Two Billion Bibles Later, the Gideons Are Still Spreading the Gospel

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/AURORA CREATIVE
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/AURORA CREATIVE

Two billion Bibles later, the Gideons are still at it, spreading the Gospel room by room.

If 2016, as various where-is-society-heading experts predict, turns out to be the year in which the sleek new digital world rudely shoves ink-on-paper products deeper than ever toward the dustbin of history, someone forgot to tell the Gideons.

You may not have thought about them in a while. Which is fine with them. The Gideons don’t seek publicity. They are content to do quietly what they have done for more than a century: endeavor to put a free Bible in the drawer of every nightstand in every hotel room in the United States and throughout the world.

The presence of those Bibles has been so constant for so long that many travelers barely notice they’re there. But the Gideons’ theory—the reason for the existence of Gideons International, based in Nashville, Tenn.—is that even if a person seldom picks up a Bible, there may come an unexpected dark night of the soul when a man or woman is on the road, alone and despairing, and by instinct will know that potential comfort is an arm’s reach away.

The organization began in 1898 when two salesmen who had never met— John H. Nicholson, of Janesville, Wis., and Samuel E. Hill, of Beloit, Wis.—were staying at the Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wis., and took their evening devotions together. Their conversation led to a second meeting, and then a third; they wondered what might be done to help travelers who found themselves in solitude on the road and in need of spiritual sustenance.

Taking their name from a biblical figure emblematic of fidelity to God, the Gideons came up with what seemed like an outlandishly ambitious idea: put a Bible into every hotel room in the country, at no cost to the hotel owners. The project, in sheer numbers, has been nothing short of astonishing.

According to the Gideons, they have distributed, since the group’s inception, more than two billion Bibles around the world in more than 90 languages. The Bibles are given to hotels and are also offered to police and fire departments, military bases, hospitals, prisons and domestic-violence centers. The Gideons say their work is supported entirely by contributions, and if a hotel guest decides to take a Bible home—well, no one’s going to call the cops. The Gideons are always glad to print more.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Bob Greene

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