UMI Mourns the Loss of Founder, Dr. Melvin E. Banks

UMI Mourns the Loss of Founder, Dr. Melvin E. Banks


Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr.

UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.) announced today that its founder Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr., died on Saturday, February 13, at 86. Dr. Banks launched UMI in 1970 to provide African American churches and individuals with images reflecting their congregations and relatable, Christ-centered content from an urban perspective.

“Dr. Banks was a revolutionary publisher and giant for the African American church and community,” said C. Jeffrey Wright, CEO of UMI. “He was the first to create contextualized content that portrayed positive images of African Americans in the Bible. Because of his innovation, UMI has reached millions of Black churches and individuals with the Gospel.”

For the last 50 years, under Dr. Banks’ leadership, UMI has developed Christian education resources, including Bible studies, Sunday School, and Vacation Bible School curriculum, websites, magazines, books, and videos for its 40,000+ strong customer base. He wrote a number of books and devotionals and hosted a two-minute daily podcast called Daily Direction. In 1995, he brought on Mr. Wright as CEO to take on the day-to-day management of the company. Many evangelical organizations have recognized his pioneering work, including the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), which presented him with its inaugural Kenneth N. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

“So many people have been introduced to the life-changing message of Jesus because of Dr. Banks’ ground-breaking initiatives,” said Terri Hannett, Vice President of UMI. “For 50 years, UMI has produced discipleship content that was intellectually rigorous and uniquely relevant for the Black experience.”

Dr. Banks was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934 and made a commitment to salvation at the age of 9 years old. He graduated from Moody Bible College in Chicago in 1955 and attended Wheaton College, earning a B.A. degree in theology in 1958 and his master’s degree in biblical studies in 1960. After graduation, he took a job at Scripture Press Publishers, where he struggled to sell euro-centric Sunday School content to African American churches. This experience led him to create contextual resources for African Americans with imagery and stories unique to their culture. After a few years, he left the company to start his own to expand the publishing content for Black churches.

Dr. Banks had served as board chair since 1994 after the passing of Tom Skinner, the founding board chair of UMI. On February 14, 2021, the UMI Board of Directors voted to appoint Dr. Stanley Long to the role of Chairman after serving as Vice Chairman for the past 45 years.

“Dr. Banks has been one of my closest friends for nearly 50 years,” said Dr. Stanley Long, Chairman of the UMI board. “I will miss him beyond what words can describe. He and I have shared the same vision and burden for as many years as we have been friends. As board chair, I will invest as much energy as he did to continue the work of UMI in the same direction it has journeyed from its inception, to impact the lives of as many men, women, and children as possible.”

Dr. Banks also planted the Westlawn Gospel Chapel church in Chicago and co-founded the Urban Outreach Foundation to reach pastors, lay leaders, and Christian educators through conferences and other resources. He also co-founded Circle Y Ranch, a Christian camp and conference center for urban youth. Dr. Banks received an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Wheaton College in 1992 and served as a Board Trustee.

Dr. Banks died from a month-long illness and is survived by his wife Olive and his three children Melvin Jr., Patrice Lee, and Reginald. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to Circle Y Ranch Bible Camp c/o UMI 1551 Regency Ct., Calumet City, IL 60409 or donate via the website: https://circleyranch.net referencing Dr. Banks. Resolutions and tributes can be sent to [email protected].

Love Packages

Love Packages

Believers in Kenya having a church meeting underneath a tree using materials from Urban Ministries, Inc.

Believers in Kenya having a church meeting underneath a tree using materials from Urban Ministries, Inc.

How many of us have an old Bible on a bookshelf, a stack of old curriculum stashed in a closet, or several years of commentaries stored away in a desk? Did you know that in Africa and other parts of the world, some people are willing to walk miles just to get even one of those older pieces of Biblical literature?

Love Packages, a nondenominational nonprofit, takes on the arduous task of sending more than 1,500 tons of donated curriculum each year from churches and individuals nationwide to people all over the world who desperately seek them.  They’ve got two warehouses – one in Decatur, Alabama, and one in Butler, Illinois. At various collection points around each state, people bring their used Biblical literature in any way they can – in horse trailers, cars, vans, trucks, and tractor trailers. Nine major publishing houses, including Urban Ministries, Inc., also make donations. Once the materials reach the Love Packages warehouses, more than 1,000 volunteers go through it and sort it into six categories: Bibles, reference materials, Sunday School literature, books, magazines, and daily devotionals (music/tracts/miscellaneous). Then, in the host countries, the materials are delivered in ocean-shipping containers to distribution points where various ministries, such as Every Home for Christ Assemblies of God or Evangelical Fellowship, distribute it.



Video Courtesy of Love Packages


The organization’s website is filled with testimonials from all over the world. One from South Africa this past February reads: “We had meetings last week at New Stock Road. After the preaching at the campaign, 46 people gave their lives to Jesus and we gave them the Christian material that we got from you, and also the little booklet of John and Romans, it was a great time of joy. Love in Jesus Name.”

