Billions of people around the World call themselves “Christians”, many more billions claim to follow other religions or faiths. Christians are those who have Jesus Christ at the centre of their faith and what he did on a cross at Cavalry some 2000 years ago. The Christian faith has the Holy Bible as its instruction book and this book is claimed to be the “Word of God”. The Bible is considered much more than just an instruction book by Christians, in fact their whole faith is built around it and one organization has taken their faith to another level. The Gideons have taken up the challenge of providing and distributing copies of the Bible right across the World, the result of this has seen millions of people’s lives change after receiving and reading a copy of the Bible that was provided by the Gideons.
This story is about the Gideons, who they are, what they do, why they do it and a lot more. National Life hopes you enjoy David Dixon’s story about this remarkable organization.
Gideons more than just hotel Bibles;
two billion worldwide and counting!
“Now Rocky Raccoon, he fell back in
Only to find Gideon’s Bible
Gideon checked out, and he left it, no doubt
To help with good Rocky’s revival.”
- Rocky Racoon, The Beatles, The White Album
They’re a worldwide Christian group of more than 250,000 members that issue few media releases; give no interviews; and seek little publicity.
Apart from presentations on their mostly-anonymous work to Christian groups like one held recently in the NSW central west and personal testimonials on their website; they follow Matthew’s command: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Yet they are one of the most influential evangelical movements worldwide with a name, if nothing else, most Australians of a certain generation would all be familiar with — that of an Old Testament hero whose battles in the Holy Land occurred 1200 years before the birth of Christ.
The Gideons for more than a century have had one simple purpose; to distribute Christian Bibles and Testaments — the “word of God” — throughout a troubled world.
Most people who remember first seeing the ubiquitous “Holy Bible — Placed by the Gideons” in hotels, motels, inns, taverns, and guest houses in the 1960s and 1970s probably suspect that they are a relic of a more Christian past. In this they could not be more wrong!
In Australia alone, they now distribute more than 300,000 scriptures each year to prisons, hospitals, aged care facilities, refuges, emergency services facilities, universities and hotels.
Working and helping in 200 countries; they distribute 90 million Bibles worldwide each year. This includes about 11 million in the United States, seven million in Europe; more than 25 million in Central and South America; 16 million in Africa; and nearly six million in the Pacific Rim — astronomical numbers.
Most impressive though are their recent figures; The distribution of the group’s first billion Scriptures by Gideon members spanned 93 years from 1908–2001. Distribution of their second billion, however, was completed in just 13 years from 2002–2015. More than one million Bibles and New Testaments are distributed every four days.
What we used to call “The Third World” is now the front-line of Christian evangelicalism with countries like China, India, and parts of Africa now the hot-spots for groups like The Gideons.
For instance, about 20 million have been distributed in India in recent years; a country that is, according to the 2011 census, 80 per cent Hindu, 14 per cent Muslim, and only 2.3 per cent Christian.
As with much of the geopolitical and cultural fault-lines that fracture the world today; China though is at the centre.
Recently celebrating 70 years of communist rule with-in a militaristic triumphalism reminiscent of the Soviet Union in its prime — its oligarchic sovereigns now fear a cloud that is only the size of a hand on the horizon.
Its pragmatically-ruthless rulers rightly-see the rise of Christianity as a long-term but very real threat to its avowedly-atheist one-party reign.
The Gideons International home-site states: “For five years the doors were wide open and hundreds of thousands of Bibles were provided to the churches, thanks to generous donors. We’re sad to report that we can’t do that anymore.
“Bibles are still being printed in China, but the number allowed to be printed still has a cap that’s far lower than the Bibles needed. But now there’s a new restriction on Bibles: the government has banned the sale of all Bibles on online bookstores. Pastors have indicated an intensification of sanctions against churches, including the demolishing of crosses, burning Bibles, and raiding Christian homes to remove religious symbols,” the site concluded.
The Gideons generally though avoid entanglements in larger political issues; viewing their quiet work as their true witnessing role in the modern world.
While Bibles are helping spread their message in non-Christian countries; the more traditional role of the Gideons in English-speaking countries has been seeking to “shine a light” in the darkness of each person’s personal journey.
