Canadian organizations partner to reach a “biblically-illiterate” nation

Two Canadian organizations are working hard to see the country become more biblically literate.

Having sold more than 145,000 portions of Scripture across Canada in 2010, and expanding distribution into Quebec this past December, Scripture Gift Mission (SGM) Canada of Orillia, Ontario, is experiencing a phenomenal response to its new, four-fold Scripture leaflets.

"It's our aim to try and get as many people as possible engaging with the Bible," says Doug Beckberger, operations manager for the non-profit ministry.

With today's society being what he describes as "fast-food chains, wanting everything immediately," Doug, his wife Norma, who works in marketing, and the SGM Canada staff have spent the past few years researching and developing new Scripture leaflets that are short and snappy. "We're trying to whet people's appetites for the Bible," says Doug.

Founded in 1888 by printer William Walters, SGM is an international organization that exists to make the Scripture readily available, no matter a person's status. Based around popular themes such as loss or meaning of life, SGM seeks ultimately to share passages from the Bible.

"Tracts give a man's ideas," explains Doug, "but we give God's." A non-denominational ministry, SGM sells its resources to hundreds of partners nationwide, who then hand them out free of charge.

Having released their newest five-topic leaflets in 2009, Norma credits the rise in sales to both the product's brevity and its cost-effectiveness. "I deal with churches right across Canada," she says, "and many are experiencing financial difficulties." As a result, the one-page pamphlet is proving successful.

Yet Doug wonders at the future of a country that finds the Bible too long to digest.

"Biblical illiteracy is a very big concern," he says. "People are getting so many other interests, they don't need God to take care of them. We have to convince people of the fact that God is in all things, and that He created all of us. If we can do this through a leaflet or a booklet, then we'll have accomplished something."

And it's working. Fifity individuals came to know Christ through Scripture leaflets distributed at Orillia's own Living for Jesus Outreach Centre.

"We want to put something in people's hands as well as into their hearts," says Norma. "We want to tell them God cares."

United in purpose

United in their goal to spread the gospel, SGM Canada and Scripture Union (SU) Canada of Pickering, Ontario, also have Lawson Murray in common.

"Partnership is the key to a successful ministry moving forward," says SGM's national director who also assumed presidency of SU in September 2010.

Founded in 1867 by British missionary Josiah Spiers, SU came to Canada in 1879, making it one of the country's founding missions. While similar in aim to SGM, SU is unique in its production of Bible Reading Guides, as well as its focus on children's ministry and sports ministry.

"We want to connect people with Jesus Christ," says Murray. "We do this by connecting them with Scripture."

SU's emphasis on a younger audience stems from youth being more open to the gospel. "It is also driven by the realization that we have had a tremendous decline in engagement with the Bible and in Christian faith in our nation," says Murray, "and we are deeply concerned about that."

A 2009 survey of 1,259 people from nine different provinces revealed 58.8 per cent of Canadians do not read the Bible. Most church-goers, adds Murray, have not read it from cover to cover.

"Christendom is dead, even though the funeral hasn't been arranged," says Murray, a former pastor. "Truth is no longer relevant, and the Bible is not something that is highly thought of or read by most Canadians."

To address these alarming trends, SU Canada has released - in addition to its numerous Bible Reading Guides, Sunday school curriculum and Sports Bibles - the Essential 100 Challenge.

Comprised of 50 stories from the Old Testament and 50 from the New, the E-100 makes the Bible relevant and easy to digest. Churches and individuals can partake in the challenge by following a daily reading schedule.

"We've seen tremendous success internationally," says Murray, who adds that one of the main goals of the E-100 is to re-teach the main themes of the Bible to a biblically-illiterate nation. "Forty-eight percent of the churches in New Zealand have already taken the challenge. We're trusting it will take off in Canada as well."

Akin to SGM, SU Canada is striving to make its resources more interactive and stimulating for today's "visual-holic" generation. It is also seeking to form greater partnerships with other Christian organizations.

"We're better together," says Murray, who recently collaborated with cbm (Christian Blind Mission) to create Bible Reading Guides for the blind. "There's strength in working together towards common ends."

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