by POLLY HOUSE
Because Janice DeBice can’t always afford her book ministry, she has some God-sized stories to tell.
BOOKS ARE IMPORTANT to Janice DeBice. Thousands of them have helped her lead thousands of people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
The story of her love for books began while she raised three children as a single mom.
“I knew I needed Jesus in the center of my life and in my children’s lives,” she said. “I’d accepted Jesus into my heart when I was younger but had been far away from Him. I desperately needed Him back.”
Janice and her children were frightfully poor, lacking money and prospects. “But I knew God would take care of us,” she said.
Janice, never forgetting how she felt when she turned her life over to the Lord, made it a point to share the gospel with people she met — usually by handing them little tracts. “I’d made it a point to share these tracts with my garbage men,” she said. “The city used prisoners to pick up our trash with one of the supervisors working with them. They were all really sweet men and were always happy to talk to me for a few minutes when they came to get our trash.
“I’d give them a Popsicle when it was hot or a little cup of hot chocolate when it was cold,” she said. “One of the men seemed to be especially interested in one of the tracts I gave him, and I was able to lead him to Jesus. I had just the shortest amount of time to talk with him about the Lord, so I asked him if he’d like some more books to read to learn more, and he said he would. I asked his supervisor if it would be all right if I gave him a book to help him learn more about the Bible, and he said OK.
“I shared [about] Jesus and led some of the other men to Him, too, and I wanted to help them grow in their faith,” Janice explained. “That’s how my book ministry got started.”
One day, a big man in a blue suit knocked on the door and asked Janice if she was the one who had been giving those men the books. “It scared me half to death, but I said I was,” she admitted. “Then he said, ‘Well, keep it up. That man out there (pointing to the first trash collector she had given a book) is now teaching a Sunday School class at the prison!’”
Her book ministry with the prisoners grew from handing out tracts to the trash collectors to working with the prison chaplain, helping him supply books for the prison library. God has blessed her book ministry, never failing to provide funds for her to buy books when it seemed there wasn’t a spare dime in her budget.
“God blessed me with a [second] husband, who was willing to work with that ministry,” she said. “Raymond worked with me and supported everything I did. We didn’t have a lot of extra money of our own, but God just kept providing money for whatever He wanted us to give away.”
Sadly, Raymond, Janice’s partner in life and ministry, passed away from cancer in 2009. They had been married 39 years. “He was the sweetest man,” she said. “We had a good marriage.”
One Easter after Raymond’s death, Janice was in Florida and visited an Easter worship service. After the service, a church member greeted her. He asked where she was from, what she did — the typical questions a visitor is asked.
“I told him about my book ministry and that I had been passing out some books while I’d been there in Florida,” Janice said. “He got my name and address and the next week, sent me a check for $500.”
On another day, Janice was eating lunch by herself in a local café. A woman walked up to her and asked if she was still doing that book ministry with the prison. “I told her I was,” Janice said, “and she gave me a check for $100.”
Last December, the chaplain let her know they needed a lot of books at the prison. She had been giving out a lot of books to the men, and the books were being very well received.
“I wanted to get him a lot of books, but I didn’t have any money to buy them,” she said. “But God has proved He always provides for the needs. Some books were on sale at the LifeWay Christian Store, so I went down to get them, trusting that God would provide the funds. As I was placing my order, a lady gave me a card, and it had a check with $800 in it. She said it was for the book ministry. I put it all together, and we bought 300 books. I took them out to the prison, and those men were so excited. Praise God! They were standing in line to get those books.”
Janice said she is always careful to tell people the book they need most is the Bible. “I tell them the other books aren’t a substitute for the Bible, but they are helpful and God will bless them too.
“I’ve been doing the book ministry for more than 46 years,” she said. “God put that ministry together and showed me that was where He wanted to use me. All I needed to do was be obedient. I’ve given out thousands of books to everyone — from homeless people to millionaires. It’s not about how much or how little money they have. That doesn’t matter. They all need Jesus.”
POLLY HOUSE is a Jesus-loving, beach-craving wife, mom, mother-in-law, granny, friend, scuba diver, and world traveler living in Nashville, Tennessee. Since retiring as editor of LifeWay’s Facts and Trends magazine, Polly has started a second career as a freelance writer and a “better than amateur” photographer. She and her husband, Sam, are members of Green Hills Church.
This article originally appeared in Mature Living magazine (October 2016). For more articles like this, subscribe to Mature Living.