Reflections on Twenty Years
Tuesday's Virtual Meetup was a huge blessing to me. If you joined fellow Sonlighters for the celebration, thank you! The live chat conversations, feedback and questions (or at least what I could catch of them—since it was so fast) greatly encouraged me.
Over the past months, I've reflected on what it means to celebrate Sonlight's 20th anniversary.
Last week at a special luncheon, John and I and our current Sonlight team celebrated 20 years of serving some of our favorite people—our customers. During the luncheon I shared the following reflections with our team and thought you might enjoy reading them as well. Please know, I count our work at Sonlight a huge privilege.
I began with a sober reflection of the somewhat rare privilege we have been granted—to be in business for 20 years. One-third of all companies fail in their first year, and many struggle with various milestones beyond that. From what I read, new companies are fortunate to break the five-year barrier and survive the move from a Mom-and-Pop shop to a more formal business with multiple employees and partners. But by God's grace, here we stand.
Over these 20 years, we've had the opportunity, indeed the gift, to impact many, many families. I believe we've encouraged members of these families to love to read. As a sub-set of that, I believe we have engendered a deep and abiding love to learn. We've helped families knit together in a unique way as they enjoyed tens of dozens of stories snuggled together on the couch. We've had a part in raising up multiple generations of scholars—kids with wide-ranging interests, unique talents, and God's covering who are then empowered to go out and impact their world. And we've supported potentially isolated homeschooling moms (and dads) in our Sonlight community via our forums, where we've hosted more than five million threads to date.
In these 20 years, we've touched our employees. I know I'm thankful to work in a company that doesn't work weekends and lets employees go home on time in the evenings. And through these many years, I can testify that our employees get along. We don't experience political jockeying or mean-spirited gossip. When I read the comic Dilbert, I find I can't relate; our business does not match that portrayal. We share a pleasant physical environment, and from the beginning, John and I have sought to provide our employees a fair, livable and generous wage.
During these 20 years, I'm convinced, we've influenced education. Several years ago, one of our employees visited a local homeschool convention. When he came back to the office he stated (somewhat disgustedly), "Everyone's selling the same stuff we are. How can we stand out?" I found his comment striking, for when I started homeschooling, that was not at all true. Back when I started, "a hundred years ago," the only option for homeschooling was a choice between various textbooks. The rest of the convention hall included adjunct materials like an abacus or games. When John and I founded Sonlight, I used to say that the Sonlight model wasn't for everyone; I thought it would be too "odd" for most people. I don't say that anymore. The Sonlight model of education has proven itself and has now spun off multiple competitors. I'm grateful even for those competitors. If Sonlight doesn't work for a family, may it be that one of the alternative literature-based models works. I pray that, in whatever manner, many families will read and grow together.
Similarly, Sonlight has had the opportunity to influence publishers. Over these 20 years, I've watched the publishing world embrace many styles and fads of books, many of which I have no interest in (understated). By recommending and selling a host of good titles, I believe Sonlight has been able to influence the industry in a positive manner. Though publishers continue to sell less worthy titles, we have been able to ensure many solid titles stay in print. I pray that homeschoolers will continue to greatly impact and alter society through the book choices we make.
Throughout these last 20 years, I believe Sonlight has impacted the world. Sonlight's original goal was to enable a missionary to stay on the field for one more year by making education doable at home—in the family. We wanted to ensure that families serving God in out-of-the-way places didn't feel their only option was to send their children to boarding schools hundreds or thousands of miles away.
I believe we've been able to accomplish that goal for many people who live overseas. Not long ago, John and I attended a large meeting of overseas workers in obscure fields. When the leader of the meeting asked those present to please stand if they used Sonlight, about a third of them stood up! I am humbled that God would use Sonlight to help these precious people achieve their goal; what a privilege!
Then, too, when I think of the various fund-raisers we have run, I'm thankful for the chance both to touch the hearts of Sonlight students and to influence our world. As I remember Sonlight students giving up their precious cash to educate 7,000 Indian women through Mission India—to pull them from a life of bondage in illiteracy and give them an opportunity to meet their Savior, I'm grateful. In this past year, Sonlight students chose to invest in the translation of an entire New Testament for the Meetto people of Mozambique, plus a large portion of the New Testament for the Ning people. I can't but imagine the good that God will accomplish through those projects. May we one day shake hands with believers from those peoples whom Sonlighters have had an opportunity to touch.
And finally, I'm thankful that Sonlight as a company has had an opportunity to release large amounts of funds for the unreached/hidden peoples of this world. As God brings in profits, John and I rejoice to give funds in support of the unreached groups highlighted by the acronym THUMB (Tribals, Hindus, Unreached Chinese, Muslims and Buddhists). May all have a chance to hear the Good News!
As Sonlighters, please rejoice with us in the good things God has brought to life. We count the work we do a solemn privilege and a huge joy.