|Mark Hamby is the President and Founder of Lamplighter Publishing, a non-profit publishing company whose mission is to "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord, by building Christ-like character one story at a time.”|
Christianbook.com: Lamplighter is a very unique publishing company; when did you first have the thought to republish books filled with these exemplary character traits?
Mark Hamby: If you know anything about my background you would know that I hated to read. At twenty-two years of age, when I came to know Jesus as my Savior, I read my very first book—the Bible! I was so taken up with reading the Scriptures I could not put it down. A wise pastor challenged me to memorize a Scripture verse every week. He also encouraged me in evangelism. Those early days of discipleship were instrumental in building a foundation for what was to come.
Two years later I was commissioned to become the Pastor of Christian Education. But the leadership did not know my secret—I had not read a book from cover to cover except for the Bible. It wasn’t long before they realized that I was lacking in educational training, so before I knew it my bags were packed and I was headed for Pensacola Christian College! While at Pensacola as a newly married young Christian, sorely lacking in character development, God took me on a journey that I will never forget. I studied like NEVER before (some day you will have to hear the rest of this story!). A miraculous grade of 100% on a final exam allowed me the privilege of attending the special seminar that afternoon.
The speaker took his place on stage. I knew this was not a typical speaker when he slowly scanned the audience, and with a thundering voice said, “YOU’LL BE THE SAME FIVE YEARS FROM NOW AS YOU ARE TODAY, EXCEPT FOR THE PEOPLE YOU MEET AND THE BOOKS YOU READ!” He proceeded to scan the audience then belted out, “I KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE, AND I’M GONNA FIND YOU!” Needless to say, I was the chosen one that day.
“What great Christian literature are you reading these days to transform you into the image of Jesus Christ?” he asked as I stood trembling on the stage.
“Christian literature?” I retorted. He shook me and demanded I tell him which biographies were my favorites. After what seemed like hours of public torture and humiliation, I was planning my escape.
My wife and I arrived home three days later, and there was a special delivery box waiting for me from this same man—and I knew there must be a bomb in it! I opened the box and found twelve biographies. Thirty years later I am still praying the prayer that I found in that first book: “The world has not yet seen what God can do through one man wholly committed unto him.”
Those books transformed my life. I began reading on a daily basis, along with the Scriptures. The TV was set aside and stories that sharpened my imagination took its place. I read books that fanned the flames of passion to serve Christ.
In 1994 I found The Basket of Flowers, a story that later became the very first Lamplighter Rare Collector book. This book inspired, challenged, and convicted me in such a powerful way that I was convinced that it needed to be read by the entire world! After printing that incredible story, someone sent me one of their grandfather’s favorite stories, and then another came, and another—and before I knew it, I had a collection of rare books that were powerful and life changing!
As I printed these books, I found that others were being profoundly
influenced just as I was. Today we have over one hundred thirty of
these rare books in print, with over two million readers! And what’s
more, we are presently adapting them to dramatic audios for radio
broadcasting! Well, this is a story for another time.
let’s see, what was your question? Oh yes, why books with exemplary
characters? After seeing the influence that these books were having on
my own life, I felt compelled to share them with the world. Publishing
these books is a calling—an emphatic, unquestionable calling.
Christianbook.com: How long did it take to go from your initial idea to a fully functioning company?
MH: About one year. I spent that first year actually editing four versions of The Basket of Flowers into one version. I had found four editions from various countries and couldn’t decide which to publish, because each one had its advantages. Each edition, translated by a different author, had its own individual flavor. Not willing to allow the beauty of any of the books to be lost, I spliced together all four versions to present what I consider a masterpiece, containing the best combination of biblical wisdom and thought. If I had not taken on this task, Lamplighter Publishing could have started in eight weeks; however, I wanted to start with a book that would be greatly used of God to change hearts as it had mine.
Christianbook.com: As a non-profit ministry, what would you say is the primary goal for publishing these works?
