“United flight number 3397 to Memphis has been delayed for departure until …”
Not again! I thought. Any frequent flyer understands. It was that obnoxious and all too familiar squawk blasting through the terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on a loud and crowded Friday afternoon.
I was traveling home from Wisconsin, and my Chicago flight was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. Now, normally, I use my downtime in an airport terminal fairly well. I read. I watch people. I do my daily 30-minute walk-out. (Yeah, I don’t work out, I walk out.) However, this time I was tired and simply eager to get home. Then my fortune turned.
“Hey, don’t we know you!?”
It was my Mississippi friends Joby and Stephanie.
What a coincidence! If you believe in that sort of thing. Don’t you just marvel sometimes at how the details of life merge together to create blessing after unexpected blessing?
Well, my friends and I live a couple of hours apart, and to be truthful, it had been a few years since I’d seen them. But our friendship is deeply rooted in Christian retreats we’ve shared through the years, so it was easy to pick up where we left off.
Now, here they were, old friends who would bring a redeeming element to this frustrating delay. They, too, were headed home, and since we had the same flight, we had a long while to visit. As we caught up on our lives and our mutual friends, Stephanie mentioned the family business where she works with her father, her brother and other family members.
“We rebind and restore old books,” she said.
“Huh? Books? Did you say books?”
She had my attention. I’m a bona fide bibliophile, a book lover from the time I was a toddler. I was stunned to discover that Norris Bookbinding Company, located in Greenwood, Mississippi (population 15,298), lays valid claim to being one of the largest – if not the largest – book bindery in the world. Founded in 1947, they’ve done work for customers in all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
Our conversation that day turned back to other things, but a few days later, when I had time to visit the Norris company website, my awe skyrocketed dramatically when I saw some before and after photos that demonstrate their precise and meticulous workmanship.
Back at the office, I shared my enthusiasm with co-workers on the AFA Journal staff. Right away, we agreed that we must do a story on the Norris business. So associate editor Rusty Benson went down to meet Norris Bookbinding owners Charles Sproles and Johnny Sproles, ages 79 and 76 respectively, and to observe them practicing their craft. The brothers went to work for the company’s founder when they were both teenagers, so together they have more than 120 years experience.
Rusty learned that a large portion of their handiwork these days is the restoration and rebinding of Bibles. In fact, the brothers have come to see their work as a ministry. They take family Bibles – sometimes generations old, yellowing, disintegrating, fading – and restore them to a state for regular use or to preserve as treasured family heirlooms. You can see some their work on their Facebook page.
Initially, my perspective on this situation was that, by coincidence, I had stumbled upon another story idea that our readers will love. I’ll be the first to admit I’m often a slow learner, but I’ve finally begun to see that God’s hand was weaving each thread of this story into its precise and perfect place.
What if Stephanie and Joby and I hadn’t been booked on the exact same flight that day last fall? What if the flight had been on time, and we’d only had hurried moments in line to speak to each other? What if the repeated delays had not allowed us to visit at length? What if Stephanie hadn’t offhandedly mentioned the family business? What if …
Finally, I don’t mean to overstate the obvious; you’ve probably already thought of it, but sometimes I have to spell it out for myself. Isn’t the Norris restoration of an old Bible a lot like what God has to do to us sometimes? I grow older, wrinkled, faded and weak. I need the restoration that only He can provide to prepare me for continued use in His kingdom work.
Editor’s note: AFA Journal’s story on Norris Bookbinding Co. will appear in the May issue, available in late April. Meanwhile, check out their handiwork on Facebook or contact the company:
Fax: 662- 455-6743