Talk at St James Colwall for Easter 5 2016

To hear the talk as you read:

Good morning. I’m Michael Hodges. I am a member of the local Worcester Branch of Gideons International. I work as a Chartered Surveyor in Pershore and have a wife and 5 daughters. It is a particular pleasure to have been invited to come to St James the Great in Colwall this morning, which is the 5th Sunday after Easter – already.

Like me, I am sure that many of you will have been given a Gideons New Testament at school. I met my first member of Gideons International in 1971 when I received my very own copy of the New Testament and Psalms at Prince Henry’s in Evesham.

Members of Gideons International operate in 200 countries worldwide. We have an opportunity to play our part in winning the lost for Christ by sharing copies of God’s word. What an amazing privilege this is. 85 million copies of the Bible and the New Testament & Psalms were given away by members of Gideons International around the world last year. Gideons International is an association of Christian business and professional men and their wives whose aim is to tell others of the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. How do we do this? By ensuring that as many folk as possible receive their own Bible or New Testament and Psalms. We do this because we love the Lord Jesus Christ and we want to share the good news that Christ Jesus brought with him through his birth and death with as many people as we can. Since the Association was founded by three businessmen in the US in 1899 over 2 billion scriptures have been distributed by members. The 2-billionth was placed in July this year – somewhere in the World. It took over 100 years to reach the first billion milestone and just 14 years to place the next billion. We now have over 300,000 members altogether and 5,500 of these volunteers are in the British Isles.

This ministry isn’t about books though – it’s about lives changed and souls saved.

The Worcester Branch of the Gideons has 38 members – some of whom are quite elderly and infirm – but they still pray for the work with passion. We are all members of local churches. I worship at Pershore Abbey which is where you will normally find me on a Sunday morning. I’m a member of the choir and also chairman of the Friends of Pershore Abbey. Last year the Worcester Branch placed 5,230 bibles and New Testaments in the Worcester Branch area which stretches from Broadway in the South to the outskirts of Birmingham in the North. This year we will be placing another 6,132. Last year we also distributed another 2,000 New Testaments in December at the Birmingham German Christmas Market. This was a Holy Spirit led journey into the unknown as we had never attempted to give scriptures away at a Christmas Market before. The market has 180 stalls so among the bratwursts, schnitzels, knoblauchbrot and pretzels we undertook a distribution aimed at saving lives for eternity.

At the 3 Counties show last June we worked together with members of branches in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire at the Malvern showground just over the hill. There, in the tent of witness we spoke to people about our work and gave them scriptures. I sensed that many had stories of hard work and real rural hardship but they were grateful to receive God’s word and comforted to know that we had taken the trouble to step outside our churches to meet them where they were.

Often we will undertake what are called Bible Blitzes too. In May 2014 we visited hotels and guest houses throughout Worcestershire placing 7,500 Hotel Bibles, medical testaments, large print New Testaments etc. These Bible Blitzes are organised on an occasional basis when it is felt that a certain area might benefit from intense activity. Last September I was able to spend 4 days in West London with 60 other members visiting Funeral Directors, Fire, Police and Ambulance Stations, Guest Houses, Hostels and Hotels. 7, 200 copies of God’s word found new owners over these 4 days. This July we will be planning s similar event in the Black Country.

So, what do we do locally on an ongoing basis? Twice last year on 28th January and 30th September 2015 members of the Worcester Branch visited Worcester Royal Hospital to make sure that all bedside lockers are equipped with one of our scriptures. We go in twice a year to make sure that the lockers are topped up. We also visited Kidderminster and Malvern Community Hospitals to refresh their lockers with new scriptures.

Why do we do this? We do it because we know that this book has the power to radically change lives! We do it to glorify the Lord. We do it to fulfil Jesus’ commission (Matthew 28:19) that we should go out into all nations to tell them of the good news that Christ’s death offers salvation to all. We do it to fulfil our call from Jesus (Mark 8:31-38) to deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow him.

But we also know that a first look at the bible can be daunting. To help those coming to the Bible for the first time a Gideons Bible contains notes called “Bible Helps” to make it a little easier to navigate around the bible. The reader is pointed towards particular verses which speak into life’s challenges – for example when feeling lonely, afraid or when in need of guidance.