Steve Schmidt, the founder of Love Packages, shared an experience he had on a visit to Zambia in 1999. It started when he read an article about the first elected president Frederick Chiluba, who was explaining that he was a born again Christian and he wanted to do everything in his power to bring the principles, precepts and powers of God to bear on his country. However, he didn’t have any literature. He wrote a letter to President Chiluba explaining his organization and he was invited to visit the country to help them out. When he met with a Bishop who oversaw 700 churches, he learned that most of the pastors didn’t have a Bible and none had Sunday School materials.

“That was in ‘99. We’ve improved that some. We’ve sent about 400 tons of literature into Zambia and we’ve been shipping into Zimbabwe now too,” said Schmidt, who said in general they ship 20 to 40 tons of literature every week. The 20-ton containers they use cost between $3,500 to $9,000. “Every 20-ton container has at least a half a million pieces of literature in it.”

A distribution center overseas receives commentaries from Urban Ministries, Inc.

Schmidt started Love Packages in the summer of 1975. He had four-year-old old Bibles and initially thought he’d use it to prepare lessons. But God had other plans.

“I argued with the Lord for about three months. Told him I was going to use it to prepare lessons. He said, ‘No, you’re not,’” said Schmidt, who questioned, “Who am I going to give an old Bible to? I don’t know anybody who wants it.”

But then he thought of some men who had just graduated from a Bible college and were going home to their home countries in Ghana, Nigeria, India, and various other countries. He wrote them a letter, asking if they had any need for old Biblical literature.

“I didn’t know there was a great need,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t know anything! But the letters seemed like they were only gone a couple of days and they were back, and said, ‘Yes, we can use as much as we can get here, as soon as you can get it here.’”

Schmidt and his wife started in the basement of their home and in the first year sent 60 little boxes overseas from August to January. As he went to various small church events held in his community, from the Baptist chicken dinner to the Methodist Pancake breakfast, the donations started to pour in. By the second year, people began dropping off boxes on their front and back porches and their living room was full of boxes.

“It grew that second year to three and a half tons. And then, the next year, seven tons, and eleven tons… And our goal for 2020 is to ship 2,020 tons!” said Schmidt. “Even with COVID-19, we’re still at 660 tons of literature that we shipped this year so far. And that’s just the literature that’s being used in different places. We’ll send enough literature this year for about somewhere between 60 and 80 million people to read.”

Between the two states in Alabama and Illinois, Love Packages maintains three full-time staff members in each state and is supported entirely by donations from churches and individuals. Youth groups or men/women ministries going on short-term mission trips, and even families in Illinois at the Butler warehouse are able to come and stay in two dormitories, one with 25-30 rooms and the other 10-15 rooms.  Groups can stay for up to a week.

“You can eat dinner with us. There’s probably a hundred or so stories. We have a chalkboard and there are stories about different testimonies that happened and people who got saved or healed or got a book for the first time or etc. And we tell stories during the lunchtime and try to encourage people to think eternally and pursue God with all their hearts,” said Schmidt.

 

Answering the Call: Why Mentoring is So Important in the Church

Answering the Call: Why Mentoring is So Important in the Church

Video Courtesy of Comcast Newsmakers


It’s been eight years since I transitioned from active duty after serving as a Marine Corps officer. I spent 12 years of my adult life training in a military environment, and growing as a leader and mentor. Basic leadership principles were engrained in me as a college student at the U.S. Naval Academy. Some of these principles were as follows:

  • Mentoring is a necessary requirement for great leadership.
  • Mentoring is critical to the success of accomplishing a mission.

Because I was willing to learn, I thrived as a leader and those in my areas of influence benefited as a result. My mentors helped me find my purpose, and I have carried their instructions throughout life.

When given the opportunity to lead at church, I was concerned that mentoring generally was not happening in many congregations. I particularly noticed this with older church members, because they didn’t believe they had anything to offer. Some neglected the responsibility because no one mentored, trained, or taught them. They simply didn’t know what to do.

I also found that others were too busy with the temporal stresses of their own lives to focus on the needs of another. All the while I was receiving correspondences about how desperately people longed for mentoring in their church. So, as a response to these soul cries, I decided to change the narrative.

What if the people of God started to approach mentoring as intentional discipleship? Mentoring does not happen haphazardly. It requires intentionality, preparation, patience, prayer, and yes, mentoring can be a lot of work. But, what if we made a commitment to mentor anyway because it is necessary for advancing God’s kingdom mission? Every Christian has a responsibility to mentor and make disciples!

Matthew 28:19-20 reads: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (NIV).”

The biblical imperative in this statement is to “make disciples.” Among Jesus’ last words was the command to make disciples of diverse groups as his followers went about their daily rituals. This is the Great Commission.

Likewise, Jesus taught his disciples that the entire law of the prophets and the Old Testament was summarized in the Great Commandment—the command to love (Matt. 22:37). The commitment to love is relational between us, God, and other people.

When we commit to mentoring as intentional discipleship, we are embracing both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. This commitment collectively builds us up as a community of believers in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). The church desperately needs every believer engaged in this mission, as does the world.

