UBI Publishing is a non-profit publishing enterprise of the Union Bible Institute that serves the Institute as well as the churches of southern Africa by providing materials to encourage believers’ devotion to Christ, commitment to biblical truth and ability to minister in a changing world. UBI publishes Bible commentaries, expositions of passages of Scripture, evangelistic tracts, children’s and youth ministry materials for leaders as well as for the youth and children themselves.
The call to publish Christian literature in isiZulu
South African Bernard A. Johanson, co-founder of the Union Bible Institute, was standing beside his father’s grave in October 1945, when he strongly sensed God calling him to carry on the work of writing Christian literature in isiZulu that his father had begun. Having grown up speaking isiZulu from childhood and after eleven years of editing isiZulu manuscripts at Mission Press, Johanson was uniquely qualified for this ministry.
It was five years later at a UBI council meeting, as principal of Union Bible institute, that Johanson suggested starting a literature department for publishing books in isiZulu. The first publication was a small book of meditations on the Lord’s Prayer. In the years that followed, UBI published commentaries on books of the Bible compiled from UBI class notes as well as other titles useful for building the church and encouraging personal devotion to Christ.
From the beginning, UBI was committed to providing Biblical instruction and training in isiZulu, the language most of the students used in their work. Johanson felt that the Bible message would remain foreign unless it was communicated to the hearts of people in their own language. Because of this heritage, UBI Publishing remains committed to providing printed material for building up the church in the languages of southern Africa, primarily isiZulu.
UBI publishes nearly 60 different Bible commentaries and devotional books, but also books of interest to the general Christian reader. About 15,000 of these books are sold every year, making UBI one of the largest publishers of isiZulu Christian literature in southern Africa. They also produce books and literature in the other languages of southern Africa.
Susan and Eric Binion have been at the Union Bible Institute since 1993. Eric is a lecturer and serves as Academic Dean. In the beginning, Susan’s primary ministry was the care of their four children, but she found time to assist with the music and children’s ministry departments at UBI. As children have left the nest, she has found more time for teaching and for the publishing department.
Student workers in the Publishing department.
Susan and Eric Binion’s ministry
When Susan joined the Literature Committee, which oversees the operation of the publishing department, she was running an occasional project. During that time, they produced a devotional for people recently diagnosed with HIV, children’s book to help caregivers talk to children about grief and loss, and a book for pastors’ wives.
After attending LittWorld in Kenya in 2009, a Christian publishers’ conference organized by MAI (Media Associates International), Susan was inspired to get more involved and put everything she learned there into practice, updating their covers, developing their online presence on Facebook, and launching a monthly prayer and newsletter for their clients.
” Everything that we know about publishing we learned from MAI, either through conferences, publications and webinars or personal visits by members of the staff,” says Susan. “We are grateful for MAI’s vision for helping indigenous publishing gain ground and make an impact for the Kingdom in culturally and linguistically relevant ways.”
Susan and Eric Binion
One of UBI Publishing biggest projects was the revision of the complete concordance of the Bible in isiZulu. Originally done without the aid of computers, it took 20 years to complete. They had to get it all scanned into a computer so that they could update and correct mistakes. It took five years to complete that project.
The development of these kinds of books is costly, but the economic reality is that the niche market (isiZulu speakers) is unable to afford expensive books. Younger isiZulu speakers prefer to read English, even though isiZulu is their home language. They want to become financially sustainable but still be able to meet the demand for quality and relevant materials in the isiZulu language at a price that their market can afford.
“We are developing our website so that we can sell from there. We are also re-doing our old books to give them a fresher look, while trying to translate some of our good sellers into English so that all of the second language English speakers in South Africa will have access to them and not just isiZulu speakers.”
Another challenge is to produce more children’s books. UBI Publishing is committed to increasing its visibility and accessibility through radio advertising and a greater online presence. They have applied for a grant to accelerate the implementation of some of these measures.
Join Africa Speaks as we pray for the flourishing of UBI Publishing. May God provide for all their needs so that they meet the challenges that come their way.