The Gideons started in the fall of 1898 . . . with an idea. One evening, a Christian travelling salesman was looking for a place to spend the night. He had completed his calls and was ready to settle down with a hot meal and warm bed. But here he was in the tiny town of Boscobel, Wisconsin, and the only hotel was booked up solid. The night clerk suggested he bunk in with another salesman, and it was here that John H. Nicholson met Samuel Hill. Each discovered the other to be a Christian man on the road. They shared evening devotions and next morning agreed to meet again in the spring. It was then that they had the idea. Why not start a band of Christian commercial travelers with the goal of promoting the Lord’s work? Their third meeting took place on July 1, 1899, at the Janesville, Wisconsin, YMCA. A third man, William Knights, was present at this meeting. They voted for President, Vice-President, and Secretary-Treasurer, then went to prayer, seeking a name for their little group. Shortly, William Knights rose from his knees, read from Judges 6 and 7, and said “We shall be called Gideons.” 

They began by purchasing Bibles and placing them with the night clerks at the hotels where they stayed. Then, in 1908, churches began to underwrite the total cost of the Bibles when pastors heard of the Gideons’ growing financial need. These pastors were members of the Ministerial Union of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The action they took by unanimous vote was, in effect, the beginning of the Gideons’ ministry as we know it today. 

Now, in 2014, there are 300,000 Gideons and Auxiliaries (their wives) in the International Association. They are organized in 197 countries of the world and distribute our Bibles and testaments in over 90 different languages. The overseas Gideons are nationals, who live and work as citizens of their own countries. Therefore, unlike many missionaries, they do not have to learn the language or the local customs. They need no passports, no visas. They cannot be deported for any reason. In sum, they need only be Christian men and women who have been recommended by their pastors to be Gideons and who qualify according to the Gideon guidelines.

An important distinction of our International Ministry is a scrupulous cooperation, not only with the pastors of churches but with the governments which have opened their doors to the Gideons. The most recent addition to our growing cadre of Gideon countries is Greenland, just organized in the city of Nuuk with 11 new Gideons. The word “country” we use carefully in this instance for Greenland is actually an administrative division of Denmark… but with internal self-government since 1979 and increasing autonomy since 2009. Today the Gideons International is legally distributing scriptures in the People’s Republic of China and to date has placed more than 2.8 million copies in 14 different provinces. While the work within China differs from our usual methods of distribution its success has been no less astounding. China has a population of more than 1.3 billion people and is the third largest country in the world. Christianity is on the rise in this nation with the Chinese church growing from 2.7 million evangelicals in 2007 to more than 75 million in 2010 when last a count was tallied. Pray for our efforts in China and that many more will read God’s Word and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. 

Here, and in other English speaking countries, we offer two versions of the Scriptures, the old standard KJV and the more modern ESV. These are the complete authorized Bibles and testaments used and recognized by Christians everywhere. 

Some statistics from our International Headquarters in Nashville are arresting—1.9 billion scriptures distributed since the year 1908 when our ministry began and 84 million scriptures now going out every year. That’s about 2 copies every second, or over a million every 4 and 1/2 days. This pace can continue to multiply month by month, even year by year as the Lord wills. We depend upon his will for mankind, and as a ministry. The Gideons are supported almost totally by his churches and depend upon the prayers of God’s people.

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