Being illiterate was like being blind. Now I feel like I have come out of the darkness and into the light!
Being able to read and write is something many of us take for granted. But the joy expressed by this 56-year-old woman who learnt to read through a Pakistan Bible Society literacy class says it all: for someone who has never had the opportunity of an education, literacy opens the door to a whole new world. It’s about dignity, independence and wholeness. And yet so many people – one fifth of humanity – are deprived of the basic human right of literacy (see the infographic below.)
We believe that everyone should have the chance to learn to read and write and to enjoy ‘life in all its fulness’, which Jesus offers. And we know that reading the Bible can transform lives. That’s why we are running hundreds of literacy classes for hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
Our work has been officially recognised by UNESCO, with whom we are in consultative partnership. And we are expanding our plans: by 2015, we hope to carry out literacy projects in 50 languages spoken by more than one million people. Around half a million people will directly benefit from these projects. Please pray for our literacy work.
Bike for Bibles (B4B) is an annual event that brings cycling enthusiasts of all ages and walks of life together for a time of fellowship on the road – with one purpose in mind – to help raise funds for Bible distribution and translation projects of the Canadian Bible Society.
In 1984, Australian businessman Bob Forrest was invited by his son and his friend to drive a support car for them as they rode from Sydney to Melbourne. It occurred to Bob that something like this could be used as a fundraising project. He phoned the Bible Society office and found out about a project involving literacy development in India which needed $2,000. Bob, who hadn’t ridden a bicycle in 35 years, decided he would rather cycle than sit in the car. He found someone else to do that. The three riders succeeded in their trip and in raising the necessary funds.
Word spread and the following year six riders raised $10,000. In 1986, 42 cyclists rode 2,700 kilometres from Adelaide to Brisbane and raised $55,000. Bike for Bibles was born. The wheels kept on turning; in 1989, 560 cyclists raised $565,000 for Bible distribution in Africa.
In 1991, Bob Forrest was travelling through Canada when he was introduced to Darrell Young, Minister of Youth at First Alliance Church in Calgary. Darrell was just about to do a solo ride from Calgary to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Bob introduced Darrell to Martyn Thomas, Secretary for the Southern Alberta District of the Canadian Bible Society. Darrell was not able to arrange his trip as a fund-raiser but had plenty of time out on the highway to imagine what a future Bike for Bibles Canada ride would be like. When Darrell was back in Calgary, he and Martyn began working together, planning and pulling people into a steering committee.
The first ride took place on August 11th – 20th 1992. The trip began in Revelstoke and ended at Golden, BC. On the way, the team visited Nakusp, Kaslo, Creston, Cranbrook, Kimberley and Invermere. A day of white-water rafting on the Kicking Horse River was thrown in for more excitement.
Our Canadian cyclists experienced the privilege of having Bob Forrest come, along with three other cyclists, one roadie and two film crew members from the Land Down Under. In all, the team was able to raise over $17,000 for Bible distribution in Russia and the Ukraine.
Today, Bike for Bibles is a global event attracting thousands of riders, all with a vision to change the world one person at a time. Join us this year in 1-day, 2-day or even week-long rides all across Canada. Cyclists raise funds to bring God’s word to people of all ages, walks of life, and denominations, while getting fit, having fun and enjoying fellowship.
As public debate rages about how to deal with the thousands of refugees trying to enter Europe each year, many of them drowning in the attempt, the Austrian Bible Society and its partners have been working for years to help care for those who end up in Austria.
“The situation of these people saddens me deeply,” says Father Albert Pongo, who regularly visits refugees in detention centres and prisons. He is originally from Ghana and gives the refugees Bibles in their own languages, supplied by the Bible Society.
“I know from personal experience how hard it is to leave your own country, how much energy and effort it takes. Those who do manage to arrive often have to go back to their home country and face the stigma of failure.
“If I could, I would give them the necessary documents, so that they can stay here in Austria. But I can’t. What I can do is to listen to them and to talk to them about their lives and their problems. We read and discuss the Bible together.”
Father Pongo helps the refugees, some of whom aren’t familiar with the Bible, read passages that comfort and strengthen them.
The story of Job, for instance, who lost all his wealth but kept his faith. When the detainees read about him, they see that everything will end well.
