Sharing the Good News

Greg Robson

A glimpse inside the Northland Bookstore

Since 1987, Northland has operated a bookstore, catering to both the congregation and the general public. According to bookstore manager Donna Kannon, Terry and Jean Sherwood opened the bookstore out of a closet in The Rink. Their initial budget was only $200, and the couple bought books from a store that was having a liquidation sale. Little by little, the Sherwoods learned the ins and outs of running a church bookstore.

Thirty-one years later, the Northland bookstore continues to thrive. Kannon, who is embarking on her ninth year as bookstore manager, along with bookstore employees Jill Simpson and Stacey Miller, continues to provide the congregation with an array of resources aimed at helping them in their spiritual walk. Among the three of them, they have collectively spent 52 years as congregants of Northland. That experience proves great in the daily tasks of operating a faith-based bookstore.

“Working here is more of a ministry than a job, and this place is more of a ministry than a bookstore,” Miller explains.

Simpson agrees: “I was a customer first, then a volunteer. Now I’m a staff member. I started buying gifts for donors at Ethnos360 and shortly thereafter became staff. The Lord has continued to use the bookstore to help continue my ministry with Ethnos360.”

Kannon says she and the staff, along with 20 volunteers, do their best to keep the shelves fresh and have a two-day turnaround time for receiving books ordered. They also can match or beat Amazon prices. Popular items over the past few months include the “It Is Well With My Soul” plaque that Pastor Matt referenced in a previous sermon and the myriad of books he has offered as suggestions. According to Kannon, those are the items that sell out quickest.

In regards to what items they most recommend, the staff members agree that the Kingdomwear Jewelry is a must-see. But no set of items is more impacting than the fair-trade items.

“We have great fair-trade and mission organizations that we partner with,” Kannon says. “The sale of the product benefits those that have been enslaved in the sex trade, empowering artisans by paying them a fair wage in India, Asia, Haiti and Africa.” With those profits, wells are built in Uganda, clean water is provided to residents in the Central African Republic, and an underground church comprising coffee growers is sustained. “Every purchase we make supports something. Buying fair trade means you can support something with a kingdom purpose of helping people Jesus called the least of these.”

If there is one thing that keeps the bookstore going, it is the relationships that are formed daily. That’s something that Miller does not take lightly.

“Customers come to the store oftentimes in an effort to bless their families, friends and neighbors,” she notes. “They come to us when they want to talk to a neighbor about their faith, and ask us for suggestions. There’s a gentleman who comes in every two weeks to purchase materials for incarcerated juveniles. Another gentleman just stops in to say hello before the Saturday service.”

For Kannon, the connections made in the bookstore resonate with her each and every day.

“We are on the front lines where people come in hurting and in need of help. They are searching for something to read or material to learn more about their faith or a friendly face to listen to them. My team is that and more,” she says. “I stand in awe every time someone walks in with a heavy heart or joy-filled praise and [with] how God has strategically placed the right person working or volunteering in the store to minister in very real and connected ways.”
    That’s a point that Miller drives home: “Every week we encounter someone that is coming to the bookstore in the middle of a crisis. We listen as they tell us about how their lives are falling apart. We pray with them and then usually have a minister come sit alongside them. That’s the important work we do here beyond just selling books.”

For Simpson, another connection stands out.

“I remember a woman visiting us who wanted a large-print-translation Bible for her daughter at the Seminole County jail. We did not have the Bible, so we had to order it. Once it arrived, the woman continued to give us updates about how her daughter was doing. She still stops by to buy more resources for her daughter and offer more updates.”

As much as customers’ lives are impacted, Miller is quick to point out how the lives of the staff members and volunteers are also being transformed.

“We have a volunteer who has been working with us since she was 12 years old. She’s now a teenager, and because of this experience, she has learned how to help people and how to work in a retail environment,” Miller says. “We get to mentor our staff and ultimately speak into their lives.”

While Simpson, Miller and Kannon are grateful for their 20 volunteers, the three of them point out that the bookstore could always use more help.
    Though the bookstore is chock-full of amazing testimonies, some stick with the staff long beyond the day-to-day. As Kannon explains, “There are so many stories over the years, but the ones that are my favorite are when customers come in and need to send books or a Bible to their loved one who is incarcerated. We assist them with what they can send and all the restrictions each prison system has in place. We pray with them and pray over the books and/or Bible before we send them off. We have received many thanks and stories of how their loved one is reading the Word, digging deep into Scripture and thriving in their faith.

“This is Kingdom work, and we are grateful to be part of it.”