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Bible Society and Bible Poverty

Bible Society and Bible Poverty

The Bible Society New Zealand continues to focus on the important mission to address Bible poverty, improve Bible literacy and increase Bible engagement. Sonia Munro shares with us the challenges facing this parachurch organisation.

From humble beginnings 177 years ago, influential people like Reverends Samuel Marsden and Walter Lawry were instrumental in promoting the mission of the Bible Society in Aotearoa New Zealand.

After the Auckland Auxiliary Branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed in 1846, it wasn’t long before other regions wanted their own Bible Society. A Wellington Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed two years later, followed by Nelson (1854) and Canterbury (1863). The Otago Bible Society, formed in 1864, was more strongly affiliated with the Scottish Bible Society. On 9 May 1946, the United Bible Societies Fellowship was established, and the New Zealand Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society joined in 1947.

Volunteer army

In small towns up and down the country, Bible Society volunteers were known to go door to door with their little red books, collecting funds and selling Christmas cards to support the Bible mission work. In some places, Bible Society volunteers formed ‘Action Groups’. These groups were made up of supporters from different denominations who would gather together to plan and deliver fundraising events three or four times a year. Funds raised from these events went to support local and overseas appeals so Bibles could be translated, printed and distributed to people groups around the world.

There was a strong Christian presence in these communities and a real sense of camaraderie as people worked together and were unified in their belief that the Bible was central and core to the Christian faith. Bible Society volunteers actively demonstrated their faith through their ‘good works’, by holding fundraisers like Bible quizzes, bake sales, soup and savoury luncheons, sponsored walks, car rallies, art auctions, musical concerts, as well as Run or Ride for Bible events. They believed in the mission that all people everywhere,should be able to access a Bible in their heart language, at an affordable price and in a format that encouraged interaction with the Bible.           

The changing landscape

We have seen significant changes in our communities over the past few decades which have impacted on volunteering. Immigration policies have led to a more culturally diverse population, with different worldviews, political ideologies and spiritual beliefs. Church attendance, Bible ownership and volunteering has declined, and our nation has become increasingly secular. Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to serve the poor in India, understood the true human condition when she said, ‘God does not create poverty; we do, because we do not share’. By sharing our time and resources, we can help to alleviate Bible poverty in countries where Christianity is a minority religion.

Factors such as an aging population, less free time and the high cost of living have reduced the pool of volunteers available to serve and support fundraising initiatives. In the ‘State of Volunteering Report 2020’, Joanna Go’s research revealed that 36.6 percent of New Zealand’s registered charities found retaining volunteers to be their biggest challenge. Bible Society New Zealand has seen its volunteer base and active fundraising decline over the last decade. The questions are: How do we connect and motivate millennials to value the Bible Society like their grandparents who had a strong sense of commitment towards the Bible mission? How do we share our mission effectively with new church denominations, house churches and churches where English isn’t spoken? It is imperative that the Bible remains at the heart of Christian life and service, so Bible Society New Zealand volunteers are united in their desire to see Bible poverty erased once and for all!

Progress with translations

Out of the 7389 global languages, there are still 3776 languages that have no passages or portions of Scripture in their own language. In response to this need, the United Bible Societies Fellowship has created a strategy called ‘The Bible Translation Roadmap’ to co-ordinate the work of translation experts and local translators to focus on 1200 of the remaining translations. Next year Bible Society New Zealand will be celebrating the completion of the Old Testament in the Tokelauan language—a project that has taken 27 years.

As an organisation with a distinguished history in New Zealand, the Bible Society recognises the importance of finding innovative and fresh ways to connect with the culture. They want to remove barriers between people and their ability to interact with the Bible. Regular revision of existing translations, publishing new formats and creating innovative digital content ensures that God’s Word is presented attractively and in a manner that fosters engagement with its readers. Sometimes, this looks like tailored engagement experiences or resources, which help connect the unchanging truths of the Bible with the specific context of a community. Sign language Bibles are making a real difference for people with hearing difficulties; audio Bibles help teach the illiterate in remote places about the Bible story, and braille Bibles help the visually impaired to read, understand and interact with the Bible.

Promoting the Bible

There are many ways people can volunteer for Bible Society New Zealand. If you love to pray, consider praying for the Bible Society and joining their ‘Pray with Us’ prayer team. Another way you can volunteer is to become a church representative where you can advocate about the work of the Bible Society by sharing prayer needs at a prayer meeting; or creating a board to inform people about various appeals; or ordering Bible Society resources for your church. You can volunteer your time and talents by supporting events, organising fundraising actions or speaking to groups about the Bible mission.

To find our more, visit To volunteer with Bible Society New Zealand or become a church representative, contact Sonia Munro, Bible Society New Zealand’s Missions Partner—Volunteers & Community Service

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