MH: Our mission comes from Luke 1:17, “To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” It is our goal to restore family values, cultivate Christ-like character, and inspire career excellence through exemplary role models that awaken one’s moral imagination.
|Christianbook.com: Lamplighter books are carefully edited to fall in line with scriptural truth; do you have a list of specific standards for a Lamplighter book? |
MH: Biblical Theology was one of my favorite courses while completing my M.Div. and Th. M. degrees. The study of the Scripture is a consuming passion of mine. Concerning Scriptural truths, they must fall in line with the principles of Biblical theology. This means that the Scriptures are to be used within the context of the immediate text and in relation to the whole of Scripture. When using a Scriptural reference, it must fall in line with biblical theological standards for exegesis.
Christianbook.com: How are decisions made about what to cut or add?
MH: I make decisions based upon whether a book reaches my heart, contains sound scriptural principles, and follows the theme of Romans 5, which describes the formation of character: “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” This text is the clearest and most concise description of character development. Lamplighter books are filled with characters who either choose to walk by faith in the midst of suffering or reap the consequences of making poor choices and willful decisions apart from the absolute truths given by God.
If a book contains language or behavior that I feel is inappropriate and unnecessary for the spiritual lessons to be learned, they are deleted or modified. For example, if smoking and drinking are not a necessary component to the story, I will remove these sections so that parents can trust the role models their children will be emulating. If a character uses offensive language, racist remarks, etc., then this language is also removed, unless it is necessary to the story and the lesson it will teach. My goal is to make reading a Lamplighter book an experience that is edifying for the reader and glorifying to our Lord.
Christianbook.com: Lamplighter books seem to have a higher vocabulary level and sentence structure than many modern books. Have there been testimonies of improved reading skills?
MH: It is interesting that you ask this question. Yes, we have received remarkable testimonies from parents and teachers concerning the development of vocabulary as well as an increase in comprehension. One parent described how her 17-year-old daughter’s dyslexia had dramatically improved since her daughter was reading Lamplighter books.
As part of my doctoral research I am studying the effects of the media on the mind and the moral imagination and have found that reading literature of this caliber does indeed help to realign the brain to think in logically connected thought patterns, similar to learning to play an instrument or speaking a foreign language.
Chrisitanbook.com: Lamplighter Theatre has now produced audio dramas of Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince, The Basket of Flowers and other Lamplighter stories. What are your hopes for this new branch of the ministry?
MH: Though I love Lamplighter Publishing and am committed to promoting reading, I must admit that I am extremely excited about Lamplighter Theatre! To dramatize these incredible stories has been my goal since the first Lamplighter book was published. A dramatic audio presentation allows the entire family to experience the story together. Because I am committed to restoring family values, this is the perfect option to give families a solid substitute for the destructive influence of the TV. Secondly, Lamplighter Theatre provides family entertainment that is both fun and redemptive.
As God raises up the funding for this enormous and very expensive project, it is my goal to dramatize every Lamplighter book that can be adapted. My heart is beating passionately to dramatize some of our epic books, such as Titus: A Comrade of the Cross, The Hidden Hand, and Ishmael. These stories will take between fifteen to twenty episodes, so we will need to have a considerable amount of revenue before we can tackle these stories. But when we do, look out! These stories will be talked about and listened to again and again—for decades, I believe.
|Christianbook.com: Many Lamplighter books (such as The Lamplighter and A Peep Behind the Scenes) were bestsellers in their day, but faded through time. They are now enjoying the spotlight once again. What factors played into their decline in popularity during the intervening years? And on the flip side, what is contributing to their popularity now? |
MH: Great question. After 1880 and the rise of the Industrial Revolution, children were taken out of homes to work in factories. Horace Mann, father of public school education, sought to protect children from the slave labor industrialists. His plan appeared to be for children’s protection, but it resulted in splintered family cohesiveness. As a result, the demand for family reading material dwindled. At one time families had regarded fireside reading as a cherished family time. But soon publishing companies focused on books that educated the public masses of children. The culture became less Christian by conviction, and books of deep Christian principles were no longer sought after.
