SWINDON, England (Christian Examiner) – In 2014, United Bible Societies distributed more Bibles around the globe than ever before, due in part to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Close to 34 million full Bibles were distributed, with higher numbers than before in areas plagued by war and political or social unrest, including Nigeria, South Africa, and Syria.
"Brazilians are football-mad and their obsession with football will reach fever pitch over the next few weeks, when we host the World Cup," said Rudi Zimmer of the Bible Society of Brazil, according to a 2014 press release by United Bible Societies.
About 600,000 people flooded into Brazil for the world championship soccer competition, affording Bible distributors new opportunities to share the Word of God to people who might not otherwise be locally available to receive the free gift.
"We want the Bible to have a prominent presence amidst all the excitement," Zimmer said. "It's an unprecedented opportunity for churches and Christians here to share God's Word with local and foreign fans, and we want to equip and encourage them to do that."
In 2014, 14.4 million full Bibles were distributed across the Americas—with a staggering 341.5 million partial Scriptures handed out. More than half of the full Bibles were distributed in Brazil, far more than in any other country, a United Bible Societies news release reports.
The Bible Society of Brazil distributed 288.7 million Scriptures—more than two thirds of the global total. The Bible Society coordinated over a thousand churches and ministries to distribute Portuguese Bibles and literature at the games in a movement called Fair Play Brazil.
"Fair Play Brazil was inspired by the vision that led the Apostle Paul to travel to Corinth in Acts 18," Zimmer said. "Corinth was one of the largest and busiest cities of the Roman Empire and hosted one of the biggest sporting events in the calendar – the Isthmian Games. There, Paul found the opportunity to preach the Gospel to people from all over the world."
Accordingly, United Bible Societies had a significant presence at the World Cup and will implement the successful movement again for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio.
AFRICA, MIDDLE EAST, EUROPE
The number of full Bibles distributed across Africa has increased since 2010, United Bible Societies reports. The 7.3 million Bibles handed out in 2014 is over 30 percent higher than the number from 2010. Certain locations like the Central African Republic saw amazing increases—from 9,000 in 2010 to 29,000 in 2014—despite fighting nearby the Bible Society office driving the staff from their work and homes.
Society security guard Ferdinand Kada had to hide in the ceiling when militia broke into the office to ransack it.
"The Bible Society office is close to the National Assembly, which is where the fighting was most intense," Kada said. "Since then [the looting] we haven't been able to go there for long because the danger of attack is very real. ... They hunt people like animals. I've never seen anything like it before."
The staff, which temporarily relocated to an office in a seminary while they were still in active danger, continued to minister throughout the hazardous circumstances.
Likewise, Syria and Ukraine, the sites of ongoing active fighting, received more Bibles as people who were insecure sought remedy in Scripture. More than five times the number of Testaments were distributed in Syria in 2014 than at the beginning of the decade.
The Bible Society in Ukraine distributed nearly 70,000 New Testaments – 48 percent more than in 2012 and 10 times more than in 2010, the Societies reports.
These numbers do not include non-print Scriptures, including audio, visual, or internet media, distributed by the Bible Societies, which are estimated to be three times higher than in 2010.
Whether people are gathering for a sports event or afraid for their lives, the Bible is a tangible sign of God's love and providence for all his children.