I agree with worship leader and author Darlene Zschech that, “It is my deepest desire to remind leaders everywhere that the kingdom of God is about people and that we are not here to build our own kingdoms but to bring God’s kingdom into the lives of others.” Will you make the commitment to mentor for God’s kingdom purposes? Here’s how you can get started:

1. Pray

Before choosing his 12 disciples, Jesus spent an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12-13). If you are wondering who the Lord is calling you to mentor, ask him.

2. Prepare

Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship is a book written just for people like you. Gather with a group of friends or church leaders and go through this book together. It includes discussion questions, exercises, and resources to help you get started. Another great way to discover why and how your work matters to God is to download apps like UMI Connection for helpful resources.

3. Plan

Maybe you want to go a little deeper to launch or revamp a small group, discipleship, or mentoring ministry, then check out my site to download free training resources or consider leadership consulting or mentoring coaching for your leadership team.

4. Press On

Don’t let fear paralyze you. In my early days, as a young military officer, I had been adequately prepared, yet I also made mistakes. Give yourself grace as you get on-the-job training in this new adventure.

The need is urgent. You are called for God’s kingdom mission of mentoring. Will you answer?

Writer Spotlight: Dr. La Verne Tolbert, Ph.D.

Writer Spotlight: Dr. La Verne Tolbert, Ph.D.

Tolbert IMageFor the past two weeks, we have been featuring some of the speakers and panelists of the upcoming UMI Christian Writers Conference that will be held on Friday, April 22-23. Up next is a brief Q&A with Author and UMI’s Vice President of Editorial Dr. LaVerne Tolbert, Ph.D. In addition to being a best-selling author of her book Teaching Like Jesus: A Practical Guide to Christian Education in Your Church, Dr. Tolbert is also a former editor of Family Circle and Bride’s Magazine. Find out more about Dr. Tolbert and her journey to become a successful writer below:

 

When did you discover that you had a passion for writing?

During my early childhood years, my father required me to read at least 5 books every summer. I loved reading and found that I also loved writing.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
When I was a magazine editor, I focused on writing non-fiction, and today this remains as my preference. I enjoy writing “how-to,” and my classic text, Teaching Like Jesus, explains how to teach.

What are you looking forward to most about the UMI Christian Writers Conference?
I’m looking forward to networking with and meeting new writers who are interested in working for Urban Ministries, Inc.

With so many other genres and styles of writing, how did you make the decision to pursue a career in Christian writing and publishing?
I’m a former professor of Christian education (Talbot School of Theology). Since my masters and doctoral work are in this field, it’s natural for me to also write for a Christian audience.

Do you have one piece of advice that you’d like to share with someone who is interested in pursuing a career in writing?
My advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in writing is this…write! Often, people say they want to write, and they think about writing, but they don’t actually sit down and write. At the conference, I’ll share my easy-to-follow steps for beginning this process.

 

For more information about the UMI Christian Writers Conference, visit the website.

Writer Spotlight: Katara Patton

Writer Spotlight: Katara Patton

Katara ImageFor the next two weeks, we will be featuring some of the speakers and panelists of the upcoming UMI Christian Writers Conference that will be held on Friday, April 22-23. Up next is a brief Q&A with Author, Editor and Publisher Katara Patton who will be hosting a workshop on top writing tips. Find out more about Katara and her journey to become a successful writer below:

When did you discover that you had a passion for writing?

I loved writing as a child; I really liked my 8th grade grammar class and my teacher too. In that class, I won an essay contest and I got to read the essay on a local radio show program. My teacher was the most supportive. When I told her of an idea to publish a school newspaper, she helped me do it. I think we only had one issue, but I was bitten by the desire to write and publish then.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?

I like writing non-fiction, however I’ve done a bit of fiction within work (like Sunday School curriculum) and it can be fun too.

What are you looking forward to most about the UMI Christian Writers Conference?

Seeing a lot of old writing friends and giving new faces information to help them break into writing for UMI as well as in other outlets.

With so many other genres and styles of writing, how did you make the decision to pursue a career in Christian writing and publishing?

I’ve always loved Sunday school and studying God’s word. When I realized that UMI was in the Chicagoland area, it seemed like a natural fit. While working on Christian material, I noticed my spiritual life growing by leaps and bounds. I actually get to read the Bible as part of “work” and have often found answers to apply to current personal situations–just by writing Christian material. My faith is so integral in my life, it would show up in any style of writing, but I’m thankful I get to call my work: Christian.

Do you have one piece of advice that you’d like to share with someone who is interested in pursuing a career in writing?

Write. Honestly, that’s it. Write whenever you have the opportunity. Don’t snub your nose at the outlet or the way you begin…if it is only a poem on the back of a church bulletin, it is an opportunity to use your gift. Any writing opportunity can lead to so many other opportunities to write. My first book series was “given” to me by a publisher because I had written anonymously (without credit) for several other authors. If I had only been looking to write books that I got to plaster my name over, I would have passed up those great opportunities and would not have been on the publisher’s mind.

 

For more information about the UMI Christian Writers Conference, including how to register, visit the website here.