After 60 years of printing, SOON ministries’ newspapers are to cease publication in January 2020.
SOON produced broadsheets written in easy English to reach the Majority World with the good news of Christ.
The family of WEC ‘gospel broadsheets began in 1960 with French paper Bientot, founded by Fred and Lois Chapman. For many years this paper went to a large number of French speaking countries especially in Africa, and for several years a European version ran in parallel.
“I am very happy with the BIENTOT you have been sending me for more than two years now and I thank you very much. I ask the Lord to bless you so much so that I can always receive them for sharing with the students who are in my district in Parakou. At least 70% of them do not accept Jesus Christ as Lord. I think this way they will know our Lord Jesus Christ and give themselves to him as was my case in 1984 in Ouaké in Benin. Thank you.” – Theodore
Following the success of these papers, John and Neville Lewis saw the potential of easy English as a means of communicating across the nations. Much of the world spoke English as a second language, so producing a gospel broadsheet in easy English had great potential to reach around the globe. Inspired by world-literacy pioneer, Frank Laubach, John Lewis decided to write using Laubach’s 1,000-word list.
John Lewis also saw the need for SOON Ministry to focus on an appropriate style for the papers. Many of the targeted readers had very little or no access to the Bible, so Lewis decided to share personal stories and common secular interests through the papers as a means of connecting with potential readers around the world.
UPESI, a Swahili newspaper for East Africa, began in the 1980s. Founded by Margaret Coleman and continued for many more years by Beryl Shannon, this paper joined a diverse family of gospel broadsheets that all contributed to the work of SOON Ministries.
“I found your paper (UPESI) on the ground in the street. When I started reading it, I found some very sweet words. These words helped me to recognize that I am not alone. I had a Father who is God. Beloved friends, I will not think these bad thoughts again. I will read your good papers; I will go to church every Sunday, together with my children.” – Sarah, Kenya
Later, high demand for easy English enabled SOON Ministry to branch out into an easy English Bible correspondence course. Volunteers sent out study materials to those who had requested the Bible courses through SOON. These 250 volunteers then marked and graded the responses, including answers to any questions posed by readers.
These Bible courses assumed no knowledge of the Bible and included the relevant passages printed from easy-English translations. The demand for SOON papers rose steadily as the ministry combined a passion for sharing the gospel with the audience’s desire for English literacy.
In celebrating SOON Ministries, we must pay tribute to the remarkable volunteers who worked from their homes to package and post the papers. As demand for the paper grew, 1,000 individuals, families, or small church groups around the UK sent out a combined total of 2.5 tonnes of SOON papers every three months!
Volunteers also responded to the 1,000 letters that were sent to the newspaper each week. At its height, SOON produced 666,000 copies of the paper every quarter, with the majority of their readers based in Africa and India.
More recently, SOON Ministries began the transition to online news and internet ministry. In 1996, SOON began an easy-English website, providing email contact addresses for people to request the printed paper. The website, and later social media page, were add-ons to the printed paper through which SOON has connected with a wider range of readers.
In 2010, it became apparent that digital media was taking over and the resources and demand for print media were declining. As the team behind SOON Ministries were approaching retirement age, they realised that it was God’s time for the print papers to cease. In 2015, SOON, Bientot and UPESI papers ceased mass publication, only being printed for those who requested a copy.
One section of SOON Ministries remained in print, however – the papers for the Fulanis of West Africa. These were produced in a range of dialects and continued strong as other ministries switched to digital presence. However, these papers, too, are now finally ceasing print, after 60 amazing years of various SOON Ministries’ publications and an incredibly diverse readership.
We celebrate all that God has done through SOON’s long ministry, and look forward to seeing what innovative projects he will raise up to take on its mantle.
Many thanks to Tony Whittaker and Jane Larkman for providing valuable insight on the history and scope of SOON Ministries.
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