Most of you are probably familiar with the term "Gideon Bible," and if you've ever stayed in a hotel or motel room, you no doubt have seen one as well.
If you have wondered what a "Gideon Bible" is, we hope to answer some of those questions with this article.
First of all, there is not really a "Gideon Bible," per se. That is, the book was not written by someone named Gideon. The Gideons International, founded in 1899, serves as an extended missionary arm of the church, and is the oldest association of Christian businessmen and professional men in the United States of America.
It all started in the autumn of 1898, when John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wisconsin, came to the Central Hotel at Boscobel, Wisconsin, for the night. The hotel being crowded, it was suggested that he take a bed in a double room with Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin. The two men soon discovered that both were Christians. They had their evening devotions together, and on their knees before God, thoughts were given which later developed into an association.
On May 31, 1899, the two men met again at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where they proceeded to discuss banding Christian commercial travelers together for mutual recognition, personal evangelism, and united service for the Lord. They decided to call a meeting in Janesville, Wisconsin on July 1, 1899, in the Y.M.C.A. Only three men were present at that meeting: John H. Nicholson, Samuel E. Hill, and Will J. Knights. They organized with Hill as president, Knights as vice president, and Nicholson as secretary and treasurer. Much thought was given to what the name of the association should be, and after a special prayer that God might lead them to select the proper name, Mr. Knights arose from his knees and said, "We shall be called Gideons." Knights selected Gideon because he was a brave man of great faith (Judges 6 and 7 in th Old Testament).
In view of the fact that almost all of the Gideons in the early years of the association were traveling men, the question quite naturally arose regarding how they might be more effective witnesses in the hotels where they spent so much of their time. One trustee went so far as to suggest that The Gideons furnish a Bible for each bedroom of the hotels in the United States. He commented, "In my opinion, this would not only stimulate the activities of the rank and file of the membership, but would be a gracious act, wholly in keeping with the divine mission of the Gideon Association." This plan, which they called "The Bible Project" was adopted at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1908.
Just two months after the 1908 Louisville Convention, a state convention convened in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. National Secretary Frank Garlick and Mr. A. B. T. Moore attended a meeting of the Ministerial Union, and after their program they asked if Brother Garlick could address the ministers on the work of the Gideon Association. He spoke of the needed Bible distribution, and at the close of his 10-minute address, Mr. Moore's own pastor, Dr. E. R. Burkhalter, First Presbyterian Church, arose and moved, "...that Gideon Bibles be placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the funds." The motion was unanimously carried and a committee appointed to apportion the cost to the churches, according to their strength.
The first placement was made by Archie Bailey, a Gideon, who was a regular guest at the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. He approached the operator of the hotel and asked for permission to place Bibles in rooms. Permission was granted, and Mr. Bailey placed an order for 25 copies of God's Word with The Gideons headquarters on November 9, 1908. He covered the cost of the Scriptures with a personal contribution.
A single copy of God's Word in a hotel or motel room has the potential to touch up to 2,300 lives during its six-year life span. And hotel industry surveys indicate that 25% of their travelers read the Bibles in their hotel rooms. Multiply that by the approximate 5 million hotel and motel rooms across the U.S., and it's easy to see the tremendous potential for impact that these Scripture placements offer.
Gideons International has received many testimonies over the years of how God has used Bibles in hotel and motel rooms to comfort weary, hurting travelers. Often in these moments, people are forced to take an honest look at their lives. And in doing so, they realize there must be something more to life. And it's then, through a Gideon-placed Bible, that they meet Jesus Christ.
The Gideons International is not a church. It is an association that works with Protestant/evangelical churches. Members come from many denominations, live all over the world, and share a desire to see the lost come to Christ. All Gideons hold the important core beliefs that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God and that the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. Members must also have received Jesus as their personal Savior; endeavor to follow Him in their daily lives; be members in good standing in their Protestant/evangelical churches; and have the recommendation of their pastors.
Ernie Glienke of rural Aurelia is a member of Gideons International. and specifically of the Storm Lake Gideon Camp, which covers Buena Vista and Cherokee Counties. Ernie was asked by Camp President Vernon Gregg in 1988 if he would like to join the Gideons, and, with a recommendation from the minister of his local congregation, he did so. The Storm Lake Camp has 13 members, six or seven of whom are considered "active" members, and there is also an auxiliary group, who are wives of Gideons.
The Storm Lake camp (covering 50 churches) is responsible for providing Bibles for all the hotels/motels in Cherokee and Buena Vista Counties. Each year, Gideons travel to all the hotels/motels and, with the cooperation of hotel management, they make sure that all the rooms have a good copy of the Bible. Glienke said they do not enter occupied rooms.
If they discover that any of the Bibles are damaged, soiled or defaced, the Gideons replace them with new Bibles, and send the old ones to area prisons or other institutions.
Glienke said the Gideons have several different Bibles, both New Testaments/Psalms and Proverbs, which are distributed to various groups and institutions, including students and military, and full Bibles (i.e., both Old and New Testaments), which are distributed to hotels. All, of course, contain scriptural content, but they have different covers. Many are in languages other than English, but those versions also have English translation.
Glienke said that when a new hotel opens, the Gideons have a special dedication service for all the Bibles, attended by hotel management as well as the Gideons.
Ernie said that each Gideon member is to make a presentation of 10 minutes or less about the Gideon's mission to no more than six congregations outside of their own member congregation each year, and that most area churches have been very willing to permit them to do so. He said that Gideon members are "re-certified" every three years, at which time make their presentation to three other Gideons to insure that they are presenting accurate information in a concise manner.
Glienke said that being a Gideon has been a very enjoyable experience, especially with the knowledge that the Bible distribution has been helpful - even life-saving, according to recorded testimonies.
There are two items about The Gideons International about which Glienke wants to make sure everyone is aware of. One is that 100% of donations from churches and individuals goes for the purchase of scriptures, and all other expenses of the organization are covered by members' dues.
The other thing he emphasized is that the Gideons do not deal with church doctrine or do any "preaching." They try very hard not to interfere with the work of organized churches. Their mission is to spread God's word throughout the world by going where the church is not present.
One final thought - though the Gideons began in the United States, they are indeed international in scope. Witness these lines from a 1968 song by the Beatles, who were, of course, British:
"Rocky Racoon fell back in his room, only to find Gideon's Bible. Gideon checked out, but he left it, no doubt, to help with good Rocky's revival."