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The Bible Cause is a diverse and exciting area of work! In May our World Assembly in Philadelphia, USA, brought together Bible Society leaders from more than 150 countries. It was thrilling to be part of this global gathering to study the Word of God, to pray, to look at the changing global landscape in which we work, and to develop our work to make the Bible available to everyone.
During the meeting, the winners of our first innovation and enterprise competition were announced, with the aim of encouraging greater creativity in Bible mission. And, together, our Bible Societies identified and committed to our priorities for the future in a document entitled The Philadelphia Promise. It was a time of great thankfulness to the Lord and commitment for the Bible cause. You can read more about this in this newsletter.
The Word of God is continuing to spread around the world. In some places, the challenges and threats faced by our Bible Societies and partners in carrying out this work are enormous. But we believe that God will bless the seed of His Word. May you be blessed as you read our newsletter; we pray that it will serve as a stimulus for your personal commitment to the Bible Cause.
Head of Global Partnerships & Communications
Highlights from World Assembly
Some 450 delegates representing more than 150 Bible Societies working in more than 200 countries and territories met in Philadelphia building a blueprint for the future of the Bible cause. The event was hosted by the American Bible Society as part of the celebration of its bicentenary. The meeting came to a close May 17 with the adoption of a new strategic document that will guide the work of Bible Societies over the next six years. The Philadelphia Promise document affirms the central place of Bible translation in the work of United Bible Societies (UBS) member organisations and identifies eight priorities for Bible Societies, ranging from building Bible translation capacity into new languages to serving the vulnerable and under-represented people groups of the world.
United Bible Societies continues to grow and expand as an organisation. Since the last World Assembly six years ago, eight Bible Societies have become members: the Bible Society of Lithuania, the Bible Society in Serbia, United Bible Societies in Ecuador, the Faroese Bible Society, the Bible Society of Gabon, the Mongolian Union Bible Society, the Bible Society in Mozambique and the Palestinian Bible Society.
Making a Connection in Philadelphia
Sunday May 15, many World Assembly delegates shared their stories at local churches in Philadelphia, reaching thousands of listeners with messages about the Bible work taking place around the world. Churches around Philadelphia of many different denominations, including Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, independent and the Salvation Army, opened their pulpits to all World Assembly delegates to preach the morning’s sermon.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
During the plenary sessions UBS Director General Michael Perreau compared the current delegates’ journey through the changing mission landscape with that faced by Bible societies after World War II, when the organization was founded. “They built their vision on prayer, faithfulness and sacrifice,” he said. “These are the principles that should guide our journey, too.” The Bible societies journey today seeks to address the growing urban population, the unreached and the under-represented. Perreau highlighted specific groups that Bible Societies desire to serve better, including the persecuted, visually disabled, hearing impared, illiterate, migrants and forcibly displaced, and women and youth.
Dr. Kirk Franklin, Wycliffe Global Alliance Executive Director, spoke to World Assembly delegates about the need for systematic action in an increasingly globalised world. “Global Christianity is an agent and a product of globalisation,” he said. “It has crossed geographic, cultural, linguistic and many other barriers.”
The World Assembly also considered the impact of technology on the Bible cause. “Digital technology challenges us radically,” acknowledged Nelson Saba, UBS Digital Publishing Strategist. “But it can allow us to fulfil our mission in ways which are unimaginable with traditional media.”
A Report on Bible Distribution in 2015
United Bible Societies released strong distribution figures for 2015 during the World Assembly. The number of Bibles distributed by Bible Societies around the world topped 34 million for the first time. Altogether, 34,396,611 full Bibles were distributed by Bible Societies in 2015. When the distribution of New Testaments, Gospels and other Scripture portions is included, Bible Societies distributed more than 418.7 million Scriptures in 2015.
The report highlighted that Scripture distribution in Europe and the Middle East soared in 2015, up by nearly 50% compared to the previous year. The Middle East saw the biggest rise in global Scripture distribution, reflecting the tremendous effort to meet the demand for God’s Word among those affected by war, violence and conflict. Bible distribution across the countries affected most by conflict and the resulting migration of people rose by a staggering 88% between 2014 and 2015. There has been a surge in demand for smaller Scripture items, like calendars and booklets, which can be transported and distributed easily by Bible Societies’ network of volunteers.
Looking Ahead to 2022
The Rev. Dr. Robert Cunville was formally welcomed to serve a second term as UBS President. At the close of the 2016 World Assembly, it was announced that the next event would be held in 2022. To symbolise the closing of the current World Assembly and the start of preparations for the next, Nick Athens, Board Chair of American Bible Society, handed a scroll to the next organisers.
