How many Bibles do you own? Two? Ten? As I am writing this, I have a Bible sitting next to me on my desk, a Bible app on my phone and an Internet full of websites that can pull up a Bible in seconds.
I so often take for granted having the inspired Word of God at my fingertips at any time. But for so many around the world, easy access to Scripture is simply not the reality.
You might immediately think of an unreached tribal community or a rural village. You probably do not think of Greece. One of the first nations reached with the gospel by the apostle Paul (Acts 16-20), we don’t expect that access to the Scriptures would be unavailable. I was unaware of the desperate need that exists in Greece until a short-term mission trip opened my eyes.
Last summer, I spent six weeks serving with Hellenic Ministries and TEAM missionaries in Athens, Greece, to plan and coordinate a week-long outreach called Operation Joshua. The mission of Operation Joshua is to distribute a New Testament in modern Greek to every home in the rural areas of the country.
It sounded like a great cause, and I was excited to be working alongside people so passionate about the gospel. But I didn’t know how deeply this trip would remind me of what a life-changing gift God’s Word is.
You are probably still wondering, why do Greeks need to be given a Bible? Don’t they have access to the Word? The answer is yes and no. Their access is usually limited to what is taught in the Greek Orthodox Church, and while 96 percent of the population is Greek Orthodox, only 2 percent attend church regularly. Public copies of the Bible in modern Greek are not easily accessible, and most Greeks aren’t even aware of their spiritual need.
On my first day distributing Bibles, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t speak the language, so I was partnered with a Greek speaker. We started going door-to-door, placing a Bible at every home and apartment. At one of the first houses, a man opened the door and seemed interested in what we were doing and why we were giving him a Bible. But before my companion could explain more, a woman came to the door, shouting angrily. She shoved us off her porch and threw the Bible onto the street behind us.
I had been warned beforehand that many Greeks would react negatively to us because they distrust anyone not from the Orthodox Church. Even so, it was disheartening to see someone reject such a precious gift.
After that initial encounter, I experienced many similar situations, but I also had the privilege of witnessing the opposite reaction. Some people would approach us on the street and excitedly ask if we had Bibles. When we told them the Bibles were free, the look of joy and appreciation on their faces didn’t need any translation. One man was so excited, he asked if he could take more to give to his family. He called his neighbor over to take one as well.
As I saw them open the Word and read it for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the reality of why we were doing this. There is no greater gift you can give than the gospel of Jesus Christ in someone’s heart language.
2015 was Operation Joshua’s eighth year of outreach, and as of today, they have distributed over 800,000 New Testaments. Recently, a discipleship team has been making weekend trips to some of the first areas reached by Operation Joshua. This team is forming contacts and reconnecting with people who received a New Testament years ago. The team envisions discipling and encouraging the believers in this area to create reproducing churches among their own communities.