The two books you mentioned went out of circulation, even though both titles had outsold The Scarlet Letter (which had become required reading for public schools). The Lamplighter outsold The Scarlet Letter 10 to 1 and A Peep Behind the Scenes by over two and a half million copies respectively.
I must say that though this explanation is plausible, there really is a spiritual dimension as to why these books went out of print. The answer is simple: we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. The enemy knows that these books are dangerous to his cause, and I am sure that we will be in for a fight to keep them in circulation. If you have ever read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, you understand why the enemy has all but extinguished these books.
You asked, “Why are Lamplighter stories so popular now?” There are two reasons: primarily because of the homeschool movement. Parents started to speak up and act on behalf of their children, searching for and finding the best resources to influence their children for Christ. They decided that “enough is enough,” when it came to what their children were reading in the schools. By the way, if you have never browsed through a public school library or even some Christian schools libraries, you would be appalled at what you would find. The second reason is that the inspiring truth found in a Lamplighter story is so compelling and so life-changing that people are attracted to these stories. Someone once wrote and said that when a story is filled with truth that represents the character of God, it resonates with our spirit; that is why so many people are being drawn to these stories—we are drawn to truth that will set us free.
Christianbook.com: Do you have a favorite title? Would you like to share about any new works that we can look forward to?
My staff is always afraid someone will ask me this question. Why? Because it could take hours! But here is the short list; my favorites are: Ishmael and its sequel Self-Raised, Sir Knight of the Splendid Way, The Lamplighter, The Basket of Flowers, The Hidden Hand, The Hedge of Thorns, Titus: A Comrade of the Cross, Teddy’s Button, Christie’s Old Organ and Buried in the Snow (the last two books led my dad to Christ!). Also Jessica’s First Prayer, Charlie’s Choice, The Little Lamb, My Golden Ship, The Robbers’ Cave, Shipwrecked, Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince,
|The White Gypsy, The White Knights, The White Dove, Winter’s Folly, The Lost Clue, Glaucia the Greek Slave, Resolute: In the Face of Persecution, The Pillar of Fire, Prisoners of the Sea, and the only book that I have authored, the illustrated story, Trusty: Tried and True.
(The front cover says, “Really written by Debbie Hamby,” but don’t
believe it—I wrote the story; she just made it more readable!)
Here is what you have to look forward to: This year was a bumper
crop for Lamplighter Publishing and Lamplighter Theatre! Some of my
all-time favorite stories are coming out this fall/winter in both book
form and dramatic audio. Here is a sneak peek:
|The Wanderer of Africa. I already claimed this book as Lamplighter’s
Book of the Year for 2010. It is a must-read about a young man who is
tired of living at home and helping his family make ends meet. So he
strikes out on his own against his parents’ wishes. After making some
very serious wrong choices, he finds himself hanging on to what may be
his last breath. He crawls with a broken leg in the desert of Africa.
What makes this story unforgettable and so redemptive is that each
chapter is based on a verse from Psalm 32. Before reading this story I
really never understood this Psalm the way I do now!
Next are two books that I won’t go into detail about, but they have
left a profound imprint upon my soul. They are The Crew of the Dolphin
and Seven Days Left. Both are for the older reader, ages twelve to
Concerning our new dramatic audio releases, we have already released
Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince and The Basket of Flowers. In a few
weeks we will be releasing Charlie’s Choice and The Captive.
As I am writing this letter I am here in London recording The Hedge
of Thorns and The Unexpected Return. The performances today for The
Hedge of Thorns may prove to be even more powerful than the first two
dramas, which were outstanding!
And if that’s not exciting enough, we have plans to begin A Peep
Behind the Scenes in December, then The Robbers’ Cave, Sir Knight of
the Splendid Way, and The Lamplighter! We rejoice in this exciting
opportunity to reach the world with messages of hope and redemption.