Scripture distribution remains steady around the world
Bible distribution tops 34 million in 2015
The number of Bibles distributed by Bible Societies around the world has topped 34 million for the first time. Altogether, 34,396,611 full Bibles were distributed across the Fellowship in 2015 – an increase of just under 1.5% on 2014’s distribution total.
Including Testaments, Gospels and other smaller Scripture items, Bible Societies distributed a total of 418.7 million Scriptures in 2015. That’s slightly down on last year’s total – but still up 14% from distribution efforts back in 2010.
The gures are compiled from annual Scripture distribution numbers reported by Bible Societies around the world, and include local sales and exports of Scripture material*.
* Data was collected between February and March 2016. 79% of Bible Societies responded. In the case of non-respondents, the previous three year’s average data was given as their 2015 distribution data.
Global Scripture distribution in 2015
Meeting demand in the Middle East
Scripture distribution in Europe and the Middle East soared in 2015, up by nearly 50% compared to the previous year. It’s the region that’s seen the biggest rise in global Scripture distribution, reflecting the tremendous effort to meet demand for God’s word among those affected by war, violence and conflict.
In total, 8.4 million Scriptures were distributed within the region during 2015, including 1.8 million Bibles. That’s double what Bible Societies distributed in 2013, before so-called Islamic State began its brutal campaign in Iraq and Syria.
In particular, Bible distribution across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – the five countries affected most by conflict and the resulting migration of people – rose by a staggering 88% between 2014 and 2015.
There’s been a surge in demand for smaller Scripture items, like calendars and booklets, which can be transported and distributed easily by Bible Societies’ network of volunteers. The total Scripture items distributed in Iraq alone has gone up seven-fold in 12 months, and Bible Society in Jordan distributed three times the number of Scriptures in 2015 than in the previous year.
The director of Bible Society in Syria, whose name remains con dential for his safety, said, “The thirst for Scriptures among Christians here has only increased with the unrest. The past five years have been very traumatic. Every family has a sad story. With this loss of hope, people are turning to God’s word for comfort and encouragement.”
More than 44 million Bibles for Brazil
More Bibles continue to be distributed in Brazil than in any country in the world. In 2015, 7.6 million Bibles were distributed here – more than twice the number distributed in the China, the country with the second-highest gures.
Since 2010, more than 44 million full Bibles have been made available in Brazil, enough for almost a quarter of the population.
Rudi Zimmer, Bible Society of Brazil’s Executive Director, said, “Our Society has always been characterised by the outreach work it develops for populations facing situations of vulnerability and social risk, where the Word of God comes as a breath of hope and solace.”
Brazil is also home to one of the largest printing plants dedicated to producing Bibles and New Testaments – and in 2015 this Bible Press celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Scripture distribution in the Americas outstrips Scripture distribution across the rest of the world by a long way. A third of a billion Scriptures were distributed in this region in 2015; that’s 10 items every second. In fact, it’s slightly less than 2014, but an increase of 15% since 2010. The distribution of full Bibles in the Americas has been consistently around 14.5 million for the last three years.
Focus on full Bibles in Africa
More than three-quarters of Scripture items distributed across Africa in 2015 have been full Bibles, demonstrating Bible Societies’ commitment to making the complete Bible available to people on this continent.
By comparison, across the world 8% of all Scripture distributed by Bible Societies have been full Bibles.
Scripture distribution overall in Africa was at its lowest point since 2010. But the distribution of full Bibles has never been higher than in 2015 – climbing 36% since 2010.
Fuelling the Church in Asia
Scripture distribution in the world’s most populous region, where only 6% of people are Christians, has been steady. India and the Philippines both achieved their highest ever distribution of Scripture in 2015, with 30.8 million and 15.5 million Scriptures made available respectively.
China remains the world’s second-largest distributor of Bibles, providing approximately 4.5 million Scriptures in 2015.
Download Global Scripture Distribution Report 2015 Annual Progress Report (pdf 2 MB)
God’s Word: Living hope for all
World population is growing and changing. Director General Michael Perreau gave a presentation during the recent World Assembly and how it affects our vision to give everyone access to the Bible in the language and medium of their choice.
“Cities don’t make people poor. Cities attract poor people. They attract poor people because they deliver things that people need most of all; economic opportunity.”
There are challenges in delivering the Word of God to diverse growing mega cities from high end neighbourhoods to shanty towns for poor squatters.
There are over 6,600 unreached people groups. One challenge is that four out of five of these live in restricted access countries. Another challenge is that 86% of the world’s Hindu, Muslims and Buddhists don’t know a Christian. Here’s a challenge to each Christian, to get to know people who aren’t Christians.
