The Gideons

“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.” Bob Greene

A Comforting Word

Bob Greene, The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2016, p. A 11

Gideons_color_circle_logoIf 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 dan’t seek publicity. They are contejit 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 Janesvilie, 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 lake a Bible home well, no one’s going to call the cops. The Gideons are always glad to print more. There is a one-page guide at the beginning of each Gideon Bible, sort of an emergency index, with the headline “Help in Time of Need.” It directs the reader to specific Bible verses that address problems of the kind that people are sometimes reluctant to admit even to themselves, including'”Com­fort in Time of Loneliness”; “Relief in Time of Suffering”; “Protection in Time of Danger”; “Courage in Time Fear”; “Strength in Time Temptation”; and “Rest Time of Weariness.”

 

When the Gideons bet their mission, there were no ra­dios or television sets in hotel rooms, and the four walls could make the space seem haunt-ingly empty and isolated. But in the modern age, even the most wealthy and celebrated travelers could from time to time understand that hollow feeling; the Beatles, at the height of their success, sang: “Rocky Raccoon, checked in to his room, only to find Gideon’s Bible… ”

Although the Bibles are there for anyone to use, the Gideons describe themselves as “the oldest association of Christian businessmen and pro­fessional men in the United States of America,” and there are occasions when hotel guests or outside groups, con­sidering every aspect of that definition to be incontrovertibly exclusionary, complain to hotel managers and demand that the Bibles be removed from all the rooms.

Sometimes they succeed, as happened recently at the hotel on the campus of Northern Illi­nois University in DeKalb, III; in our increasingly multi­cultural age, it will not be sur­prising; if there are more such efforts. The Gideons, through their headquarters, routinely decline requests for inter­views, preferring to let their work speak for itself.

But a case can be made: In 21st-century hotel rooms, on the high-definition television screens bolted to the walls or on the computers and tablets and smartphones that travelers never are without, every man­ner of violence and bloodshed and pornography is readily available 24 hours a day. So, with all that, perhaps there still is a place for the printed Bible tucked away in the drawer next to the bed. No one is forcing the guest to open it.

The Gideons define what they do rather simply: “Our mission is to reach the lost.” Which is a description that, in all of its nuances, will probably apply to just about everyone at some time or other in life. That book in the nightstand, if it’s allowed to remain, will likely never lack for readers.

Mr. Greene’s books include “Once Upon a Town: The Mira­cle of the North Platte Can­teen” (William Marrow, 2003).

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