This is not your grandfather’s Gideons organization.
That organization is famous for handing out to children at schools copies of the Bible, which the volunteers often provided at their own expense.
But in today’s world, school districts are sharply censoring any such activities. Court cases have erupted in just the past few years in Maryland, Florida and Missouri over Bible distributions on public property.
Now a new outreach has been launched by the Gideons called the Lifebook. In just a few weeks of actual operations, it’s delivered more than 300,000 copies of the Gospel message to students inside their own schools.
This is possible because the books are delivered by volunteer students on a peer-to-peer basis during noninstructional blocks of time, such as between classes.
Carl Blunt is chief of the new outreach, which is a separate organization but still has links to the Gideons.
“It’s difficult with the establish guidelines and case law to stop a student from distributing religious literature in the public school,” he said.
The program isn’t complicated: A local church is identified to provide leadership and coordination, student volunteers are recruited and trained, and the Bible messages are given to the students to hand out.
Simple as that. And probably unstoppable.
Even the America Civil Liberties Union, often the legal arm cracking down on Christians who want to provide information to students in schools, has written that the students have such rights.
Regarding an Iowa dispute over Christian students who wanted to distribute religious literature during non-instructional time, an organization executive said, “The school’s policy against the distribution of religious literature outside of class is clearly wrong. Not only does the policy violate the students’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, but it also infringes on their free speech rights.”
Blunt told WND the distribution does not interrupt the educational environment, it’s not during class periods and leaves in the dust many of the traditional problems of having adults hand Bibles to public school students.
“We’re not like Russia, where teachers actually can teach from the Bible,” he noted.
He said a few test procedures were done with a handful of schools in the fall of 2009. Twenty-thousand copies of the Lifebook were handed out. This year the program expanded to include the distribution of 60,000 in the spring. This fall’s campaign surpassed 250,000, and plans are being made for a springtime 2011 campaign that could handle a million copies.
After a distribution in Missouri, Blunt said, he got a report from a student who had helped hand out copies of the book. Scheduled to take a week, volunteers had finished giving a book to every student, however, by Wednesday.
It was at that point, he said, one volunteer was sitting in an open reading period for her class, turned around to look at her classmates and realized more than half were perusing a Lifebook in their public school classroom.
“We are hearing amazing stories,” Blunt said.
Ultimately, officials said, God’s Word is planned to be delivered to the more than 17.5 million high school students across the U.S.
The Lifebook is not a traditional King James Authorized Version of the Bible, either. It tells the story of God in several parts, including this explanation of Genesis: “Before time began (as we know it), God existed. That seems tough to understand, but God was and is and will always be. I guess when you are God, you don’t have to explain it all.”
It also talks about Jesus’ invitation to eternal life: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. You don’t have to clean up your life first, God is passionately in love with you and is waiting with open arms for you to run to him. You can make that decision right now, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.”
The website explains the effort “brilliantly threads a separation-of-church-and-state loophole by getting [the] publication into the hands of Christian high school students and having them pass the books out to classmates.”
“It’s like we’re helping students smuggle God’s Word into a closed country (public high schools) to reach an unreached people group because studies show that only 4 percent of today’s teenagers are Bible-believing Christians,” Blunt said.