Bibles on the Brink
God’s Word Is Changing Lives Even as COVID-19 Threatens the Future of Bible Ministry
October 06, 2020Print this article
On a typical Sunday morning in America, pews, auditorium chairs, and even movie theatre seats are filled with believers worshiping God. In the hallways before service, hugs and news are shared over coffee and, if you’re lucky, donuts.
In early 2020, that all changed. When fellowship and hope were direly needed, churches were required to cancel services or move them online. Small group meetings were postponed. Kids’ camps were canceled. The Church, built on community, felt distant.
COVID-19 waged war with the Church. It also waged war with global ministries like ours. American Bible Society shares God’s Word through our global Bible Society network, but the pandemic has put severe financial strain on 60 percent of these vital Bible ministries. For many of our partners, there has been no government bailout to keep staff active in ministry, no grace period for paying the rent on Bible storage facilities, no emergency fund to cover Scripture distributions.
With 88 Bible Societies facing permanent closure, the future of international Bible ministry is at risk. If this pandemic forces Bible Societies to shut, the ensuing spiritual crisis will devastate tens of millions of people.
However, no matter how difficult this season gets, we trust God. The hymn “Blessed Assurance” comes to mind: “This child can face uncertain days because He lives.” God is alive, and in these uncertain days, His Word remains a certain and solid foundation.
Thanks to your prayers and support, Bible Societies working in more than 200 nations had Scripture ready when COVID-19 struck. From America to Asia and from Argentina to Austria, Bible ministries have been sharing hope where it’s needed most. Here, we’ve captured some of the miraculous stories of Bible Society heroes risking their financial security—and sometimes even risking their lives—to make God’s glory known.
Bibles for the Least of These
People in Poverty
For those who cannot afford food, let alone a Bible, the financial crisis of COVID-19 has also provoked a spiritual crisis: where is God? In their darkest hour, many have found themselves without Scripture to turn to. In Guatemala—where nearly 60 percent of the population lives under the poverty line—the Bible Society responded to this great need for God’s presence. By partnering with humanitarian aid organizations, they were able to share groceries and 15,000 New Testaments with people who had been out of food and out of faith.
In Uruguay, the Bible Society was frustrated when the quarantine hit and they had no way to sell the 50,000 Bibles they had in stock. However, after praying, they realized God might have a bigger plan. Recognizing they had a warehouse full of the Bread of Life just as people needed it, they asked God how they could bless their community. Trusting in the generosity of partners and risking their financial stability for the good of the Kingdom, they freely distributed those 50,000 Bibles to people in need in just two months!
People in Crisis
Here at home, American Bible Society has been ensuring that people who have been devastated in our own country also receive the reassurance of Scripture. “We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts!” says Pastor Steven Milazzo of Bethlehem Assembly of God Church in New York City. “We are taking bags of groceries to thousands of people, and every bag of groceries has one of these incredible booklets on how to survive disaster—leading them to know God.” Pastor Milazzo was one of the thousands who helped get food and Scripture into the hands of Americans in need at the peak of COVID-19. Thanks to you, each food pack also included the Bible-based booklet, Beyond Disaster: A Survivor’s Guide for Spiritual First Aid, that helps people find God on the other side of crisis. (More than half a million copies of Beyond Disaster in 20 different languages are reaching hurting households this year.)
New Yorkers weren’t the only Americans to be connected to the hope of God’s Word in this pandemic. American Bible Society also teamed up with The Salvation Army to provide Beyond Disaster in grocery boxes to people in need in states like Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska. Through this partnership, from March to June, we provided more than 70,200 families with Scripture! We’re continuing to expand this partnership to ensure vulnerable populations across our nation receive the strength of Scripture.
People Far from Home
On the other side of the world, in Jordan, God’s Word has also been speaking new life to refugees. More than 650,000 refugees live in Jordan—the majority fleeing war in their home countries. Many live in crowded camps with limited opportunities for employment or schooling, making them particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. When COVID-19 struck, Bible Society of Jordan acted quickly, distributing Scripture resources alongside food packages and COVID-19 protection gear. “We are so thankful for the food package, but seeing my son open up his Bible as soon as he received it was the biggest joy for me,” said one mother. “Thank you with all our hearts,” added a father who received a box of food. “We truly needed this package today more than ever.”
Like refugees, migrant workers are also separated from home and hope. Most work long hours for bottom dollar to send money home to sustain their families. In the Persian Gulf, it’s common for these workers to live in crowded buildings—sharing just one bathroom and kitchen with hundreds of others. Living in these conditions, it can be hard to hold onto purpose. With sickness looming and work sites closing, many have become despondent. Suicide rates are spiking.
Bible Society in the Gulf serves these communities, publishing and distributing Scripture in 60 languages. Through your support, at the beginning of 2020, more than 20,000 people in the Gulf received Scripture in their languages such as Tagalog, Telugu, Tamil, Urdu, Nepali, and Arabic. In times like these when migrant workers could be most fearful of their circumstances and their future, Scripture allows them to instead find solace in the Lord.
