He was a prisoner. Winter was coming. The damp and lonely cell would be very uncomfortable. Therefore, the apostle wrote, "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments," II Timothy 4:13. Paul had left his heavy winter overcoat--a coarse woolen garment without sleeves that had an opening in the middle of the top for the head to go through-- with an unknown man, perhaps a Christian, named Carpus of Troas. Winter was on its way, II Timothy 4:21. The coat would be needed. Since Timothy was en route from Ephesus, he could bring it to his father in the Gospel.
Obviously there resides here an insight into the sense of values one has when placed in a constraining environment. Under such conditions, values are narrowed to few essentials. For Paul it was a coat, some books, and writing material. The coat was certainly important. Winter in Rome (in an unheated room) can be a trying experience. It seems, however, he longed for his books even more. And, above all, he desired the parchments.
The books were no doubt papyrus scrolls. No one knows what-- if anything--they contained. Perhaps, they were blank rolls of writing material. Nevertheless, many want to believe they were religious books with which the missionary wished to feed his mind during the lonely hours of imprisonment.
The parchment, a very expensive writing material, was intrinsically more valuable than the papyrus scrolls. This superior value may explain the words "above all." What these parchments were is not known. Some believe they may have been official documents (such as proof of Roman citizenship). Others conjecture that they may have been portions of the Scripture (though this seems unlikely). Perhaps, they were merely writing materials which the apostle had laid aside for future use. Whatever the truth of the matter is the world of Paul had narrowed considerably. His desires were few. A coat, some books, and writing materials were requested.
There are other prisons common in life which constrain human vision to a narrow outlook unless a release is found. These prisons come in the form of the routine of everyday life, jealous nationalism, blinding secularism, fear, anxiety, or living in another culture. Release is possible for those who can live in the larger world of books - especially those books that open to the mind vistas of truth found in the Bible.
As Paul wanted his faith reinforced by the fellowship of his friends, II Timothy 4:9, so he seemingly longed for the strengthening that comes from books.
Whether this conclusion is accurate or not, the woman had gained some important insights into her life and the life of missionaries. She realized that they are more than pages out of a book, more than slide projector operators, more than fund raisers. Missionaries are real people. They are filled with the same emotions experienced by folks back home. They have their own prisons which narrow their focus and squeeze their faith. They may have hearts of gold, but they certainly have feet of clay. They need their vision broadened, their hope rekindled, their faith reinforced.
The missionaries were grateful for the hospitality. After showing appropriate gratitude to the lady, the missionaries went on their way. Soon they were back at their mission post serving the local people they had come to love and appreciate.
The women pondered the lives that had recently graced her home. She said,
The lady confessed she had a heart for mission (though she realized she would never be a missionary). "What can I do?" she asked. Without a clear answer, she wrote her recent guests. "What can I do to help?" Within days she received a reply (that set in motion a ministry to assist missionaries):
The woman had shelves filled with storybooks, novels, biographies, and devotionals. For the first time it dawned on her that she could be a vital part in the lives of missionaries through books.
Missionaries gladly paid the postage on their end. They were happy to bless others as they had been blessed.
From Little House on the Prairie to Through Gates of Splendor, books were not just read, they were devoured. "What a wonderful gift. It really filled a need," one missionary wrote. "Thanks" or "God bless you" was the most frequent response.
The library was a fulfilling ministry for the giver and the receiver. The books entertained, informed, and shaped lives. One grateful missionary wife said:
Someone should reactivate the ministry. Through the fellowship of books as well as the exchange of letters, this saintly woman came to know many missionaries intimately. Children from numerous families became her pen pals. She was their "adopted" grandmother. And, with a twinkle in her eye, she could say assuredly, "it is more blessed to give than to receive."
Such a ministry could be done in many different ways. On a smaller or larger scale, the benefits would still be the same. As recent research confirms, one of the top four or five greatest needs among missionaries is spiritual nurture for themselves. They constantly give out much but take in little.
Could you meet this need? Would you encourage someone to begin a missionary circulation library? Is there a brother or sister in your congregation who would serve the missionaries you support? Who would adopt the missionaries on a particular continent? Who would serve rather than be served?
Many saints have a heart for missions who will never serve on the field. Nevertheless, they can pray, write letters, and nurture missionary families through books.
Missionaries and students of missions often share a newly discovered book that speaks to their ministry. The compilers of each of the following bibliographies have attempted to gather a collection of books which represent current, quality books and articles that would be of interest to the missions community. The bibliographies are not exhaustive, but they are offered as a good starting place for research. The editors hope that such bibliographies will continue to expand and be updated periodically. We would be happy to know of any books you have discovered which do not appear on these lists.