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The Bible in A New Century

Excerpts of an address by Hon. David Kilgour, M.P., Edmonton Southeast and Secretary of State (Latin America and Africa)

Annual Meeting and Dinner

of Northern Alberta District Branch of Canadian Bible Society (CBS)

at Evangel Pentecostal Church

50 Street & Whitemud Freeway

Edmonton, April 28,2001

Permit me to begin with a true story about the book – the most important one in any century – that brings us here tonight.

In the era of sailing boats, an English ship found itself becalmed in the South Pacific somewhere between Chile and East Australia.  It was carried by a current to an island not then shown on any chart.  The crew scrambled ashore unsure of how they might be met by any local residents.

To their surprise, they were met by people speaking English, who took them to a neat village.  Their hosts turned out to be crew members from the "Bounty", who had murdered Captain Bligh.  Following the mutiny, the "Bounty" had been caught in a storm and wrecked on the shores of this island.  The crew, drafted off port city streets in Britain, soon began to fight and even kill each other over ownership of the wreckage.

Pitcairn Island

In the remains of the "Bounty", one crew member had found a Bible, which he began to read to the others.  They began to worship and order began to take hold.  A community in which caring and justice prevailed gradually took root.  The few local women, once the cause of violent jealousy, became respected wives and homes were built.  Pitcairn Island eventually appeared on maps and was known as s haven of hope for all who came to it.

Such is the impact of the Bible – about 1000 pages long, composed of 66 different books by several dozen authors, and written several thousand years ago – that wherever humanity and social justice are found on this planet there is a fair likelihood that Bibles provided by the Bible Societies of the world are to be found.

The North Alberta District Branch of the Canadian Bible Society (CBS) is doing especially well these days, both in fund-raising, which I understand has doubled in recent years, and in programs.  This Branch has many projects, including recycling Bibles to inner city ministers.  Only last month the Branch presented students at the North West Bible College here in the city with a New Testament in Greek.  District Director Bruce Kemp visited China, Ukraine and Egypt last year.

This Branch is part of hugely successful international non-denominational movement, which began almost two centuries ago and has maintained its international and trans-cultural nature continuously since. The first foreign language translation was the Gospel of John translated for Mohawks in Canada in 1804.  Local Bible Societies began to spring up across what is now Canada as early as 1807.  The CBS itself was not chartered until 1906, but today has 16 districts and dozens of branches across our country.  Today it distributes Old/New Testaments and complete Bibles in more that 120 languages, including 23 indigenous ones.  In 1999 alone, it distributed 400,000 Bibles and New Testaments and seven million scripture portions and selections.  

The goal of Bible Societies in more than 200 countries is to see lives and hearts changed through the Word of God.  By 1999, all the national Bible Societies, which make up the United Bible Societies (UBS), had together translated the Bible into 2,233 languages.  There are still, however, many languages for which there is a recognized need for Bibles.

Bibles Abroad

A brief word about the role of Bible Societies in two countries, which experienced enormous hardships last year: El Salvador and India.  In the first were several terrible earthquakes and about 3000 after shocks, which did enormous physical and psychological damage. The Rapid Response Service of the UBS got a Scriptures distribution underway as quickly as possible.  The Salvadorian Bible Society is seeking money to help re-equip churches and clergy with Scriptures.  In India after their terrible quake in January, the local Bible House was damaged, but staff attempted to help communities devastated by the catastrophe.

In Egypt, Bible Society volunteers today go door to door for donations and more Bible stores have been opened to spread the Word.  In Peru, the local Bible Society presented thousands of copies of A Change of National Attitude -- 14 texts from Scripture -- following President Fujimori’s resignation in preparation for new elections.  A scandal weary people have reportedly taken very warmly to this publication.

Let me here propose an important project for Africa.  Should Bible Societies in Canada and across the world not partner with sister societies in Africa to print Scripture texts which, stress the importance of monogamous marriage?  If these were circulated in the ten of thousands of village and city parishes of all denominations across the continent, would they not have a major positive impact on the incidence of HIV/AIDS?  No one here needs to be told that the disease is having a catastrophic effect.  A friend in Uganda - a doctor - tells me that the promoting monogamous relationships is the best way to bring down the infection rate.  He adds that Uganda has succeeded in bringing its own infection rate from 40% to 11% among the general population, but what of so many of the other countries?

Society Vision

The vision of CBS is to reach every person with the life-giving Word of God and to encourage its use.  This means providing Scriptures at an accessible reading level.  In many countries, the material provided are valued as quality educational tools.  “New Reader Scriptures” with simplified text and colorful illustrations are very useful in literacy projects.  For instance, Andrew Rugege, a Ugandan working out of the CBS office in Ottawa, is well-educated and fluent in nine languages.  He learned to read through early exposure to the Bible.  His wife Chantal lost several members of her family in the 1994 genocide, which was the factor bringing them to Canada.

Janette Oke, the Canadian author of children’s books, says, “If a child has only one book to read, let it be the Bible.”

