature as it was simply not available in their countries; and, even if it did become available, they could not afford to buy it.
Another highlight was the God-given opportunity to get Bibles to the Russian seamen or Klondykers as they were called. This was also in the early 1990’s. Russian vessels were in the Shetland area during the fishing season. Some of the fishermen when ashore in Lerwick would visit the shop. I recall a visit from one fisherman who looked around. He asked if we had Bibles for children in the Russian language. I had to tell him that we didn’t have any and that I did not know if such were available. I shall never forget the way he walked slowly and sadly out the door, saying to me, “You have so much in this country, while we in Russia have nothing!”
After he had gone, I said to the Lord, “If there is such a thing as a children’s Bible in Russian, please help me to find it.” The Lord answered this prayer, and I was able to get quantities from the C.L.C. bookshop in Aberdeen. When the first box came, I had a good look through the Bible, much of it in pictures, but of course had no idea of what was written in it, as Russian is completely foreign to me. However, the Lord knew this too, and that very week I received a box of English books and Bibles which I had ordered and to my delight one of the Bibles was the exact English equivalent of the Russian one! I then knew what I was about to give to the Russian seamen. Many hundreds of this precious Bible were given out at that time and I was told that, although it was meant for children, the seamen went to their ships and read it too. Only eternity will reveal what has been accomplished through this God-given opportunity.
When the Message of Victory Evangelism Trust, that owned the shop, wound up in 1997, we were very concerned about the future of its witness in the islands. Many prayers went up to the Lord about this matter. Of course it was no surprise to Him, and He already had someone in mind. We felt led to approach Nelson and Mary Smith about the possibility of their taking over the responsibility of running the shop, and thus continuing its witness in Shetland. How grateful we were to the Lord and to Nelson and Mary for agreeing to do this, and subsequent years have shown how wise was the Lord’s choice in this matter. I officially retired in 1997 but continued to work two days a week until 2005. I enjoyed the continued contact with customers, and doing a little to help in the spread of the Gospel.