missionary predicament: bible supply

Earlier today I introduced what will be a new post theme on my blog: Missionary Predicaments.  Occasionally I will attempt to explain to you some recent (or ongoing) dilemma having to do with being a missionary in Tanzania.  And then I’ll ask you guys what you think the proper Christian missionary response would be.  Then I’ll do whatever you say.  Well… maybe not.  But I do welcome all advice — especially if you’re over 50 years old and have grey hair.  Today’s predicament:


Our strategy for mission here in Geita involves Bible studies.  In short, I am helping Tanzanians form Bible study groups, and then mentoring a leader to facilitate that group.  These groups use a 3-column format in the context of a Discovery Bible Study.  We emphasize in these groups the importance of sharing with others during the week what we’ve learned together.  This is happening already; and we are on the verge of starting a second study just from those involved in the first study telling their friends what they’ve learned.  If and when that second study starts, that group’s facilitator will then be mentored as he leads a new group in studying God’s word together.

But there’s one small problem.  There are barely enough Bibles to go around for the study we’re having now.  We were sharing two per book yesterday, and before we left the meeting several group members arranged a plan to swap Bibles at midweek — so each person would have the opportunity to read more from God’s word.  It would be nice for there to be a Bible for every person, but that’s just not the case.  And if we begin a second group, we may be looking at one book for every four or five people.

Factors in Making a Decision

  • One of our goals for these studies is that they reproduce quickly, as this one already looks like it might do.  We’re praying for multiplication and not addition.  For this to occur, our methods need to be easily reproducible.
  • A mentor or group leader purchasing Bibles for everyone is not easily reproduced; it’s stops with the white missionaries.
  • Christie and I have enough money that we could buy each person in this first group or two a Bible.
  • We do not have enough money to buy everyone in an entire church planting movement a Bible.
  • It’s really difficult to have a study without several Bibles, even though some of those present are unable to read.
  • Each study is based out of a single text (usually about 15-20 verses), so the entire Bible is not necessarily needed each week.
  • If possible, we would like to encourage those who desire to read the Bible during the week to do so.
  • It might be important for people to invest their own money in a Bible, showing that this is something of value to them.
  • At the same time, though, should we expect non-Christians coming to their first or second Bible study to go out and buy a book that costs more than a day’s wages?
  • We don’t want people to come to our studies simply because we’re giving Bibles away.
  • We don’t want to further the perception that white people come to Africa to give stuff away.
  • But also, in Tanzanian culture, friendships are often based on helping one another with money and material items.  If you have money, you should use it to help others.  And this is important.

So, what should we do?  I invite your wisdom.



Filed under missionary predicaments

7 responses to “missionary predicament: bible supply

  1. Jim Wade

    Well I do fit your over 50 and grey but do not have the answer. These thoughts you probably have had but here goes.
    Will you learn by transcribing the text and handing it out to them initially? granted this takes time
    Moral teaching although not necessarily of the WORD is consistent with it. Randy Harris (ACU) has suggested how bible morals can be taught in USA schools without using the bible. If I remeber corrrectly he breaks it down to 7 principles. I mention this only as FYI b/c I bet it translates into Tz. culture and the bible can be brought into the conversation as needed. My point- teaching discipleship to God, even without yet ‘knowing’ His WORD. Some of it is almost inate(sp).
    Then the friend matter.Can you offer bible after some set time of study or progress point? Or to pay 1/2; they pay rest. OR at some point- here is bible As friend I give it to you. What I need back is…some sort of pay it forward. They tell you( after prayer and thought perhaps), how they will “repay you.. or God even….or community. Thus you hear them establish some value of their choosing, and as best you can, you hold them to it. At the same time you learn more of them in the process.
    As you gain disciples maybe you start a bible fund to which they can contribute for future disciples.
    I admit, all this makes me uncomfortable. Bible trafficking, or bible enticing, or bible bargaining vs free bible and whatever issues that produces. I do not know.
    But I know God and His people can teach without Bible; yet I know Bible is central to His teaching and revelation therefore will be needed at some point.
    And if you do end up needing some money for bibles, we are willing to help.
    Ouch, straddling this barb wire fence of an answer is starting to hurt.

  2. Zee

    mostly thoughts out loud, but yeah…

    perhaps you could get a few Bibles to have at the Bible study (for example the leader of that Bible study would have them), so that when you’re actually studying the Bible all together, everyone or most would have a Bible to look at… also that would be helpful if a non-believer comes for the first time – he won’t be completely lost because s/he neither knows / heard / read / had the Bible before, and s/he won’t have to face “you gotta buy it for yourself” right away.

    regarding “If possible, we would like to encourage those who desire to read the Bible during the week to do so” – people can get together to read or share a Bible, for example, those who live close.

  3. Jim Wade

    Another thought. If some transcribing is taking place maybe you office supply/landlord can sell you some old fasioned carbon paper, so multiple copies can be made at once. And maybe soon one of your students would want to do such transcription.
    And what Zee said makes sense too.

  4. I suggest you consider giving one Bible to each study group. Have them get together a few days before their next group DBS meeting and write the first column by having one person read the text well as many times as it takes for everyone to write the passage. Then they can do columns 2 and 3 on their own.

    Let them share the Bible one day per person (this will keep the group sizes small enough they have to start new groups for new people, encouraging multiplication). The fact that they have to share in this way will encourage group interactions, but also will probably push them to acquire their own copy at the first opportunity.

    Long-term, you may want to encourage someone there to consider opening a Bible book store in town. If someone from Geita does that (or adds it to some other type of pre-existing store), then the supply will last long after you are gone.

    Do not give Bibles to each participant. That is not sustainable, as you already recognize.

  5. I just read the earlier suggestions and would couple Jim’s “pay it forward” to the Bible given to the group. Disciple them to meet the need to collectively purchase a Bible so other groups will have one.

  6. Here’s all the wisdom I got from my work in Sukumaland.

    First, let’s make beer the common financial denominator, 2 beers=1 new testament. Which leads me to the following conclusions:

    1. Noone seems to struggle to buy beer here.
    2. However, even if beer was free, people would still value it. I don’t think people would be pouring it out on the street just because it was free.
    3. I have bought more beers for people than I have bought bibles for people. Jesus made water into wine, but didn’t photocopy any scrolls for people. And the first option defies categories, while the second option kinda reinforces the categories you were talking about.
    4. If you see someone is really struggling to get a bible, and others in the group confirm this, then reduce the price, or give them the gospel of John or something (I think they are like 400/=, or the price of one warm coca-cola). People know there are always exceptions to the rules, and they will give gifts of bibles to truly worthy and needy people long after you are gone, but your wise and generous example will be helpful.
    5. We are really excited about your DBS studies and are praying for you guys regularly!!!

  7. wow, great suggestions so far. i really like the transcribing idea (where we were leaning before making this post). but i also like the at least one bible per group idea, with some kind of pay-it-forward system, or a we-buy-our-own so the newest group can use this one system. zee, you mentioned them reading together during the week if they live close. and they all do. our groups seem to be forming by a family + neighbors.

    and i’m not sure what kevin means, other than that i should be the one supplying the beer at our bible studies….

    so i don’t think we have a firm plan yet, but thanks so far for the advice. and more is welcome.

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