Article by: Sarah Koontz
I am writing this article from my cozy home office in South Dakota.
A steady spring rain is pattering on my roof, and my teenage daughter is typing her final history paper of the semester.
My thumb is sore from working in the garden this weekend, and I just got a phone call from my husband about a taekwondo tournament he’d like to attend in a few weeks.
I am confident that my day-to-day life looks quite different from yours.
The people I interact with and the problems I struggle with are not the people or problems you contend with.
Recently, I’ve been pondering how a person like me can better help someone like you.
What needs do we both have?
What desires do we both share?
What troubles do we both face?
Christians are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 21:19-20). In order to do this effectively, we must interact with people with different backgrounds, cultures, and opinions.
Through these interactions, we will discover what divides and unites us.
I regularly interact with a diverse group of Christians worldwide through my work at Living by Design Ministries. These cross-cultural conversations have taught me about the human condition and equipped me to serve the global church better.
Two avenues of engagement have fueled my learning experience.
The first is our Giving by Design Program at Living by Design Ministries. The second is a recent survey we conducted where we received feedback from 60+ readers in 25 different countries.
I am eager to share with you the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from these two opportunities.
Giving by Design Program
We established the Giving by Design program in April 2019 to “invest 10% of our monthly recurring income into Bible literacy projects around the world.”
Many of our readers, especially in Africa, do not have access to a physical copy of the Bible.
As an American woman with more than 20 different copies of Scripture in my office library, I cannot imagine my life without immediate and constant access to God’s Word.
For our first Giving by Design project, we distributed Bibles to a church and school in Tanzania. I was amazed by the genuine joy our small gift brought this group of people.
They were so careful with the money we sent—so thoughtful with how they utilized it.
I was blessed to see God use this ministry in such a practical way.
Over the years, we’ve partnered with several fantastic organizations and completed more than a dozen Bible literacy projects.
Some of my favorites include sending study Bibles to teachers in Liberia, providing custom hand-painted Bibles to sex-trafficking survivors in Texas, and supporting the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary’s outreach programs during the war.
We’ve partnered with established organizations like the Billy Graham Association, World Vision, Voice of the Martyrs, and Open Doors.
We’ve even done some local projects, including distributing Bibles to new Christians, or renewed Christians, when they graduate from one of the many Life INC programs offered in local churches around the Rapid City, SD area.
Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from managing our Giving by Design program:
- Christians who have less depend on God more, meaning they have more of what truly matters!
- A small gift can have a huge impact when given to the right person or organization.
- Giving the gift of God’s Word is the greatest joy of the Christian life.
Three Key Questions Answered
Now it’s time to share the results of our 2023 International Reader Survey with you.
The purpose of this survey was to help us better understand the cultural differences within our community and allow our international readers to share their insight and wisdom with our ministry team.
As a Bible study author, my primary concern is that I am “accurately handling the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).
But I also want to communicate biblical truth in a way that most of our readers can understand and apply to their lives.
I often wonder how much of my writing is “lost in translation” for our readers from different countries and cultures.
This survey gave us an excellent opportunity to ask critical questions and discern the value of our efforts worldwide.
It gave us insight into the spiritual impact of this ministry and what we can do to serve our international readers better.
I was blessed and encouraged by the feedback we received, and I gleaned valuable insight throughout the process.
Here are the answers to three key questions we included in our survey:
I discovered an interesting theme after reviewing the surveys of the individuals who rated us 1-3. Most of these readers wanted more from our delivery method. They would prefer that we print our resources or provide them in “complete packages” rather than delivering them by e-mail one day at a time. This tells me that their dissatisfaction is not in the content but in the form and delivery.
Of the 28 people who rated our ministry a 5 in this category, 82% participated in our free Bible studies. That number dropped to 48% among those who rated us a 4. This tells me that our Bible study participants generally experience a more significant spiritual impact than our other types of subscribers.
