The Bible, the Gideons, and a culture shift
by Danielle Martell
Tonight is your night. You’re on a long journey and you know you need God. You stop at a hotel, turn the bedside lamp on, settle into bed, open the bedside drawer and reach for the Gideon’s Bible – and lo and behold, there it is, just like you expected it to be. Right? Or is that once dependable landscape changing in Canada? Is the solidity of what we once had possibly slipping away on us?
The other day I stayed at the Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria, BC where I was informed by the front desk clerk that they no longer carry the Gideon’s Bible. After a subsequent email to guest services to see if anything could be done to change this, a Gideon’s Bible was kindly delivered to my door. Apparently, it was only available upon request. I pondered this matter; what about the person who has no contact with God’s word but who needs it nonetheless?
Culturally, as a Canadian I simply took for granted that the Gideons would place a Bible in my hotel room. They have been diligently doing this since they were established in 1911. What shifted and when? I later learned that the Coast Tsawwassen Inn hotel carries in its drawers both the Bible and the Buddist sacred writings. I suppose it’s a no-brainer – a plurality of options for our religiously pluralistic society. A shift has taken place in the Bible landscape of Canada.
For approximately 500 hundred years, since the Reformation, the Protestant Church has highly valued placing the Bible in the hands of the average person, including translating it into their everyday language. It’s in our DNA to make the Bible readily accessible to people. Through the invention of the printing press, mass production of the Bible increased its spread, and in Canada’s past and present history, organizations like the Gideons made the spread of Bibles in schools at grade 5 and in hotels, part of our Canadian psyche. But will the hotel Bibles one day join the disappearing grade 5 Bibles? In a recent interview with the Gideons, Michelle Peters, the Director of Communications & Marketing, says, “We’ve encountered a lot of changes in society since the Gideons began. We as an organization have shifted as well.” Peters explained that the Gideons still place Bibles wherever they are welcome, however, they have had to change as society has changed. When asked to identify the key issue, Kelvin Warkentin, a spokesperson for the Gideons, noted that “Bible literacy is a problem. People don’t know what the Bible is anymore.” Warkentin explained that people ask basic questions like: “Do I believe in this book? I don’t know what it is.”
With this kind of dilemma facing the general public when they encounter the Bible, the Gideons have adapted their strategy in delivering God’s good news. They have created reader-friendly scriptural magazines designed for those who have no idea what the Christian narrative is, who Jesus is, or how to read the Old and New Testaments. One magazine named Hope uses Psalms and another named Redeemed uses Romans.
They also have a magazine for kids named Sparked. The idea is that these magazines would “engage people in God’s word,” says Warkentin. “The ultimate goal is that people would come to know Christ as their personal Saviour.” The magazines conclude with the book of John and connect the reader with the free NewLife app which includes the full Bible.
Over the years the ministry of the Gideons has significantly contributed to the biblical landscape of Canadian culture, yet Peters encouragingly states, “We are a ministry because of the generosity of Canadians.” When asked about ways everyday people can encourage the ministry of the Gideons, Peters said, “We need people’s prayers and donations.” She further mentioned, “If anybody has a passion for sharing the gospel they should consider becoming a member. Our members are people who are passionate about sharing the gospel. We equip them to do that.”
As the interview concluded, Peters and Warkentin asked for prayer that God’s word would reach Canadians and those around the world. In particular, they have a special outreach project to the First Nations community. Pray that God’s word would have much success among our First Nations.
You can request a free copy of the Bible from the Gideons online. To donate, become a member, or for more info, go to www.gideons.ca.