When I was young, I found church boring.
Actually, church was boring.
Now before you get emotionally charged and start citing reasons agreeing or disagreeing with me, consider this. I grew up in an Indian Pentecostal church that started its roots in the United Nations Church Center in Manhattan then eventually moved to a three-story house with a spacious hall in Hollis/Queens, NY. From the outside, not so boring. The congregation was large enough to have an organized morning Sunday school which was far more enjoyable than what came afterward: the dreadful main service.
Why was it so dreadful? The morning worship songs, then the Psalm reading, then the deacon’s message, then the personal testimonies, then more worship songs, then the Lord’s Supper, then the pastor’s incredibly long message, then the visiting pastor’s equally long message, and finally the announcements were all spoken in a language that was native to my parents and their generation who grew up in India. But not to us kids who grew up here. Except for Sunday school, English wasn’t the primary language used at our church. So imagine me along with the rest of my young peers sitting there clueless and in sheer boredom for hours yet quiet and behaving out of fear and respect.
So church was boring, and I passed the time either drawing cartoons or reading the Bible. But even reading the Bible was tough and boring at that age. I remember starting off in Genesis, and I was okay until I hit portions of Leviticus and Numbers. Gosh. This prompted me to skip the rest of the Old Testament and start the New Testament. What in the world was a “begat”? I liked the stories of Jesus, but what about the other books? I tried Romans since it sounded interesting. Was it me, or was Paul confusing? I closed the Bible and went back to either drawing or staring at the clock, hoping the church service would just end. I felt the Israelites had it easier in Egypt.
Then one day, my great uncle from India, Pastor K.O. George, visited my family. He stayed with us for about a month as he went visiting all the local Indian churches in the New York area. During that time, he had purchased several books and was also given books by friends and family to take back to India. I remember helping him pack all these books into his suitcase. There were so many that he couldn’t take all of them and told my dad that he would have to get the rest the next time he came. One of the books in his suitcase, I had never seen before. It turned out to be a thick set of comic books.
I loved comic books.
Whenever my dad gave me a dollar, I would run to the local grocery store, buy two comics (they were only forty cents each), and then have twenty cents left over to buy candy. For me, those were great days, reading about either Hulk or Spiderman while chomping down on Smarties and Now & Laters. My great uncle (whom I lovingly called Appachan) had The Comic-Strip Bible, a softcover version of The Picture Bible (edited by Iva Hoth, illustrated by Andre LeBlanc, published by David C. Cook).
It totaled around 750 pages, broken down into a three-volume set. I had never seen a comic of that size. I didn’t want to impose, so I asked Appachan if I could have one of the volumes. He was gracious and handed me one. I was ecstatic. Then my dad told Appachan that he shouldn’t break the set and that he might as well give me the whole thing. Appachan agreed and handed over the rest of the volumes. I held the books, speechless.
When I started reading those books, the stories of the Bible came to life before me. I got to learn about the heroes of our faith. I remember reading them over and over again and continued returning to them into my adolescence. After getting a good grasp of the stories, I had the fortitude to start reading my “regular” Bible, finding the stories within the text, and enhancing what the comic Bible illustrated (God’s word visualized). Over years of reading, I came to a deeper understanding of God’s redemptive story echoed through all the pages of the Bible.
Church was still boring, but the Bible was not any longer. When I wasn’t drawing, the many stories kept me occupied on those long Sundays, and I would have never started reading the Bible if it wasn’t for my kind great uncle and that Bible comic book.
The Comic-Strip Bible, as well as The Picture Bible, are both old books and harder to find. The illustrations are beautiful but appear dated and may turn off some younger readers. Years ago, to get our young children reading the Bible and for us to read as a family, my wife purchased The Action Bible, which is an updated version (edited by Doug Mauss, published by David C. Cook).
It’s pretty much the same book but with gorgeous art done by Sergio Cariello, who has worked for both Marvel and DC. So if the Bible seems daunting to read or difficult to get into, or if you want to get your young kids reading the Bible (and you all love reading comics), I recommend getting started with The Action Bible. It will help you get a good grasp of the rich stories of the Bible and encourage you to get deeper with a visual understanding of God’s word.