Earlier this week, my husband and I spent the night in a chalet in the Golden Gate National Park. I normally check in the bedside drawer to see if the customary Bible is there; as always, I was not disappointed. The Gideon's Association places Bibles in many establishments across the world: hospitals, dentists, doctors' consulting rooms, schools, and not least of all, guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation.
Recently I did a little research on how the spreading of God's Word came about in this manner and this is what I found:
In the autumn of the year 1898, John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wisconsin, came to the Central Hotel at Boscobel, Wisconsin, for the night. The hotel being crowded, it was suggested that he take a bed in a double room with Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin. The two men soon discovered that both were Christians, and that John Nicholson, as a 12-year-old boy, had promised his dying mother that he would read God's Word and pray daily. It had been his custom for many years to read the Bible before retiring for the night. They had their evening devotions together, and on their knees before God the thoughts were given which later developed into an association.
On May 31, 1899, they met at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, concluded to band Christian commercial travelers together for mutual recognition, personal evangelism, and united service for the Lord. They decided to call a meeting in Janesville, Wisconsin on July 1, 1899, in the Y.M.C.A.
Only three men were present at that meeting: John H. Nicholson, Samuel E. Hill, and Will J. Knights. They organized with Hill as president, Knights as vice president, and Nicholson as secretary and treasurer. Much thought was given to what the name of the association should be, and after special prayer that God might lead them to select the proper name, Mr. Knights arose from his knees and said, "We shall be called Gideons." He read the sixth and seventh chapters of Judges and showed the reason for adopting that name.
Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character. This is the standard that the Gideon association is trying to establish in all its members, each man to be ready to do God's will at any time, at any place, and in any way that the Holy Spirit leads.
In view of the fact that almost all of the Gideons in the early years of the association were traveling men, the question quite naturally arose regarding how they might be more effective witnesses in the hotels where they were forced to spend so much of their time. One suggestion was that a Bible might be placed at the reception desk in each hotel so that the patrons would have the privilege of borrowing it if they wished. It also occurred to these men that this would be a silent witness remaining in these hotels when they were elsewhere.
This question of advanced activities, as they called them, was carefully considered in the Cabinet meeting held in Chicago, October 19, 1907. One trustee went so far as to suggest that The Gideons furnish a Bible for each bedroom of the hotels in the United States. He commented," In my opinion, this would not only stimulate the activities of the rank and file of the membership, but would be a gracious act, wholly in keeping with the divine mission of the Gideon Association." This plan was adopted by the convention at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1908.
It is interesting to note that the practice of the churches contributing to the support of the Gideon Scripture program originated with a pastor. Just two months after the 1908 Louisville Convention, a state convention convened in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. National Secretary Frank Garlick and Mr. A. B. T. Moore attended a meeting of the Ministerial Union, and after their program they asked if Brother Garlick could address the ministers on the work of the Gideon Association. He spoke of the needed Bible distribution, and at the close of his 10-minute address, Mr. Moore's own pastor, Dr. E. R. Burkhalter, First Presbyterian Church, arose and moved, "...that Gideon Bibles be placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the funds." The motion was unanimously carried and a committee appointed to apportion the cost to the churches, according to their strength.
Thus the idea of the Gideon ministry as an "extended arm" of the church came into being, and the church took an initial stand to give financial support to the Bible placement program. The Gideon association praised God for the revelation of His plan whereby the local church would supply the needed funds.
"The sower soweth the word."(Mark 4:14)