Most people associate Gideons with Hotel Bibles. This is where the work of Gideons International began just over 100 years ago in America. Today, almost all hotels and guest houses we know of are happy to let us place a Bible by each bedside. Indeed, we know of hotels which can’t open before they have received their quota of Gideons Bibles! Hotels can be lonely places and every year our National Office in Lutterworth receives letters from people who have checked into hotels with the intention of ending their lives and who, through discovering a Gideons Bible in their room, have stopped, reflected and changed their minds and their lives as a result.

There are many retirement homes in our area. We produce not only a large print version for the elderly and partially sighted but also an Ultra Giant version for those who otherwise would struggle to read and study the Bible on their own. It is wonderful to hear when older people who perhaps had a faith in Christ in their youth then rediscover this with the help of a Bible placed in their home by the Gideons.

A stay in hospital can be a particularly daunting time for the patient and also for visitors who spend time with their relative or friend. By working with the Chaplaincy teams every bed in the local hospitals in Malvern, Pershore, Evesham, Droitwich and Worcester has been equipped with Blue New Testaments and Psalms. We try to re-visit these hospitals regularly and often find that our books have disappeared with patients on their homeward journey - or that they have become worn with usage. We replace them in either instance.

We know that people appreciate what we do as we receive many messages of thanks. Recently our National Office in Lutterworth received a card with this message:

Hi my name is Joan; I’m now quite elderly. I've had a long marriage which has been very challenging. My husband was in a care home and we have children which I seldom see. I visited my husband every day out of a sense of old fashioned duty. I felt as though my life was coming to an end with no surprises and nothing to look forward to. Then an acquaintance offered to take me to an Alpha course. She said it may cheer me up and I may find it interesting, and yes I loved it. I loved everything about it. One of the Alpha talks was done by a man that told us why and how should we read the Bible. Towards the end of his talk he mentioned how impressed he was with the Gideons Bible. He told us about the huge list of life's problems at the beginning that tells you where in Scripture you could find the answers. He then said I'm sure no one in this room has got any of these problems and we all laughed.

The little book seemed the perfect size for me and when I got home I started reading the sections that related to my life, there were many sections. As I continued to read over the days I found that I could not put the book down, I even started to pray. Sadly the end of the Alpha course came; I had loved every minute of it. Shortly after this my husband died and I found such incredible comfort from that little book and I continued to read and pray every day. God is really answering my prayers, just when I thought my life was over, I now realise it’s just begun. Thank you Gideons. Joan

Local prisons (Hewell & Long Lartin) and police station custody suites are also visited regularly by members of the Worcester Branch and we have heard many stories of lives which have been transformed by the Bible in circumstances where folk have reached low points in their lives.

We offer local servicemen camouflage bibles to take to the field of conflict.

We offer testaments featuring the Constabulary Insignia to West Mercia Police.

We offer badged testaments to Guide, Scout, Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade and Sea Scout troops.

One of the most exciting areas of our work happens in our local schools. Most of the 36 Middle and Senior schools in our area are visited each year to offer Year 7 pupils a small red New Testament and Psalms. In this part of the World we visit: Dyson Perrins (106NTs), 18th Jan, Malvern; Hanley Castle, Upton; Malvern St James, Malvern; The Chase, Malvern; The Downs/Malvern Prep, Malvern.

Nationally these days, only 50-60% of all UK schoolchildren get the chance to receive their own Gideons New Testament & Psalms every year. In many cases, when taken home, these New Testament & Psalms might be the only copy of the God’s Word in that household. We realise that not every New Testament & Psalms distributed in this way is read straight away but we know of many instances when, months or even years later, the book will play an important part in that person’s life.

Last September a handful of members from the Worcester Branch attended the Worcester University Fresher’s Fair. Last year at this event we were able to give away every one of the 1,000 New Testament and Psalms we took with us. In September we gave over 1,200 away. Please pray that the young folk will meet with the Lord God as they study His word. Please pray that they will see that salvation is available to all word and that they will read and understand the salvation freely available to them.

Recently I received this testimony from a Worcester man who received a Gideon New Testament on the 2nd February 1965:

“Picture the scene, it's school assembly on Tuesday 2nd February 1965. Six weeks before my twelfth birthday. I'm just one of a class of twenty or so first years sitting cross-legged on the floor of the school hall. We'd probably just sung "Fight The Good Fight," or another of those amazingly powerful hymns we used to sing every morning at assembly. This was the morning when Gideon New Testaments were handed out. One by one we filed after each other onto the stage, received our Gideon New Testament and then sat down on the floor again admiring our smart new maroon New Testament. Either by design or by coincidence, they fitted in the breast pocket of our school blazers. How do I remember the date? I wrote it in the front inside cover together with my address and my full name in my best blue fountain pen hand-writing of course, well didn't everybody?

