“We also wanted to do more than just Bible distribution.”

In 1908, three Christian salesmen in the U.S. formed an organization dedicated to placing Bibles in hotel rooms. They called it The Gideons. In 1911, the organization branched into Canada, and other countries soon followed.

The Gideons quickly expanded their scope of ministry to placing Bibles in hospitals, prisons and schools. Interestingly, the first New Testament was placed in a Canadian school in Pense, Sask., in 1946.

The overarching body, Gideons International, is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., but each country determines how its own ministry is carried out, says Ron Basky, who represents Saskatchewan on the National Board of Gideons International in Canada.

In 2008, Canadian Gideons voted to leave the international body. One of the reasons was to comply with Canada Revenue Agency’s regulations concerning donations received from donors to charities that operate outside of Canada.

As well, there was a desire on the part of Canadian Gideons to broaden the base of who could become a Gideon. Initially, Gideon membership was limited to business and professional men. Women were only allowed to play a supportive role. But Canadian Gideons wanted equal inclusion of men and women in its membership, and a broadening of qualifying occupations.

“We also wanted to do more than just Bible distribution,” says Clair Ziolkowski, president of the Saskatoon Gideons chapter and district leader for Northern Saskatchewan. “We wanted to have a component for explaining the Gospel.”

In becoming autonomous, Gideons International in Canada had the freedom to distribute the Bible in a version other than King James. “We chose the New Living Translation because it’s easy to read and suits the new generation to a T,” Ziolkowski says.

Another change for Gideons International in Canada was developing a three-stream ministry initiative.

“We think of ourselves and our ministry as interacting with people,” Ziolkowski says. “We are channels that provide access points for people to hear and share the Gospel.”

He says, “Gideons International in Canada shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ through free copies of God’s Word so people have the opportunity to accept God’s gift of salvation. Despite changing values in society, there is still a high rate of Bible placement in hotels (about 90 per cent). In hospitals and prisons, we make Bibles and scripture magazines available to chaplains.”

The magazines are visually appealing and beautifully illustrated, with scripture verses aimed at specific audiences. Redemption, for instance, is geared toward prison ministry. There are separate editions for women and men.

New this year are Spark magazines aimed at tweens.

“Their purpose is to help kids understand what they read in God’s Word,” Ziolkowski says. “We distribute them free to summer camps, Sunday School classes, and informally, as well. They are illustrated and contain the Gospel of John, plus scripture verses on specific topics. One Sparks magazine is developed specifically for Indigenous youth in Canada.”

Another new innovation is the free, down-loadable NewLife Bible App which is proving extremely popular. It is available in 138 countries of the world. Besides scripture, it includes a Q&A page, a handy section on where in the Bible to go for help on certain topics, and a directory of churches near the user’s location.

Another pillar of Gideons International in Canada is mobilizing people through training programs and providing opportunities for them to do ministry outreach in Canada or overseas on Gospel Outreach Teams or GO-Teams on which Gideon members pay their own way. The most recent Go-Team went to Kenya; another just got back from Chile.

Basky says Go-Team participants distribute Bibles in schools, hospitals and jails, engage in personal conversations about faith, and participate in chapel services. Youth Go-Teams, generally comprised of children and grandchildren of Gideons, do VBS work, always in partnership with local churches.

The third stream of Canadian Gideons ministry involves local and global partnerships.

“We don’t want to re-invent the wheel,” Ziolkowski says. “We seek to work with existing Christian organizations like Mission Eurasia and EduDeo Ministries.”

Other Gideons jurisdictions around the world are looking at the Canadian model with much interest, especially the part that combines sharing the Gospel with Bible distribution.

Each year, Canadian Gideons distribute more than two million scriptures.

“We are only able to do that because of the donations we receive from like-minded people who support the ministry by giving and praying,” Basky says. “We want to acknowledge the broad width of support we receive from non-Gideon members. Without it, the ministry could not continue.”

To learn more about Gideons International in Canada and read stories of lives changed through the ministry, visit http://www.gideons.ca. The website also gives information on becoming a member, something that can now be done online.

The Saskatoon Gideons Chapter meets every Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. at Grainfields on 8th Street. Everyone is welcome.

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