A grandfather’s legacy: Lessons from a milk truck bookstore

hackman_milk_truck-copy.jpg Joseph Hackman, Salford

When I was young I heard much about a milk truck. My grandfather purchased a milk truck in 1947 and converted it to a bookstore on wheels. He traveled the roads of Montgomery, Bucks, and Lehigh counties and sold Bibles, devotionals, and children’s books.

A Christian bookstore on wheels seems a bit antiquated today. If my grandfather were starting out in ministry now, I’m not sure that he would convert a milk truck into a bookstore to communicate Good News. But even though his methods might seem outdated today, stories from the milk truck and the lessons that go with them have informed my own sense of call. And as my licensing now becomes another part of my own story as a pastor, I reflect on how the milk truck will always be part of my journey.

Good News

Traveling the roads of Montgomery, Bucks, and the Lehigh counties, the bookstore on wheels always gave my grandfather opportunities to come in contact with those who never heard the Good News. His method was simple. Park in a neighborhood and knock on doors and invite them to visit the truck. I share my grandfather’s passion to share Christian faith with those who have not grown up in the church. Nothing gives me more joy than sharing Good News with those who have not grown up in the church, or with those who desire to hear it again for the first time.

hackmanwedding-352-copy.jpgEcumenical Relationships

In 1989 my parents bought the bookstore from my grandfather, and my family spent many hours working there. The bookstore gave me an awareness of how small my Mennonite tradition is. My grandparents and parents formed close relationships with Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists of all stripes, and Catholics. Forming these relationships gave me an understanding from an early age of the diversity and beauty of the larger Christian church. The experience of my grandfather, and later my parents, modeling ecumenical relationships has given greater understanding of who I am as an Anabaptist Mennonite, as well as a better understanding for who I am as a part of the larger body of faith.

Risk Taking

We may not see milk trucks on wheels serving as bookstores today. But when my grandfather first started the ministry, he was looking for ways to be culturally relevant that would meet people’s needs. In the 1940s, there were few Christian bookstores, and even fewer mobile Christian bookstores. My grandfather wasn’t afraid to take creative risks, in business or in ministry, to communicate the Gospel. This creative risk taking is something that informs my own call to ministry. The church has often held a posture of resistance to culture. Going forward, I hope to discern with congregations when to resist and when to engage culture.

In my office I have a picture of my grandfather standing next to his milk truck. Wherever I go in ministry, I hope to keep the picture close. It reminds me of my grandfather and his life in Allentown. But it also reminds me of my own calling to ministry. It reminds me of my calling to share the Good News, especially to those who have not heard it. It reminds me of the importance of building relationships with Christians from all backgrounds. And it reminds me to take risks in efforts to communicate the Gospel. I’m blessed to have the example of my grandfather be part of my own call to ministry, and I’m hopeful for the ways this story will continue to inform my future journey as a pastor.