There are many groups of under-represented people. These groups can’t be forgotten. About 1 billion people experience disability. 1 billion lack minimum literacy skill, 1 of 122 people globally is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.
Innovation project selected for launch
In an effort to encourage innovation and enterprise, UBS launched “The Big Idea Project” last year. Collectively we were looking for ideas that would have built-in sustainability, deliver a step change in Bible mission or generate substantial income to fuel Bible mission. For an idea to truly be able to touch the world it had to have the potential to be scalable and exportable. UBS desired to encourage new ways of thinking to support and grow Bible mission and engage dreamers, visionaries, inventors and entrepreneurs to a competition where the whole Fellowship would win.
By the submission deadline UBS received 45 projects to evaluate. The three that were shortlisted were each remarkable in their own way. The panel of judges at the World Assembly took them in pieces, questioned the representatives and weighed them in global context.
The Bible Society of Brazil’s Integrated Logistics Planning project would allow saving in the scale of millions if Bible Societies would do their purchases jointly. Bible Society of Egypt’s Fundraising Assistant app is already being used by a team of forty fundraisers who are able receive cash and be accountable to cash donations while being one the streets with people. The Bible society of Kenya idea ‘Pay As you Go Bible’ was to make the Bible accessible to rural communities through digital enhancement, aimed at making it easy for people to use their mobile phones to pay for Bible in instalments.
The Big Idea winning idea was announced in the presence of the distinguished Bible Society leaders. Representatives of the Bible Society of Kenya are returning home better equipped to serve some of the poorest people in their country, after being announced as the winners. We look forward to hearing about the success of their implementation.
The long journey of the Bunong New Testament
Tot Nhernh, 93, vividly remembers the panic he and his family felt as the bombs started falling on their village in north-east Cambodia. It was the 1970s and the Vietnam war was spilling into the region as members of the Viet Cong crossed the border to hide.
With their village totally destroyed and desperate to escape the continued US bombing in their region, Mr Nhernh and his family, along with many others, crossed the border into Vietnam. Not only were they traumatised by the destruction they had witnessed, they were also deeply worried that in their haste to leave they hadn’t had time to make offerings to appease the spirits.
Mr Nhernh is a member of the Bunong tribe, which, like all the hill tribes in Cambodia, is traditionally animist, regularly sacrificing livestock to the spirits. Although they were relieved to have escaped the bombs, and were trying to rebuild their lives in Vietnam, they felt overwhelmed with grief and fear.
But then some Vietnamese people began to visit these desperate refugees. They offered them help and friendship, and also shared some good news: God loved them and had released them from all bondage through his son, Jesus. Mr Nhernh recalls how he felt all his fear falling away, replaced by a peace and freedom he had never experienced. He was among several Bunong refugees to become Christians, learning much about their new faith during their time in exile.
When the war ended, he could not wait to return home and share the Gospel. He and the other new Bunong Christians planted small churches in Bunong villages, and also evangelised other hill tribes, including the Krung and Tampuan. They, too, had lived in fear and obligation to make costly sacrifices to the spirits, and were overjoyed to hear about the freedom and peace they could have in Jesus.
Although work to translate the Scriptures into Bunong had begun in Vietnam in the 1960s, the work had been disrupted by the war and the manuscripts lost. Some small portions of Scripture in Bunong were published before the war but these were only available in Roman script – understandable to the Bunong in Vietnam but not to those in Cambodia, who use Khmer script.
So Mr Nhernh and other Bunong evangelists in Cambodia were sharing the Gospel by simply telling people the story of Jesus. Later, people began writing out the few Bunong Scripture booklets that were available into Khmer script so that these could be shared more widely with Cambodian Bunong people.
The two decades of communist rule that followed the war were very difficult for the Church in Cambodia, particularly for ethnic minorities like the Bunong. But Christianity grew steadily, and today, around 10% of Cambodia’s Bunong people are Christians. (Around 75% of the Bunong in Vietnam are Christians.)
50 years after the first attempt
This May, around 50 years after the first attempt to translate the Scriptures into Bunong was stopped by war, the Bunong people of Cambodia and Vietnam will finally receive the very first New Testament in their language. Undertaken by Vietnam Parntership, the Bible Society in Cambodia and SIL, it will be printed in both Khmer and Roman scripts.
Are Bunong Christians looking forward to getting the first New Testament in their language? The look of delight on the face of 93-year-old Tot Nhernh when he thinks about holding it in his hands says it all!
Story by Bonnie Lepelaar, Bible Society in Cambodia.
Prayer and celebration
- Giving thanks for a great spiritual climate at the World Assembly
- Praying that Philadelphia Promise strategy document would bear much fruit and join Bible Societies around the world.