As a church kid who loved to read more than anything, Koorong seemed to be a little slice of heaven on earth to me as a child.
I grew up in a Christian family in Sydney. So, obviously, I knew all about Koorong.
When I was a child, a visit to Koorong felt like the Christian equivalent of being asked to fetch something from the teacher’s craft storeroom – each seemed to me to be a wonderland of abundance.
But at Koorong, instead of stacks of coloured paper, oversized paint bottles and pipe-cleaners, I encountered an abundance of Bibles, devotionals, Christian novels, theological resources and Christian living titles. What more could a bookworm-church-kid want?
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I could spend hours standing in front of Koorong’s immense wall of Bibles. Could I find the translation that I wanted, with the annotation that I needed and a cover that I loved? Was it better to get a more conservative-styled Bible that had parallel translations and a comprehensive index? Or should I get the cool new one tailored for tweens? Could I convince my Mum to buy me a Bible case with a zipper that went all the way around so that I didn’t keep losing my pen between the car and church every single Sunday?
At Koorong, there seemed to be a book on every topic I could ever want to learn about with the wisdom of the Christian community through the ages collected in one room.
Could I convince my Mum to buy me a Bible case with a zipper that went all the way around so that I didn’t keep losing my pen?
I left the store with books on prayer, sharing my faith, and friendship. Sometimes I took home the writings of church fathers and medieval mystics. Other times, it was fiction or a biography that chronicled the extraordinary lives of people like Joni Eareckson Tada, Corrie Ten Boom, or my personal faith hero, Adrian Plass, of Sacred Diary fame.
My mum also viewed Koorong as a wonderland of all things Christian, stocking up on Christian cards, resources for new Christians, and kids’ books to give as gifts to her non-Christian friends’ kids (in her own suburban-Sydney version of Bible smuggling).
Yet even though I was an ADHD kid who could never really conquer the routine of a daily quiet time, it was the devotional section that was my favourite.
I had always seen my parents working through devotionals, whether in their own quiet times or in Bible study groups. They were those classic Australian Baptist types who read the Bible with a pencil in hand. They did, at times, pull out a concordance or some other massive reference book from the bookshelf, but their daily practice was much less concerned with academics than it was with personal reflection. And what better way to reflect on the Bible than with a devotional from Koorong?
My mum told me that she regarded Koorong to be her “first line of defence” when she found herself lacking biblical understanding.
As a teenager, I followed their lead and learned to pay attention to the Holy Spirit’s nudge in my spirit, and then to head to Koorong to find a devotional that would guide me in what the Bible had to say on the matter.
My mum told me that she regarded Koorong to be her “first line of defence” when she found herself lacking biblical understanding. As a young married woman, I followed her lead by finding books on how to be a good Christian wife, most of which curiously seemed to have pink and mauve covers. Now these purchases were a bit more hit and miss than my previous purchases and I can’t say that many of them remain on my bookshelf today.
Regardless, they taught me that the Christian faith could be expressed in different, equally genuine ways, and that I could always learn something from a Christian, even if I didn’t agree with them on everything. And while I may never be the ideal reader of such books, reading them developed in me a sincere respect for those women who are.
In later years, when I worked as a college trainer at Hillsong, we continually ordered books from Koorong to be delivered to our office.
Koorong featured in my memory as if it was a wise, faithful character in a story.
Then, in late November, when the finalisation of marks was done, graduation ceremonies were over, and most of our student body had headed home for the holidays, we trainers would indulge ourselves with a trip to Koorong in person and during work hours.
And I’d find that Koorong had lost none of its magic. Again, I’d lose hours in front of the wall of Bibles and get lost in the immense range of Christian living titles. I’d stock up on gifts for my kids, scour the shelves for academic resources that would strengthen my understanding of the subjects I’d be teaching the following year, swing past the devotionals, before meeting my colleagues at the café to compare purchases.
When I recently heard that Koorong was turning 40, and realised that we are the same age, I thought about how significant the store had been in my walk with Jesus.
It was a strange moment when I realised that, even though it was just a bookstore, Koorong featured in my memory as if it was a wise, faithful character in a story.
And that’s exactly what Koorong has been to me. A faithful, wise, small slice of bookworm-church-kid heaven-on-earth.
So Happy Birthday, Koorong. Thanks for the ride.