Prasad is a migrant worker in Dubai who has seen God’s goodness firsthand. She says this pandemic is giving people a fresh chance to find God. “It is not corona but karuna, which means mercy, grace, and compassion in Telugu,” says Prasad. “God is giving us the opportunity to turn to Him.”
Let the Little Children Come to Jesus
“Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so,” goes the popular children’s song. But some kids don’t have a Bible to reassure them of Jesus’s love. Some kids go to sleep every night wondering if anybody cares about them.
For Kenyan children who have been abandoned by their families and forced to fend for themselves at a too-young age, the statement “Jesus loves you” is particularly profound. COVID-19 has put additional pressure on these “street children” who typically survive off scraps from dumpsters. When Kenya’s government closed restaurants and hotels to curb the spread of the disease, those establishments stopped throwing out their excess food. Janet, a young teenage mother living on the streets in Nairobi, Kenya, said, “We have been sleeping hungry because the rubbish bins have become empty.”
Thanks to the support of partners like you, Bible Society of Kenya was able to respond with both spiritual and physical nourishment: providing meals, screening the JESUS Film that tells the story of Christ, and starting Audio Bible listening groups. Through this ministry, these precious youth are receiving tangible care and learning that they are loved by God. Program Coordinator Susan Ndiang’ui says, “The feeding, interactive sessions, and sharing the Word through JESUS Film and Audio Scriptures has opened my eyes to see that a small act of love can open opportunities to be a blessing to the world. That is what Jesus would do.”
In the Middle East—a region that has been marked by violence and fear—God’s Word provides essential hope. Our network of Bible Societies there is led by tireless, local leaders—many of whom who remain in-country despite risks to their own and their families’ safety. The Director of Bible Society in Syria, George Andrea, is one such believer who has stayed in Aleppo despite the ongoing fighting. This Easter, it was not his own peace on his mind but that of the children in the country—many of whom have seen the horrors of war firsthand. Despite Syria’s quarantine orders, the Bible Society staff were determined to share Jesus with kids who needed a reminder of the Prince of Peace. “We can’t disappoint the children,” says George. “Syrian children have so little.”
The Bible Society assembled a team of volunteers to mask up and distribute Scripture to 28,000 children. At one distribution, a young boy named Bechara asked what the books were about. “The story is about Jesus who loves you very much,” the Bible Society volunteer said, handing him his first Bible. “Can you see how Jesus is sitting among the children, loving them with all His heart?” A smile lit up Bechara’s face, and he ran to his mother with his new Bible to ask her to read it to him. Thanks to the Bible Society and your ongoing support, children in Syria like Bechara are finding joy in Jesus—even in the midst of conflict and fear.
Peruvian Bible Society typically runs a ministry called Pan de Vida (Bread of Life) that brings food and Bible classes to hundreds of at-risk kids living in remote areas. But when the quarantine began, access to these rural communities was restricted to stop the spread of the virus. The Bible Society prayed hard and got creative. They arranged distribution points where mothers could come to pick up supplies for the whole family and got a special government permit to be allowed to travel to transport the goods. One mother had tears in her eyes as she told the Bible Society, “I used to sell in the street but no longer can. I had no food for my children. Thank you for the help and the Bible stories!”
Seventeen communities have been sustained to date, with 913 families receiving groceries and Scriptures. “I want the little Book!” cheered one group of children as the mothers arrived home. Let the little ones come to Jesus!
Even Greater Things Than These
The stories we’ve shared here are only small snapshots of the incredible Bible ministry happening around the globe. Be encouraged that God is still using you to do great things—even if this has been a difficult year for you.
Through your gifts, people are finding life in Christ through Scripture. One such salvation story about an elderly gentleman named Sergey* recently came to us from our partners at Bible Society of Ukraine. Sergey is 79 years old and lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, on the 14th floor of an apartment building. Due to an illness that confines him to bed, he has not left his home for more than a year. This time in confinement has caused him to reflect on the meaning of life. He says, “I felt that there had to be something greater in life, but I always ignored those quiet appeals of my soul.” When Bible Society of Ukraine brought Sergey his first Bible, it had a profound effect. “I have passed various churches thousands of times and was never interested in them. But I’ve never encountered the Bible before,” he said. God spoke directly to Sergey through Psalm 23. As a Bible Society volunteer read it aloud to him, tears rolled down his face, and he said, “God had to reach the hard-hearted like me through the pandemic.”
Sergey is one of countless thousands who have come to faith during this global pandemic. Thank God that—even in times of isolation and uncertainty—He is drawing people to life in Him through His Word!
It is for this ultimate purpose that hope-filled Bible Societies continue to share God’s Word—even as many are on the brink of collapse. Together, we believe we will get through this. Together, we believe God will use us for even greater ministry. Together, we believe God for the promise of Psalm 91:15: “When they call to me, I will answer them; when they are in trouble, I will be with them. I will rescue them and honor them.” Come, Lord Jesus!
Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.
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