26 September 2023| Royse, Norway [Tor Tjeransen]
After 58 years of operation, the student literature evangelist programme at the Norwegian Publishing House (Norsk Bokforlag) has officially closed its doors. The final colporteur has returned his equipment, marking the end of an era.
For nearly six decades, students from various African countries travelled throughout Norway, diligently selling books on behalf of the Adventist Church’s publishing house. However, this time-honoured tradition has come to an end.
Emotions run deep for Josephat Mobagi from Kenya and his 31 fellow students who participated in this year’s programme. Before they return home to continue their studies, they can be seen at the publisher’s premises settling their accounts. While the prospect of reuniting with their families after just over three months in Norway brings a sense of joy, an underlying sadness permeates the atmosphere. The student programme has been an indispensable source of income, enabling many of them to pursue their education.
A Fruitful Summer
The decision to close the programme is separate from the student’s efforts. “They are real heroes. It takes enormous self-discipline, mental strength, and trust in God to continue day after day to sell books door-to-door,” commented leaders. In fact, for some colporteurs, this was their best summer.
Josephat Mobagi, an experienced canvasser, reflects, “This has been my best year yet.” He participated in the program every year from 2016 – 2019, but was paused years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, circumstances prevented his return to Norway. However, this year, he managed to secure the necessary funds for a flight to Norway and the US $600 visa fee for a student work permit.
“I consider it a tremendous privilege to have been part of this programme,” Josephat remarks. Therefore, he embraced this final opportunity to make the most of it.
Despite covering Norwegian taxes and expenses for accommodation, moped rentals, fuel, and travel costs, the students return home with substantial earnings. Norway’s salary levels greatly surpass those in their home countries of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, where economic conditions continue to be challenging.
Dickson Kengere, who has a wife and children in Kenya, reveals that the money he earned through the student program supports his studies and medical treatment for his father-in-law, who was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“This programme has been an enormous blessing for me and my family,” says Dickson, a trained pastor currently studying at Kisii University in Kenya. He hopes for another opportunity one day to come to Norway and sell books.
While the programme generated income for canvassers, the picture for the Norwegian Publishing House was quite different. Their accounts have been in the red for several years. In 2017, Norwegian authorities mandated a minimum wage guarantee for the students, which had to be paid by the Publishing House regardless of the number of books sold. Unfortunately, this meant that, on occasion, the programme operated at a loss, and the deficit had to be picked up by the Norwegian Union.
To mitigate this, it was decided not to print new books for the programme in 2022 and 2023, instead focusing on selling existing stock. Despite efforts to make the programme profitable, it continued to operate at a loss. With a heavy heart, the Union Executive decided that 2023 would be the final year of the student literature evangelist programme.
“It was not justifiable to continue a programme where the church had to spend large sums of money to cover deficits. The risk in the programme has increased every year, putting other activities and mission projects at risk, so we had to prioritise differently,” said Victor Marley, President of the Norwegian Union Conference.
A Long-standing Tradition
This marks the end of a tradition that has benefitted countless African students and contributed to both the church and society. “We are very pleased that the student literature evangelist programme of the Norwegian Publishing House has been a blessing to so many people in Africa for 58 years,” said Jóhann E. Jóhannsson, Treasurer of the Norwegian Union Conference.
Carlos Tenold, who has overseen the program since 1996, and Terje Wollan Dahl, former director of the Norwegian Publishing House, are helping settle the accounts for the last group of students from Africa. Sadly, it is for the last time.
The mopeds used by the canvassers have been sold, and the warehouse is nearly empty. An era has ended, leaving Tenold and Dahl with heavy hearts.
The original version of this story was first published on the website of the Norwegian Union Conference. Photo: from left to right, Josephat Mobagi, Joseph Kimeu, Joshua Momanyi, Ekron Samuel Nachi and Isaiah Kirwa. [Tor Tjeransen/Adventist Media Exchange CC BY 4.0].