Interestingly, only two people who rated our ministry 4-5 in this category stated that they could participate if our Bible study resources were not free of charge. This tells me that the people most dependent on our ministry cannot afford to pay for it.
Although the survey answers were enlightening, the most valuable part of the survey was the feedback section.
In the final portion of the survey, we invited our international readers to share their thoughts and constructive comments with our ministry team.
We sought feedback in three separate areas:
- How can we better serve our international readers?
- Do you have any specific feedback for Sarah Koontz?
- Do you have thoughts you’d like to share with our financial supporters?
I will share some of the feedback we received and what we intend to do about it.
How can we better serve our international readers?
Most of the little ones here don’t have Bibles, and many don’t know how to read. Picture books and storybooks would be of great help. – Charlotte from Uganda
People that do not have English as their first language might need some examples of certain words or parts of the Bible explained more fully. – Amanda from South Africa
Allow your readers to share some of their Christian life challenges and use the Biblical teaching solutions to help in countering. – Sylvester from Kenya
Local readers would find the emphasis on digital gifts strange. They are simply longing to have the Word explained. – Anonymous from Angola
As I read through this portion of the survey, the responses deeply encouraged me. Although there were some helpful points of feedback, our international readers seem happy with the service we provide. As we proceed, I think it would be helpful to have more international readers on our Bible Study Launch Teams so that we can receive helpful feedback from them on our study material and formatting choices.
Do you have specific feedback for Sarah Koontz (primary Bible study author)?
Your messages are simple, yet to the point and address the spiritual problems of this generation. – Raymond from Hong Kong
I find the weekly emails are almost always an answer to something I prayed about, or it confirms word that I received or even provides insight into a situation that I am going through. – Anonymous from South Africa
I especially like that you are the primary writer, but you also allow many other women to write in your emails/blogs. – Diana from Australia
I love you. Keep doing what you are doing. My life has been transformed because of you. – Beldinah from Kenya
I felt so connected to our international readers after reviewing this survey section. It was a joy to hear the many ways our ministry is impacting their lives, and I am humbled by their encouraging feedback. I was prepared for constructive criticism, yet instead, I received many “thank yous” and “keep up the good work.” I was also encouraged to know that the message is getting through!
Do you have thoughts you’d like to share with our financial supporters?
We live in a region where Christian literature is banned through all sources except through the internet so for people like us in this region “ it’s pearls of great price.” – Anonymous from Middle East
Living by Design Financiers, God bless and increase you in all your endeavours. Don’t stop; it’s helpful to me and many others. – Anonymous from Ghana
So much appreciation for people like you who make this possible for the least of us. – Gillian from South Africa
I am grateful for the financial supporters, and hoping to be able to contribute soon. – Riekie from South Africa
I love how our international readers’ gratitude enthusiastically extends to our financial supporters. These individuals see the sacrifice that goes into this ministry effort and recognize the critical role our donors fill. The 35% of our readers who reside in developing countries are often unable to contribute financially, yet they deeply depend on this ministry for spiritual nourishment. They view our financial contributors as essential partners in this vital ministry.
An Invitation to Partner with Living by Design Ministries
Turns out, we are not all that different—you and me.
We desire to love and be loved. We long for security in our relationships, our careers, and our finances. We want to give back and help others. When we fall down, we need help getting back up.
The stated mission of this ministry is “To deliver free online Bible studies to inboxes worldwide.”
But, as you can see, we provide so much more than that! We help people understand God’s Word, experience God’s love, and participate in God’s work.
According to our 2023 International Reader Survey, 90% of Bible study participants outside the United States could not afford to pay for our studies.
Our fundraising model is simple: We ask 10% to cover the cost for the 90% who can’t afford to.
Take action today to reach people around the world with the spiritual nourishment they crave!
If you cannot support us financially, please pray for Living by Design. Ask God to provide for this ministry and continue to bless our efforts.
We know that, apart from Him, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).