Recently, a keen friend posted this question in response to our spring newsletter:
Hi Bob and Kristi, We were a bit surprised to read that you sell Bibles. I always thought missionaries give them away for free, especially to the 3d world countries and there are some organizations that donate them. Is this something new?
We thought that probably there are other people with the same question, so we wanted to post our response here. We really welcome your question, suggestions, thoughts – it helps to remind us that we are not alone as we serve with the church in Congo! Here is our response to her question:
Great question! We are very glad that you asked - we like to hear feedback when you read our letters! You are right - some missionaries, past and present, give away Bibles and some organizations donate them. That has happened in Congo also in some cases in the past. It is good to get God's Word into people's hands, especially those that do not yet have a local church presence or do not know Christ.
However, it also creates a culture and mentality that the Bible is something to be given for free - not something of value worth purchasing. So, in our context here in Kasai, this meant that when the presence of missionaries decreased, so did the presence of Bibles. The Bible Society in Congo continued to import Bibles and sell them (yes, the Bible society sells Bibles, though not at a profit), but there was not much demand to purchase them among Presbyterian churches here.
In our first couple of years in Congo, we traveled to many rural regions, and heard about the tragic lack of Bibles and songbooks. As you know, Congo is a very poor country, and most people could not afford a Bible. The current price for a Tshiluba Bible in Kananga is $12. Also, Bibles were not available at all in the rural areas outside of the provincial capital. Whenever we heard people express that need, we asked people how much they could and would be willing to pay for a Bible if they were available. The response was between 4,000 and 5,000 Congolese Francs ($5-$6). We put our heads together with our Congolese colleagues, wondering what we could do to help meet this need.
In 2013, we started a subsidy program to bring the price down to what people could afford. Yes, we started selling Bibles - for about $4.50 in the rural areas and $6 in the urban areas. Our purpose was to make Bibles accessible - especially to people in rural areas. There are whole congregations without 1 Bible amongst them! We want people to be able to own them and read them and use them, but we also want each person to be able to give something as a sign of participation and sacrifice that demonstrates the value it is to them. This means that we are selling Bibles at a significant loss, and can only continue the subsidy program with the donations and participation of generous people outside of Congo who agree to help make Bibles accessible. But, it also helps protect the Congolese Christians from getting stuck in an environment of dependency on American church. This subsidy program has been received with great joy and gratitude from members of the church here. We have described some of the impact in our Spring 2014 newsletter and in a few blog posts. If you have further questions, we welcome you to e-mail us or post another comment.
In 2014,we and our colleagues in the Department of Evangelism sold a total of 1,328 Tshiluba Bibles, 730 Tshiluba hymnbooks, and 135 Children’s Bibles (in Tshiluba). That was done with a total subsidy of $10,136 – which came from numerous individuals and churches, including children in a vacation Bible school and a man who made and sold jam all summer to give the proceeds for Bibles in Congo. Wow! Thank you for participating with us in getting God’s Word in people’s hands and hearts. What we have sold so far just whets the appetite of the thousands more in Kasai who would also like to buy their own Bible. If you would like to participate, the link for giving online to the Dept. of Evangelism of the CPC is here – just designate in the comments that it is for Bibles.