Sandi Bowman has been the manager of the Adventist Book Center (ABC) in Scottsdale, Arizona, for eight years. The last year and a half presented some unique challenges for a brick and mortar store. However, the ministry did not stop during that time. The following conversation took place over a couple of weeks during the month of August 2021 through both emails and in-person conversations.
What are the challenges of running a Seventh-day Adventist Christian-based retail business?
Most other Christian bookstores have closed in last few years or have gone mostly online; in fact, there are only a few left in the Phoenix area. We also have a non-traditional approach to retail that makes us unique and unavailable to much of the population. We maintain inventory that aligns with our beliefs, and we are not open on the Sabbath. While we want to be able to connect with those around us, I believe that it is more important than ever to stand for what we believe in and hold fast to biblical truth.
What is the ministry of the ABC?
The primary purpose of the Adventist Book Center is to equip our members and churches with the tools they need to minister to their community. We provide books, Bible studies, Bibles, sharing materials, magazines, gifts, and more to help facilitate ministry events. When churches are hosting evangelistic meetings, Sabbath School, youth ministries, Bible studies, cooking schools, children’s church, prayer meeting, or small groups, they rely on the ABC to provide biblically based materials that can be delivered to their church.
We are also open to the public to help customers find materials and resources to navigate their Christian walk. Customers frequently come in to find a Bible, a baptismal gift or something to encourage a friend, or materials to share with those in their neighborhood or workplace.
How has the ongoing pandemic affected your ministry?
The past year, we have noticed a huge increase in our Bible sales. Some of these purchases are by individuals wanting a new version or a study Bible, but the overwhelming majority are purchased by individuals to share with others. We have also witnessed a large increase in customers purchasing books, pamphlets, and tracts to share with others because they have been unable to pursue their traditional forms of ministry. When everyone was unable to meet together to worship, some took that opportunity to share literature.
Did you have to adjust your business model at all?
Our goal is to make our store accessible, so we are open for walk-in traffic. However, the past year has been a challenge because so many were unable to come into our store and we lost a lot of customer contact. We modified our business as much as possible by adding ways of delivering product—including local delivery in the Phoenix area, pre-paid deliveries to our churches in the conference in lieu of our bookmobile, in addition to traditional shipping options and curbside delivery. We have noticed a huge trend in customers leaning toward shopping online during this time, and that has affected our business. It’s a tough time to be a traditional retail store in a changing world, but we wanted to be sure that our customers could receive the materials they needed.
You mentioned becoming friends with your customers. How has that impacted your ministry?
I believe that ministry is relationship. Jesus gave us that example when He was here and took time to share with those around Him. Spending time together sharing, studying, and worshiping encompasses who we are as Christians. I love that the ABC is a place to learn and a safe place to share. Friendship evangelism is vitally important, and I pray that the ABC can be a place where that happens daily.
Do any of those relationships come to mind specifically?
The past year we have seen people truly searching. One gentleman came into our store a few months ago and started looking around, but he seemed a little lost. I walked out to talk with him and asked if I could help him find anything. He seemed to be very uncomfortable, but he said he was looking for a Bible. I asked if there was a specific version or kind of Bible he was interested in, and he just looked at me and said, “I have never owned a Bible, but I just feel like I need one now.” What an amazing opportunity to be available in a moment like that. I have no idea what led him to that decision or how he found our store, but I am so grateful that we were here and able to find a Bible for him that will teach him about Jesus and the tremendous gift of salvation.
Another customer who routinely comes in to purchase Bibles has a passion for sharing with people who are overcoming addictions. She shares Bibles with those who are interested and willing to study. Another customer keeps Bibles on hand to share with individuals she comes into contact with, including homeless individuals or people she interacts with at businesses or in her neighborhood. Both ladies are looking for ways to minister to others in their community, and it is a privilege to be part of their ministry.
I have overheard you talking about the mailman from time to time. What is his story?
We talk with him all the time. He is a Christian, and one day when he was delivering the mail he asked if we had a specific Bible. We didn’t, and so we researched it and found it for him. Now when he comes in, he tells us about something he has read in that Bible. We have conversations with people like that all the time. They are coming in looking for something specific, and as we talk, we find out about what is going on in their life. Some are dealing with relationship breakups or abuse, others have experienced death in the family or extreme illnesses, and others are struggling with issues related to parenting. We listen and, in the process of helping customers find the materials they are looking for, we often find the opportunity to have prayer with them.
But we also see silly things. When I first started working here, a lady walked in and asked me what kind of hot dogs she liked. I didn’t know, so I asked the previous manager, who told me which ones she liked. Now, years later, whenever she walks into the store and asks me what hot dogs she likes, I know it is Linketts. It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to connect with your customers to the point that they become your friends.
You mentioned that people feel this is a safe place to come. What do you mean by that?
We can reach people who would not be willing to attend traditional church but might be willing to shop in a Christian retail store. We develop relationships. And we have people who may have been Adventist at one time but do not attend church anymore. They come in to buy Big Franks because that is what they had when they were kids. We have a gentleman who has a pretty intense life story filled with meth and other things. He has nothing to do with the church, but he comes into the store to buy Tender Bits. People know that they don’t have to sign a guest book, be asked to participate in a church event, or be confronted about their beliefs. Our ministry is to be there for them, to serve them, to offer a resource or even a prayer if they want it.
By Jeff Rogers