“Often we read the psalms together,” he comments. “Psalm 121, for instance, encourages many people. Some people read the whole Bible by themselves, but for others I recommend passages I find very helpful myself. The story of Job, for instance, who lost all his wealth but kept his faith. When the detainees read about him, they see that everything will end well.”
Father Pongo says that the refugees greatly value the Bibles they are given.
“I can see how excited they are when they get their Bible,” he smiles. “They immediately start to flip through and read. I am very happy that the Bible Society provides these Bibles.
“I’d like to ask all supporters of Bible work to pray for all refugees. We all need to do what we can to raise awareness of their situation and to offer as much support as we can.”
The Austrian Bible Society provides thousands of Scriptures in many different languages for free distribution among refugees each year. Please pray for funding for this vital work.
Say the word ‘Caribbean’ and many people think of wide sandy beaches, palm trees and holidays – a kind of paradise. But for a growing number of women there, life is anything but paradise, blighted by the violence they experience at home. That’s why Bible Societies in the region are using the Bible to tackle this increasing scourge, with encouraging results.
*Mary had been trapped in a violent relationship for many years, with her partner’s attacks landing her in hospital several times. She was desperate for help but had no idea what to do. When the Bible Society began equipping churches to assist victims of domestic violence, Mary finally received the help she needed and is starting to turn her life around.
“If only this help had been available earlier, I wouldn’t have spent so many years of my life being victimised,” she says wistfully.
Mary lives in Jamaica but her story is chillingly common across the Caribbean. Although it’s hard to get accurate statistics for each country, the incidence of domestic violence in the region is significant and growing: around 33% of women in Jamaica and27% of women in Barbados, for instance, are victims of some form of domestic violence. It accounts for a large percentage of the region’s crime statistics, too – about 25% of all murders are committed in the home. Nearly all the victims are women.
As Christians we must stand up and let every man, woman and child know that God condemns violence.
“The rise in violence against women seems unstoppable, despite the efforts of many women’s organisations,” comments Erny Van Axel of the Suriname Bible Society. “As Christians we must stand up and let every man, woman and child know that God condemns violence. We need to help them know what the Bible says – that all people are made in God’s image and have the right to be treated with love, respect and dignity.”
This is what Bible Societies across the Caribbean have started doing in recent years, with a particular focus on equipping churches to do this work.
“Quite often the church is the first port of call for women suffering domestic violence,” comments Rev Courtney Stewart of the Bible Society in the West Indies. “But our church leaders aren’t taught about domestic violence at seminary, so they don’t really know how to deal with it. That’s why so many pastors, Sunday School teachers and community leaders are now requesting the training we and our partners are carrying out.”
Hundreds of people across the Caribbean have already been trained in how to spot the signs of domestic violence and offer sensitive and effective counselling and advice, using two Bible-based booklets – ‘Stop the Violence’ for adults and ‘I love my body’ for children.
13-year-old Gabbie* in Haiti who was sexually abused while living in a tent city after the 2010 earthquake says that the counselling she received from a church leader who had received domestic violence training has really helped her.
“It has helped me to understand that if I keep quiet about what happened there is no way to stop the violence,” she said. “I’ve also learned that I don’t have to be ashamed.”
Haiti has a staggeringly high rate of violence against women – around 80% of women are thought to suffer some kind of abuse – but that figure has increased since the earthquake.
“The earthquake brought about so much anger and frustration,” explains Magda Victor of the Haitian Bible Society. “It destroyed people’s homes and livelihoods and led to greater promiscuity. All this has resulted in even more domestic violence.”
Since 2012, the Haitian Bible Society has been tackling this issue by running domestic violence workshops and airing a radio program to help raise awareness about the issue. The Suriname Bible Society has also been using the radio to spread its message about domestic violence. Listening to the program changed Kleia Emanuels-Mijnsen’s life.
“I was sitting with friends listening to a Gospel radio program when a counselling session on domestic abuse started. As I listened, I knew I had to call the number for help because what they were describing had happened to me. I had been raped and abused by a family friend and had never told anyone or dealt with the pain. It had completely destroyed my relationship with my mother and I mistrusted all men.
“It took months of counselling before I could let go of the bitterness I felt. But I’m now happily married with two sons and am counselling other women.”
The Bible Society of the West Indies is planning to start running the program in the Bahamas in the next few months, where domestic violence is growing, too.
“Please pray as we seek to reap a harvest of rescuing women and children, and the men, too, who are usually the perpetrators of domestic violence,” says Mr Stewart.