It was Christmas Day 2002, and, heavy from a seafood lunch and wobbling from too much white wine and sunshine, I took a walk to the nearby “squatter camp,” as South Africans—but no one else—call them. (I think the politically correct term is “informal settlement.” Most South Africans are too preoccupied to be politically correct.)
I was curious about the state of churches in this particular, extremely poor, township. Do they have a church? Does the church need Bibles? So, after being taken to two pastors in this rural settlement, I found myself with two lists written into my Moleskine diary.
There were no Bibles in these churches. I got to work. No one should be without a Bible. So I quickly returned in January and February with boxes of Bibles.
A year has passed since those days of testing the spiritual waters, and I have learned many, many lessons—specifically with regard to what is wise and what is foolish. I have also found a name for what I am doing—“Bibles For Africa.” It has yet to be registered.
If you are interested in giving away Bibles to people who want them badly, here are some tips that I will give away freely.
[GET A DISTRIBUTOR]
To start off, you have to have a distributor. This is any person who either wants a Bible or knows people who want Bibles, or both. Trust me, you know someone who is a potential distributor. If this person wants a Bible, you go and get them one. Make sure you get the correct language and a readable translation. I give out the NIV.
Don’t make an excuse that you can’t afford one because in South Africa they are R44.00, which is just over $7 USD. At this point you can stop. You have distributed a Bible. You can move on with your life, or if you want to you can carry on.
[GET A LIST] I see you chose to carry on. Wunderbar.
After you have given this Bible to him or her, give them a list to fill in. This list must have space for names of people who want Bibles, the languages they can read in, the name of the distributor (the person you gave the empty list to) and contact details of yourself. It is completely up to you to decide how many names the distributor can fill in. On my lists, I always have space for 12 names.
[FIGURE OUT WHAT BIBLE TO GET]
One option is a Pew Bible, which is a simple, NIV English Bible available from the Bible Society and any local Christian bookstore, and many mainstream bookstores. They’re big, black and have both Testaments. The Bible Society is on every continent and in most countries. They produce these Bibles in almost every language you will encounter in your lifetime, and they are always translating new ones, so don’t worry about that. In any country with a Bible Society, you can, theoretically, get Bibles in any of their translated languages.
Sometimes churches will donate Bibles to you. These may be old translations, New Testaments only or second-hand Bibles. What you do with these is up to you. I originally wanted to only give out brand new Bibles with both Testaments in the most recent translations. I soon discovered that God is not as pedantic as I can be and had to humble my perfectionist self to prevent overdoing it.
[GET MONEY FOR THE BIBLES] Next, you have to get money for the Bibles. This money comes from sponsors. You may be the sole sponsor of this endeavor, or you may have friends, family members, fellow Christians and unbelievers involved. It doesn’t matter. If you can do it alone, go for it.
Try to calculate how much you need. Don’t worry if you have a little too much or if you are slightly short of the amount needed; be willing to pay out of your own pocket. Be wise in this respect.
[BUY THE BIBLES] After you’ve got a list and money for it, and after you know the supplier has the stock, you go out and buy them. Prices vary where you go, and I advise you to find the cheapest, if not humblest supplier. If you’re able to buy large quantities at once, sometimes you can get a small discount. Also, expect lots of interrogation, because most people are shocked to see Christians buying the Bible, let alone a whole boxful.
[ORDER THE BIBLES]
If the surrounding bookstores don’t have the translations you are looking for, you are going to have to order the Bibles from either them or the Bible Society (who they will most times order from anyway) or another Bible-publishing house.
I know that the Bible Society in South Africa does not deliver, so it’s likely that if you do your own ordering, you will have to go there and pick them up.
When you order, try to use ISBNs. This stands for International Standard Book Number, and every single book, including the myriad translations, has one. It’s a 10-digit number near the barcode in the front page of all Bibles from the Bible Society. With this number, you don’t waste time with authors, titles and publishers. Since each book in the world has its own number, you can’t really go wrong. You should order in bulk if you can afford to buy in bulk.
[PREPARE THE BIBLES FOR DISTRIBUTION] After you transport the Bibles to your home or office or any place where you can store them temporarily, you can prepare them for distribution. This is entirely up to you, and the purpose is just to make the Bibles look pretty. For example, you can cover them in wrapping paper and write the name of the receiver on a label on the front. Whatever luxury you can afford, you should do. Certain people have a gift for this kind of thing.
Once you have stacked and either bagged or boxed the Bibles according to distributors, you can stack any remaining Bibles according to language for future distributors.
[TRANSPORT THE BIBLES] Then you transport the Bibles to the distributors. Remember to give them the Bibles in a bag or anything that is easy to carry. Most of my distributors use South African taxis, and the last thing you need in a ludicrously overloaded vehicle is a passenger with both hands filled with books and a box on his knees wobbling all over the place.
The last and most important detail is to make thorough records. This keeps you sane in an insane process and orderly in a chaotic whirlwind. At the very least, you need to keep records of distributors, receivers, numbers, languages and ISBNs of all Bibles, as well as dates and places of distribution.
I am still learning as I go along, and I hope these tips help you if you want to do something like this. Most of this year, I only had two regular sponsors, and after a single year, we have distributed 210 Bibles in all 11 of South Africa’s official languages, as well as to foreigners who live here and who very often can’t purchase the Bible in their own country for various reasons.[Stories on RELEVANTmagazine.com are user-submitted. The viewpoints expressed are the opinions of the author and do not necessary reflect the opinion of RELEVANT magazine. For exclusive in-depth stories, subscribe now to RELEVANT magazine. If you are interested in submitting an article, please check out our writers guidelines.]