It was nearly thirty years later, while I was going through a tough emotional time of heartbreak and inner pain that my little Gideon King James Version New Testament really saved the day for me. After a divorce, I was a Saturday Dad. Each Saturday I would travel by train to pick up my three small children and then after a day together I would hand them back to their Mum or her friend. Travelling on the train back home again was a sad and emotionally hurtful time. This is where my trusty Gideon New Testament saved the day. At the time I didn't fully understand what was happening but, as I read the Psalms I experienced something that I can best describe as "a soothing balm" pouring inside my hurting heart as I read. As my Gideons New Testament was the King James Version, and as I was in a fair amount of emotional pain, I couldn't really understand what I was reading, but, never the less, the Word of God soothed away my pain. I repeated this process week after week after week and I can honestly say that the Word of God was medicine to my body.

Some years later I was to find Proverbs 4:20-22

My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words.
Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart,
for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body.

This was the reason for my emotional healing. Thank you Gideons for giving me the best medicine I could ever have. Thank You Father, Your Word is life and health to my body. I still have my Gideon NT, nearly fifty years after I received it at Bexleyheath Secondary Modern School on 2nd February 1965. Thank you.”

The sad truth is that the vast majority of folk in the UK will rarely go near a church to hear the good news. The number of regular church goers appears to be declining year on year.

We believe that the Worcester Branch of Gideons International is an extension of our local Christian Churches. In our ministry we make it our business to visit places that busy church leaders themselves might not normally reach. For example, this year, you might have been offered a Green New Testament at the Evesham Asparafest or at the River Festival!

In the book of Acts Chapter 8 vs 26-40 we read of a man named Philip who was preaching in Samaria when God called him to go to Gaza, some 150 miles away. At the same time an Ethiopian official was returning home from Jerusalem. As he was driven in his chariot he was looking at the book of Isaiah Chapter 53 which reads:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

Philip was directed by God to go and speak to the official. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I, unless someone explains it to me” the Ethiopian replied.

As a result of this encounter, Philip was invited to join the official in his chariot and explain the verses that he was reading. Then Philip was able to lead the man to faith in Christ and he baptised him.

As Gideons we seek, in a similar fashion to Philip, to get alongside people with God’s word. We do this through personal testimony and by placing scriptures in busy places where people might only stay for a short time, but where they may have the opportunity to open a Bible perhaps for the first time.

Eighteen months ago I was invited to attend a 6-day long distribution of 44,000 scriptures in Thailand. 7 international Gideons joined the local Phuket Branch in Thailand. They have 2 seasons – wet and dry. We arrived at the end of the wet season. We visited schools which, in a society that is less than 1% Christian were not being reached by the local branch. We split up into 7 groups (each with an international Gideon) and called on the Headmasters of every school we could find. These visits were sometimes unannounced. We were met with grace and humility and were asked to freely visit every classroom and give a copy of God’s Word to the school children in their care. I truly believe that God had gone before to prepare a path for us. Let us pray that those children will read their Thai language New Testaments and come to a deep and personal relationship with God their saviour.

It is amazing what God has done and continues to do through this ministry where, worldwide we are giving out 1 million bibles every 5 days.

If you haven’t already, can I encourage you to develop an interest in the work of Gideons International? We need your prayers for open doors – there is no guarantee that schools will always to be able to invite us in to make presentations at assemblies. Our American colleagues are unable to do this. We also need your prayers for the resources we need to do this work – the money and the members. It costs us just 78 pence to put a New Testament and Psalms into the hands of a school pupil. I also know the human cost – the devotion many of our members who go the extra mile, cross the road towards a needy person, take their courage in both hands and are prepared for rejection.

Please consider becoming a Friend of the Gideons so that we can stay in touch with you and provide you with all of our latest news. We send quarterly newsletters to Friends and they are always guaranteed to lift your spirits with stories of new conquests in His name.

As I finish let us bow our heads in prayer and lift some of these things that I have been talking about to the Lord.

“You have commanded us to love one another as you have loved us. Heavenly Father, we are amazed at the power of the Holy Bible. We thank you for the Bible’s power to change lives. We pray for the lost and we thank you for the challenge we all share to do your will in all our daily endeavours. Amen.”