Church workers help make braille Bibles

Church workers help make braille Bibles

Immanuel Lutheran one of about 200 centers in U.S

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DEKALB | Look too fast, and you might miss it. The workshop is almost hidden in the basement of Immanuel Lutheran Church, sectioned off in the far corner of the cafeteria.

But eyes that can't see know the importance of the work done in this little room of the DeKalb church basement.

Members of Immanuel Lutheran have been printing braille Bibles in the church's basement for 27 years as part of the national Lutheran Braille Workers Inc. organization. Bibles are shipped for free to individuals and schools around the world for the blind.

Immanuel Lutheran is one of about 200 work centers in the United States. Each center works on just a few volumes. At Immanuel, it's Psalms and Leviticus, which are eventually combined into a complete Bible that would take up several feet on a bookshelf.

Marilyn Mull, coordinator of Immanuel's braille Bible program for about 20 years, said people who don't understand the operation may be surprised at how easy the work is.

"They think they have to know braille well. None of us know braille," Mull said. "It's a fun thing. And very rewarding."

Teams of four to five work each week in two-hour shifts. Mull and three other women volunteered one Wednesday afternoon, and each had her own job in the operation, established through years of experience and working together.

Mull is the beginning and end of the process. She starts by punching holes in blank papers for spiral binding. She also numbers each page so it matches with each plate number, which is essential in keeping the pages in order.

Next, Lillian Knecht takes one sheet of paper and lays it between metal plates. One plate has hundreds of tiny raised dots forming braille characters, which will mold to the paper once pressed.

Elaine Daley then slips each plate into a metal "jacket" and runs it through the press to imprint braille onto the paper.

On the other side of the press, Dorothy Knudson takes the paper out of the metal plate and stacks pages into piles, again making sure they're in order.

Finally, Mull takes the completed volume and attaches the spiral binding with one quick pull of a lever.

People are curious, the women said, and always ask what exactly they do.

"We just stuff papers in and put it through a press," Daley tells them. "It's one of the unknown things here."

With equipment dating back at least 27 years when the operation began at Immanuel, the program is able to keep costs low. If commercially produced, a braille Bible in English costs $1,100. Lutheran Braille Workers keeps costs to $144 per book through volunteer labor and simple production methods.

The greatest source of revenue for the California-based Lutheran Braille Workers is from individual donations and grants, Mull said.

Each Bible can be read 100 times before the imprints wear off, she said.

The team of women produced about five volumes, 70 pages apiece, in the two hours they spent together Wednesday. To date, more than 33,000 books in braille have been printed at Immanuel, Mull said.

"We don't think of it as work, we just do it," Daley said, calling it the group's "mission work."

"It's another way, I think, of spreading the Gospel," Knecht said.

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