Eastern Cree

The CBS working closely with the Wycliffe Bible Translators have just published the New Testament in Eastern Cree.  The first edition, carefully prepared over a period of almost twenty years, will be launched on June 30th.  The people of the Ukraine had the Russian language forced on them through seventy years of domination from Moscow.  Now, in rediscovering their cultural and linguistic roots, there is a vast hunger for the Word of God in Ukrainian.  The CBS is committed to meeting that need.  It is translating the New Testament into contemporary Ukrainian, making the level of language accessible to all.  Typical of so many countries, these efforts are applauded by local authorities.  They are aware of the positive spin-offs for the development of their people.  

The impact of Bible translation is educational, social and spiritual.  For many language groups, the Bible Society plays a unique role in providing the first written materials for both adults and children.  “New Reader Scriptures” is a program specifically designed to help people to read in over 350 languages while bringing the message of hope and life.  Bible translators serving with CBS (and its partners) are committed to making the Bible available to all people in their “heart language”.  Each year, some portion is published in about 40 languages for the very first time.

It is estimated that 26% of the world’s adult population (about 900 million people) are totally illiterate.  Most have never held a book or even touched a printed page. Of the over six billion people living today, about 77% live in developing countries.  More than 95% of the illiterate live where it is difficult or impossible to learn to read without outside help.  They are locked in a time frame with no access to discover vital information to better understand themselves, the world, or God’s plan for their lives.

There are about 6,500 living languages spoken in the world.  More than 3,500 of these languages still lack an alphabet or any form of literature.  It takes translators, language consultants and the commitment of many people to accomplish the amazing process of literacy. The spoken language is analyzed; a grammar and dictionary are established and entered on computer.  Manuscripts are prepared and published.  The people are taught to read.  The technique of reading the printed page opens up a whole new world of understanding.

Faith in Communities

On a visit to South America and South Africa, I discussed faith with a number of individuals.  A leader from Central America indicated quite spontaneously that God has been good to her and her family.  God, she added, gives talents to everyone; the more one has the greater the ability to be a “beacon” for Him.  Whenever she feels herself to be in God’s presence, which I took to occur frequently for her, she wants to use all her abilities to advance His will.

 A Canadian colleague on the same flight offered another perspective.  For him, Jesus offers every believer a sound basis for salvation because He came into the world to help the marginalized and suffering.  He loves every human being and does not judge individuals in the foolish way the world does so often.  Love and redemption are His promise to believers.  

Several days later in Johannesburg, I met an old friend from Canada, who now works there with a lay ministry.  He and some others were invited to conduct a “spiritual wellness” forum for employees of a large utility company.  Its management, deeply worried about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in southern Africa, asked Christians to speak to employees on faith, self-esteem, family breakdown under apartheid and promiscuity.

Robben Island

Not long afterwards, I found myself on the rocks and sand of Robben Island off the shores of Cape Town for an unforgettable day of listening to former political prisoners of the former maximum security facility.  Beforehand, we 600 or so visitors, mostly from North America, were given a tour, beginning with the lime quarry known as the ‘birthplace of reconciliation’ because there Nelson Mandela and many leaders of the new South Africa first reached out in friendship to their guards.

  The personal humiliation and natural human desire for revenge they had to overcome to do so became clearer as we listened to Robben Island ‘alumni’.  The white wardens at Robben Island tended to be bitter men who were often assigned to the island as punishment.  Beatings of prisoners were common, but in such rocky soil the ‘miracle of South Africa’ took root

Desmond Tutu

  Desmond Tutu spoke of reconciliation during a visit to this city last year.  Emerging from 27 years in prison, said Tutu, Mandela “urged his own people to be ready to forgive and to work for reconciliation.  He has preached his gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation a great deal more by example than by precept.  He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest. Who would have imagined South Africa would be an example of anything but the most awful ghastliness?  And now we see God’s sense of humour, for God has chosen this unlikely lot and set up as some kind of paradigm…that just might provide the world with a viable way of dealing with a post-conflict, post-repression period.”

  In a session on reconciliation and the future, we heard from an Anglican priest, Michael Lapsley, who as a New Zealander was expelled from South Africa for working as chaplain to both white and black students.  Shortly after he returned to Africa from a national tour in Canada, he received the letter bomb, which destroyed both of his hands.  For him, Jesus looked to individuals at the bottom of society and offered the form of compassion, which liberates rather than merely pities.  He thinks believers today must also attend the poor, widowed and orphaned with a similar message.  In his own case, he has gained much from his faith journey, in part by refusing to accept the “harvest of hatred” of which he is one prominent survivor.

Friendly Believers

  I’d argue that believers of all faiths have a duty to be happy and positive individuals.  Nothing is more off-putting than a sour workmate or colleague, whereas someone who is serene and friendly is magnetic. If we are to be effective witnesses for our faith in our workplaces, much is demanded of us. Good interpersonal relations must be under constant re-examination in case we are hurting someone’s feelings by thoughtless words or deeds.

Grace – God’s love for all humanity even though undeserving – deserves the final word. It is the one thing that only the church can provide in a world which craves it the most. Grace can bring transformation and hope.

As Philip Yancey, who is probably the most persuasive writer in English for the Christian cause alive today, put it in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, it is hunger for grace that brings people to any church. “I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there,” he writes. “I returned because I found grace nowhere else.” In a world full of too much ‘ungrace,’ we believers should seek to dispense grace in every city, town and village of Canada.

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