That is why Gideon’s Bibles have traditionally been found in hotel rooms, particularly the low-cost “motels” that sprung-up after World War II; prisons, homeless shelters, and other temporary accommodation.
That Gideons in most countries are associated with hotel/motel rooms may be more than just coincidence. The group’s founding can be traced back to a chance meeting between two Christians at a hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin in 1898. John H Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin began developing an Association with the eventual aim of providing a bible for each hotel room in America.
This plan, which they called “The Bible Project” was adopted at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1908.
But accommodation Bibles are only part of their mission; their colour-coded Bibles and New Testaments with helpful passages listed on the title page; are also distributed for college/university/high school students; to the medical profession; the armed forces; and for individuals involved in witnessing.
Volunteers tell of stories and letters of thanks from those who had been desperate, lonely, and depressed in a hotel room or prison and contemplated suicide.
Some of these personal testimonies are included in short videos such as Paula Murphy who says she had her life transformed from a Bible while serving in Emu Plains Correctional Centre (https://vimeo.com/243980215?ref=em-share.)
Another is from Julie Mellor who testifies how a Gideons New Testament brought her back from the brink of suicide (https://vimeo.com/243980128); and Luke Brooks who says the Bible rescued his life (https://vimeo.com/237497931).
With a name replete with Old Testament significance; the name Gideons was chosen after an early meeting as a prayerful inspiration of fellow-founder and first vice-president, Will J. Knights.
Gideon was a military leader, judge and prophet whose exploits are recounted in chapters 6 to 8 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. As a leader of the besieged Israelites, he won a decisive victory over a Midianite army despite a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 “valiant” men.
The organisation’s logo represents a two-handled pitcher and torch, symbolising the implements used by Gideon to scare the Midianites.
In a world torn between: aggressive secularists who want to remove all Christian symbols, observance, or influence on modern society; the persecution of Christians throughout the world; and millionaire televangelists exhorting their followers to continue to “give more” for their good works; the Gideons are a refreshingly old-fashioned organisation neither seeking publicity nor earthly rewards.
Their reliance on the words of “The Good Book” to get their message across, they believe, is all the witnessing that our dispirited modern society requires.
“The world’s most widely-read book”
This is now a global enterprise in around 200 countries in more than 100 languages. Its Bibles are placed in lodgings; hospitals and other medical offices; schools and colleges; military bases, as well as jails and prisons.
The Gideons began distributing free Bibles in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana.
Members of The Gideons International currently distribute over 90 million Scriptures annually, and the numbers are growing, especially in places like Brazil, India, and Asia. On average, more than three copies of the Bible are distributed per second through Gideons International. In late April 2015, Gideons distributed their historic two-billionth Scripture.
The organisation began in 1898 when two traveling salesmen, John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wisconsin, and Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin, met in a hotel room they shared at the Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin, where they discussed the formation of an association to support travelling men of Christian faith.
Membership is limited to current or retired business or professional men aged 21 or older who are members in “good standing” of an evangelical or Protestant church. Wives of Gideons may join the Gideons International Auxiliary. Today, there are more than 269,500 Gideons and Auxiliary and thousands of other supporters around the world.
Who was Gideon?
Gideon was the son of Joash, from the Abiezrite clan in the tribe of Manasseh and lived in Ephra (Ophrah). As a leader of the Israelites, he won a decisive victory over a Midianite army despite a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 ‘valiant’ men.[
God chose Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh, to free the people of Israel and to condemn their idolatry. The Angel of the Lord, or “the Lord’s angelic messenger” (Judges 6:11 NET) came “in the character … of a traveller who sat down in the shade [of the terebinth tree] to enjoy a little refreshment and repose” and entered into conversation with Gideon.
Gideon requested proof of God’s will by three miracles: firstly a sign from the Angel of the Lord, in which the angel appeared to Gideon and caused fire to shoot up out of a rock (Judges 6:11-22), and then two signs involving a fleece, performed on consecutive nights and the exact opposite of each other (Judges 6:36-40).
The organisation describes its link to the story of Gideon:
Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character. This is the standard that The Gideons International is trying to establish in all its members, each man to be ready to do God’s will at any time, at any place, and in any way that the Holy Spirit leads.
Some video testimonies