Gideons Mark Century Of Bible Distribution
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Long before cable television, spa treatments and ecofriendly soaps and shampoos became staples in hotel rooms, there was the Bible - the Gideon Bible.
And the book with the familiar two-handled pitcher and torch on its cover that most guests find inside hotel nightstands doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Gideons International is celebrating its 100th anniversary distributing Bibles and has started efforts to hand out more Scriptures in the U.S. to boost a distribution rate that's remained relatively flat in recent years.
Nearly 76.9 million Gideon Scriptures were given out in nearly 85 languages in 187 countries last year. Close to 1.5 billion scriptures have been distributed since 1908, when the Gideons first began to place Bibles in hotel rooms.
Since then, the nondenominational evangelical group run by businessmen has spread its tremendous reach, also giving out free scriptures at hospitals, schools, prisons and in the military.
"This is not a church-sponsored, clergy-led effort," said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for evangelical churches and organizations. "It's individuals that go around and distribute Bibles. It's an astonishing accomplishment."
Because the Gideons were founded by Christian traveling salesmen who spent a lot of time away from home, the group sought to put Bibles in hotel bedrooms to spiritually nurture themselves and others.
The Gideons have about 176,000 members, plus their wives, who distribute scripture around the world, and their numbers have remained steady over the years. The group only allows for evangelical business and professional men to hand out scripture to its targeted groups, although Gideons allow their wives to hand out scripture as well in healthcare settings and in prisons for women.