It is rare for a relatively modern Christian book to need regular reprinting 50 years after its original publication, and even rarer for the author to be as busy in God’s service as he was half a century ago, but Read Mark Learn and John Blanchard buck the trend.
John moved from his native Channel Island of Guernsey to the mainland of England in 1962 after being appointed as the National Young Life Campaign evangelist for the South West of England.
He immediately began to encourage the NYLC branches in his region to develop new evangelistic programmes geared to reaching young people with the gospel. God blessed those early days so significantly that John and others began to give careful thought as to how young people and others professing conversion should best be followed up, especially if they did not have any evangelical church connection.
In particular, John was concerned that they should be encouraged to read the Bible on a daily basis, and he was also concerned that there seemed to be little material available to meet this specific need.
Particularly concerned that some new converts might be left to their own devices, John set out to remedy the situation. For many months he concentrated his own daily devotions in studying Mark’s Gospel, and eventually produced a series of simple notes to help explain the biblical text, dividing Mark into 45 sections as a basis for these.
He decided to call the completed work Read Mark Learn, lifting these three words from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer,in which one petition asks that God might give people reading the Scriptures, grace to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of eternal life’.
To begin with, John had copies of his notes duplicated, then ‘road tested’ them in the course of his evangelistic work. Soon afterwards, John joined the staff of the Movement for World Evangelisation (MWE). One of its council members was David Winter (later to become the BBC’s head of religious broadcasting). After he had read the notes, he recognised their value and encouraged MWE to publish them, but after a brief time and one reprinting, publication was taken over by Henry E. Walter and eventually by Evangelical Press (now trading as EP Books).
From then on, Read Mark Learn has gone through five editions and been reprinted about 30 times. Tyndale House Publishers released it in the United States and it has been translated into French, German, Bulgarian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Albania, Slovenian, Romanian and Malayalam, and also reproduced in Braille by Torch Trust for the Blind.
The Bulgarian translation was done by the well known dissident novelist and playwright Georgi Markov, who was assassinated by the KGB while walking across London’s Westminster Bridge in 1978.
Although the book was specifically intended for new converts (the opening words of its introduction are, ‘Welcome into the Christian family!’), it also continues to be used in Bible study groups — and rumour has it that not a few preachers have used its structure as a basis for a long series of sermons!
Over the years, John has received countless letters from people testifying that Read Mark Learn has kick-started their daily Bible reading discipline, while others have told him that they became Christians while reading it.
Many of his evangelistic publications (notably Right with God and Ultimate Questions) invite those who come to faith after reading them to send for a free copy of Read Mark Learn and many hundreds have done so.
In addition, follow up work is done with correspondents from many countries who ask for help in dealing with issues in the Christian life, and, by arrangement with EP Books, free copies are sent to pastors and other Christian leaders in third world countries.
This often leads to further help being given by sending free copies of other titles, mainly Bible study aids, to many needy areas. All of this follow-up ministry is handled by Tricia Rubens, whose husband John once served as manager of Evangelical Press. Read Mark Learn has come a long way since those first duplicated notes 50 years ago!
(Read Mark Learn is published by EP Books and can be ordered, with discounts for quantities, from 10ofThose.com or tel. 0330 223 3423)