What Exactly is The Gideons International and What does It Do?
Despite more than a century of activity, a worldwide reach together with the exceptional transparency and accessibility that is a hallmark of the association we know as The Gideons International, some people continue to hold misconceptions about its nature and its activities. Consequently, it is probably just as important to make it clear what this organisation is not as to explain what it actually is.
South Africa, in common with many counties, has experienced a strong Christian revival. This can be almost solely attributed to the rapid growth of a number of charismatic churches originating from across the world in 200 countries. These are now attracting vast numbers of worshippers, often drawing them from the more-established churches such as the Afrikaans Sister Churches and Protestant Churches. Many of these new ministries have adopted names that are of obvious biblical origin.
Given this trend, it is perhaps not too surprising that many people believe the choice of a name shared by the Old Testament prophet, whose prayers freed the Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites, identifies The Gideons International as another such church. In practice, however, the association is neither a church nor even a denomination. Instead, it is a membership of dedicated Christian men, mostly active or retired businessmen and professionals drawn from all denominations and with the shared goal of spreading the Word of God. In a synergy with evangelical and Protestant churches they do so, not through assemblies and preaching but by the practical act of distributing copies of the Bible at a cost of R20 each.
Its American founders, of which two were travelling salesmen and so quite accustomed to lengthy periods of lonely nights spent far from their homes and their loved ones, first embarked on this mission in 1899. Not surprisingly, their initial thought was to target the country’s hotels by donating copies to be left in each of their rooms. Since then, the association has extended its distribution to include schools and colleges, nursing homes and hospitals, military bases, and correctional facilities, while individuals also hand then out too passers-by in city streets.
Through the dedicated efforts of some 270 thousand members who, alone, undertake the responsibility for the entire physical distribution process, The Gideons International have managed to place more than 2 billion free bibles and New Testaments in 200 countries to date. Despite a world in which joblessness, redundancies, financial pressures, and the constant threat of violence abound, or perhaps because it has been driven by these adversities, the association’s productivity now stands at an all-time high, with more than a million new Bibles placed every four days or roughly two each and every second, around the clock. The cost of the operation is shared among the members themselves, backed by donations raised by whichever church to which they may belong that may be willing to lend its support for their endeavours.
Although many Christians abide by the tenets of their faith and accept Jesus as their personal saviour, not all have the makings of a pastor or evangelist. For them, membership of The Gideons International allows anyone with spare time and a love of God, to spread His Word in a manner that is simple and effective.