It’s an ambitious journey, especially for so quiet a passenger: a Bible, with each of its 66 books printed in a different language, going around the world in the space of 20 months.
And, it’s an ambitious reason: to get members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church more engaged with the text of the Holy Bible. Once thought of as “people of the Book,” Adventist engagement with Scripture has fallen off dramatically in recent years, during which time church leaders felt it was important to reverse the trend.
This “traveler” was impressive in other ways: this Bible is approximately 18 inches long and 12 inches wide. It consists of nearly 1,500 pages and was bound—twice, in fact—with a padded, leather cover.
After some 621 days, or nearly 89 weeks, of travel and activity, it’s just about time to say, “Mission accomplished.” The “traveling Bible,” as it’s come to be known, arrived at the fifty-ninth General Conference session in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, as the quinquennial meeting opened June 23.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church must rediscover the value of reading this book,” Jan Paulsen, General Conference president, told some 12,000 people during October 11, 2008, Sabbath worship at Araneta Coliseum in Manila, Philippines.
“Too many of our own people do not spend time on a regular basis with this word, and we suffer for it,” Paulsen said. “This is a commitment that we will make the Word of God more central in our lives.”
“This will possibly be the most traveled Bible in the history of the world,” added Mark Finley, Adventist Church vice president for evangelism and personal witness. Finley told the crowd that the special copy of the Bible features Genesis written in Spanish, Psalms in Chinese, and Revelation in Korean. He said the book of Nehemiah is written in Tagalog, news that was received with applause from the Filipino audience.
Here are a few highlights from the Book’s 20-month itinerary:
Adventists in the church’s Middle Asian region welcomed “Follow the Bible” to Kazakhstan July 12, 2009, making the country the seventy-fourth stop on the Bible’s worldwide tour. Kazakhstan, along with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, make up the church’s Southern Union Conference of the Euro-Asia Division.
More than 450 people awaited the Bible at a camp meeting near Lake Karaungur, where heavy rain, thick clouds, and strong winds threatened to interrupt the meeting. But as soon as the Bible arrived, the rain stopped, clouds disappeared, and the program started. Local church president Rubin Ott flew with the Bible to Uzbekistan. The traveling Bible united members in reading and studying Scripture in the country’s capital, Tashkent. Church leaders were invited to a committee on religious liberty in Uzbekistan with the country’s government. Leaders reported the talk was cordial and the government officially allowed the Bible to cross the border into Uzbekistan.
When the traveling Bible arrived in the Republic of Belarus on July 5, 2009, the church’s administrators took it to the National Library, where it was put on display for the public alongside ancient manuscripts of Holy Scripture. Later that evening a special program was held to commemorate “Follow the Bible” in one of the Adventist churches in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
As the globetrotting volume continued its path, other Seventh-day Adventists responded in other ways: Scottish Seventh-day Adventists decided to have their own personalized, handwritten Bible. Members from all the churches in Scotland submitted handwritten passages of Scripture to the mission office, where they were compiled into the “Scottish Adventist Bible.”
Writing out the Bible by hand can bring new insights and meaning, participants said. “In the same way students write out revision notes, handwriting the Bible makes passages stand out for you,” said Carole Peacock, secretary to the president.
Geography proved little challenge to the Bible’s journey: after a 3,107-mile (5,000-kilometer), 18-hour journey, the traveling Bible arrived in Kirkenes, Norway, the country’s northernmost region with a Seventh-day Adventist presence. The city of Kirkenes is located within the Arctic Circle, 1,553 miles (2,500 kilometers) from both the nation’s capital (Oslo) and the North Pole. Norway was the seventy-ninth country “Follow the Bible” visited.
The Norwegian Union Conference prepared environmentally friendly bags with the “Follow the Bible” logo for locals who visited the Bible, displayed in the local library the next day, an event covered by the local media. Each bag contained a copy of the Gospel of John, ads for the Norwegian Bible Correspondence School, and a guide to some of the most important and interesting messages in the Bible. Regional church leaders estimate about 10 percent of the city’s population received a bag. In Kirkenes, Adventists joined other Christians in a Bible-related program held at the local Salvation Army hall.
“It is so good to see our meeting hall filled to capacity,” a Salvation Army representative said. “The Bible unites all Christians.”
The Middle East
From Europe, the Bible went to the Middle East, the region where so much of Scripture is set. After an hour or so of questions and security verification by the Israeli Defense Force at the airport of Athens, Greece, Adventist pastor Janos Kovacs-Biro and the Bible flew to Tel Aviv on September 18, 2009.
At the start of the Sabbath, the Bible traveled to Ashdod, where 60 people waited to see it. Adventists and non-Adventists gathered with joy and anticipation to witness the traveling Bible. The book of Esther was written in Hebrew. According to Kovacs-Biro, Israel was the ninety-fifth country this Bible visited. One man approached the church pastor and asked when he could be baptized and join the Adventist church.
On September 23, 2009, at 3:45 a.m., the Bible arrived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Church members held meetings and shared the meaning behind this worldwide project with friends and coworkers. Members of Dubai Seventh-day Adventist Church did this in hopes of resurrecting interest in creation of new Bible studies with people from other denominations. These multinational Seventh-day Adventists proudly read passages from the Bible in Tagalog, Hindi, Tamil, and Arabic, and made plans to form groups to read the Scriptures together in its entirety.
In the fall of 2009 the Bible went to the church’s South American and Inter-American divisions.
“This Bible has traveled through eight countries of our church in South America,” said Bolivar Alana, then executive secretary of the South American Division, when he presented the volume to Inter-American Division (IAD) president Israel Leito. “Now I hand it over to you, and may God bless you immensely in the Inter-American Division.”
The Bible, sporting a new cover because of its wear and tear throughout the first year of its journey, arrived in Miami, Florida, to travel throughout the 10 countries of the IAD.
“We not only wanted to be part of this world event but we want every home where possible in our territory to have a Bible, calling out to people on the Word of God,” said Leito. Hundreds of thousands of Bibles were printed in English, Spanish, and French to be distributed throughout the territory of the church in Inter-America.
In the Mexican region of Yucatan, the traveling Bible was particularly well received: during a special ceremony at Las Americas Park in Merida, November 22, 2009, Marco Antonio Gonzalez of the Yucatan Office of Social Development and Religious Affairs read and transcribed the first portion of the Bible. He spoke to Seventh-day Adventist leaders on how the church can better the quality of life for Yucatan’s citizens.
“This church should continue participating in events such as this,” Gonzalez said. “It is very important to educate our children and young people in the values which unfortunately have taken a detour in our modern times. I believe that the church, together with each family, can make a better society.”
The traveling Bible attracted thousands of people to each venue. On March 23, 2010, in Kisii, in the South Kenya Conference, thousands of people joined a procession that began at Nyanchwa Teachers College. The procession that featured the Bible went through several roads of Kisii, where business came to a standstill as local residents rushed from their businesses to have a look at the Bible. Led by South Kenya executive director Obed Nyamache, church members, following a Salvation Army band, sang choruses.
On arrival at the Kisii Central church compound, more than 2,000 people met the procession. Several religious leaders from Sundaykeeping churches expressed their joy for having been invited. Each of them urged church members to read God’s Word. Choirs from various churches sang the event’s theme song, “Give Me the Bible.”
The full impact of this event has yet to be realized. But already, it seems, that by sending a special Bible around the globe, the attention of many Seventh-day Adventists, as well as others, has been centered on a book unlike any other ever written.
—Compiled from numerous Adventist media reports by Mark A. Kellner,Adventist World news editor.