Canadian Gideons change with the times
"Our real goal is to get people into a Bible-believing church," says executive director Peter Marshall.
By Frank Stirk | Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Peter Marshall of the Gideons International in Canada. Photo by Neil Bramble
GUELPH, ONEven as a youth, Peter Marshall could feel God pulling him towards a calling in ministry.
When Marshall was just three months old, his mother placed him in the daily care of a Christian family while she and his father were working. He went to their home every day after school until he was 13. And it changed his life.
"Christ was the head of this home, and I didn't experience that in my family," he says. "I felt this love that I had to bring home to my Mom and Dad and my brother. Through that love, I accepted Christ at eight years old."
The family was a member of The Gideonsnow known as The Gideons International in Canadaa global Scripture-distribution ministry that has been active in Canada for the past 101 years. Members started taking Bibles into hotels in 1908, and into schools in 1936. They also distribute to prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, and hand out Bibles to police officers and nurses.
Marshall himself did not join The Gideons until 2002, when he felt God call him and his wife Keli to serve. At the time, they ran a very successful clothing business. They sold it when the ministry brought Marshall on staff in 2006. In August 2011, he became executive director.
Much of what Marshall brings to the job he learned in the marketplace. He studied business management at college for two years, then learned carpentry and ran the construction company he worked for. Then he ran a clothing business for 11 years. He and Keli finally sold it when The Gideons brought him on staff in 2006.
At every step along the waywherever God called himMarshall has been on a journey of personal development that continues to this day.
"When I came to the ministry, I was challenged to develop new skills, new disciplines," he says. "I've got to either learn them or find someone who has them. I don't want to be the one person who knows everything. I want to build a great team of people with various skills who can serve and complete us."
Nor does Marshall feel hindered by not having a college degree.
"Much of my lack-of is made up by faith-in," he says. "So if anyone feels under-qualified for ministry, then they're probably in the right place, because they're going to depend more on God."
Marshall also believes his personal experience of the ups and downs of owning a small business taught him that The Gideons today "have to be good stewards of what we are given. We've got to make the dollar stretch."
"That lean mindset," he says, "helped me to communicate to the staff that this great legacy of a century of Bible distribution in Canada and around the world is too valuable and precious to wreck. So let's be very cautious in everything we do."
In Canada's increasingly secular culture, that means developing new strategies, such as giving an increased emphasis to partnering with churches.
"We've been spending more time letting pastors know that The Gideons exist for the purpose of filling their church," says Marshall. "Scripture distribution is important, but our real goal is to get people into a Bible-believing church."
One way the ministry comes alongside churches is with TIPthe Testament Insert Program. It shows how effective Scripture distribution can be at leading people to Christ.
But Marshall is also impressed at how well grassroots Gideons are adjusting to the new realities.
"In Owen Sound, I met a 93-year-old auxiliary member. She and her husband were the first ones there to distribute Scriptures into the schools," he says. "The news that their school was closing would have been devastating, if not for the fact the local chapter decided they were going to be at all five fairs this summer and give out Scriptures.
"So they will exceed the 400 they gave out in previous years."
And while The Gideons are at times finding it harder to hand out Bibles to Canada's schoolchildren, they are far from throwing in the towel.
"This fall," Marshall says, "we'll make accessible to Christian youth for free the Gospel of John that they'll be able to take into their school to share with their friends."
Indeed, for all the challenges and changes, Marshall regards The Gideons as "an unstoppable force of evangelism."
"We experienced a record year last year in terms of funding. Our membership in Canada is 4,000 strong. We're in 60 countries. We've seen over 100,000 people commit their lives to Christ. And a total of 1.349 million Scriptures were given out last year in Canada and around the world."