Kenneth Taylor was the director of Moody Literature Mission (MLM) in the 1950s. In a letter to his wife while traveling in West Africa in 1954, he described a critical decision that set the course for the rest of his life. The issue Dr. Taylor was struggling with: The funds for this MLM ministry trip were depleted. He did not believe a nonprofit ministry should borrow money, so should he cancel the rest of his trip, or . . . ?
Darling . . . as I was praying [early this morning] about our housing situation and your need for clothes, etc., suddenly there came to mind without warning the frightening question as to whether I would be willing to use part—or all—of the royalty check [from my first children’s book] for this trip. . . . Of course I certainly was not willing to do any such thing and felt a bit ill and prayed that this fanatical idea might quickly depart. If one went around doing such things, where would one stop? We need the money for so many things, as I explained to the Lord.
Darling, I hope you won’t be disappointed and that you won’t feel that it is a wrong thing to do, but I seemed driven by the Lord to tell him yes or no. If He wants me to use the money for this purpose, will I? And of course I could only finally tell him yes.
Dr. Taylor was named the director of MLM in 1947, just three years after graduating from Northern Baptist Seminary. MLM was the ministry arm of Moody Bible Institute. At that time, the main function of MLM was to mail Christian book sets and Gospels of John to about 5,000 poor rural schools in the South where there were no churches. There were 178,000 children enrolled in MLM’s Bible memory program. Each year, reports streamed in from teachers that dozens of their students had come to faith. In addition, millions of Bibles, tracts, Gospels, and Christian books were distributed to US military training centers, prisons, and hospitals.
Within his first year or two, Dr. Taylor wrote, “One of my dreams for expanding the work of MLM was to develop Christian books in Third World nations, where there was so little available.” He began writing to missionaries to see what they were doing to publish and distribute Christian literature. He soon realized how “sparse and haphazard overseas Christian publishing was.” He planned the first of many trips to meet missionaries who had a “special interest in cooperating with MLM to translate, print, and sell books in local languages.”
In his 1991 autobiography, My Life: A Guided Tour, Dr. Taylor wrote the following about an 11-week trip to 20 nations in India, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia:
Something happened on an overseas trip that illustrates my lifelong sensitivity to the despair I see all around the world. One morning when I was staying in a Tokyo hotel, I awakened to the sound of the clomping of wooden clogs below my window as the crowds passed on the way to their day’s work. As I looked out upon them, I realized that only 1 or 2 percent of them believed in Christ. As I thought of the lostness of all the others, I found myself almost hating the God who made them, and I cried out against Him. I think I was at the edge of a spiritual cliff, where the slightest further push could have toppled me into an abyss. I cried out to God for help and mercy, and in the end I grew quiet before His sovereignty, although hurting bitterly. A few days later, I found out that a friend felt the need to pray urgently for me at just the time when, halfway around the world, I had been undergoing my time of despair and horror.
I am just as interested now in overseas Christian publishing as I was [while serving at MLM from 1947 to 1962]. The matter of literature distribution is even more important now than it was then, for the world’s population has more than doubled. Reports from Africa say there are six million new Christians each year on that continent. . . . Six thousand new pastors are needed each year to minister to the new churches established for the converts.
Dr. Taylor grieved when he saw firsthand that many people around the world were becoming followers of Christ but that they did not have the Word of God in their language to help them grow in their faith. “We are sending Christian soldiers out to war without proper ammunition.”
Surely, Ken Taylor’s passion for the spiritual needs of others and the necessity of understandable Bibles and Christian literature was developed during those 16 years with Moody Literature Mission. From these deep roots came:
Tyndale House Publishers, which was founded in 1962. From the beginning, Tyndale House has always reflected Ken Taylor’s passion for people to personally know Jesus; out of that passion came the vision for Christian literature and Tyndale’s heart for ministry.
Living Bibles International (LBI) was founded in 1968. Dr. Taylor reasoned, “If we could create easy-to-read Bible translations in the top 100 languages of the world, we could reach about 90 percent of the world’s population!” That was LBI’s mission. Twenty-five years later, LBI had translated the Bible or portions of Scripture into 108 languages!
Tyndale House Foundation was founded in 1963. From the beginning, all royalties from the Living series and The Living Bible were channeled directly into the Foundation. For the first ten years, Living Bibles International’s translation, printing, and distribution projects were funded solely by those royalties. As the number of translations and special projects increased, LBI’s annual budget grew to $4 million!
Tyndale’s mission statement is short and simple: To minister to the spiritual needs of people, primarily through literature consistent with biblical principles.
This May, Tyndale employees are celebrating Founder’s Day on what would have been Dr. Taylor’s 99th birthday. As they reflect on Dr. Taylor’s passion to spread the gospel, they view and relate to Tyndale’s mission statement in a whole new way. They are reminded that working at Tyndale House allows them to participate in Dr. Taylor’s passion. And that changes everything.
Today, Tyndale employees continue to contribute in ways that make a difference. Together, they stand on the shoulders of those who went before them . . . and what they do can continue to have an eternal impact on others. Five or ten or fifty years from now, others will be building on what Tyndale employees are doing today. May they find that their work continues to reflect Tyndale’s mission.
Ken Taylor on a ship traveling for the Moody Literature Mission, a ministry arm of Moody Bible Institute, in the 1950s.
Ken Taylor meeting with partners in Asia for the Moody Literature Mission.
Ken Taylor visits with new friends in Papua New Guinea (ca. 1957)
Ken and Margaret Taylor in the 1970s.
A reflective Ken Taylor thinks about his life and ministry (1971).
Ken and Margaret Taylor in the 1980s.
Ken reads from Taylor’s Bible Story Book (ca. 1983).
Ken and Margaret Taylor in about 1992
The busy executive in about 2001.