Our missionary team here in Papua New Guinea has taken a largely unpopular position in regards to the distribution of Bibles. Interestingly, our position is highly unpopular to North Americans and very popular amongst the national people. What is that decision? We charge for (almost) every Bible we distribute to people. Honestly, when my family first arrived I was a little uncomfortable with the idea, but after following the suggestions of my fellow missionaries I have found that the decision to charge for Bibles is really wise.
This coin, like many, has two sides. The first is the Don’t (never, never, ever) Charge For Bibles group and the second is the Sell For a Minimal Fee group.
Don’t Charge For Bibles
The core reasons for this group are:
- The Word of God should be freely accessible for all people.
- Even if initially uninterested, a free Bible has more potential to offer salvation than no Bible.
- It will hinder your ministry as it appears you are making a profit.
A year or so ago I received an email:
Dear Craig. There is a lady who works for “x” company in Papua New Guinea. She wants a Bible and I was wondering if you could sent her one.
I replied to this email by pointing out the following:
- Because this lady has access to email she must be in a top income category. Internet costs about K10 per 15 min. For perspective, K10 at minimum wage represents 10 hours worth of work for the average person – just for 15 min on the internet.
- If the lady works for “x” company she must be in good financial standing.
- The problem is the lady might be interested in the Bible, but she is not willing to give up anything to get the Bible.
I emailed the lady and offered her the Bible at our normal rate – K15.00. I told her I would even pay for the shipping. She never responded. Did the money put a barrier in the way of this woman’s salvation. Those in the Don’t Charge For Bibles group would yell – YES!
I don’t think the email was well received.
Distribute Bibles by Charging a Minimal Fee
Welcome to the other side of the coin. This is the approach our missionary team has taken. Here are the reasons why:
- Selling Bibles is a spiritual blessing to people because they have offered something to receive what they have. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46 NIV
- Selling Bibles ensures those who get Bibles will use the Bibles. Thus, it seems like an act of good stewardship. It is a sort of filtering process between legitimate requests and illegitimate requests. Want something free? Sure. I have a Book of Morman on my shelf just because someone gave it to me. Never read it, but I have it. There are a limited number of Bibles so we want to be sure those who get the Bible will use the Bible.
My Rules for Selling Bibles
- All of these rules can and should be broken if there is a legitimate reason.
- I always give an explanation of why the Bibles are for sale (typically read – Mt. 13:44-46).
- I always explain that the Bible is sold below cost (when you include the shipping). While Bibles at the local Christian bookstore cost K120.00, we only charge K15.00. This reduces the risk of appearing as though I am doing this for a profit.
- I always explain that the money I receive for selling Bibles will be used to help the poor. Last year when there were some storms that devastated the gardens of many local residents I took all the money I had collected from the sale of Bibles and gave the money as a contribution to relief efforts. I give away 100% of the money I “make” from selling Bibles.
- I am always willing to give a Bible when someone has made a legitimate effort to collect the money but is unable. In one circumstance a person willingly did a service project so they could get a Bible.
Final note. There has not been a single circumstance where a person wanted a Bible where they were unable to work out something to gather the money. The local people really like and support our policy for selling Bibles. In addition, our missionary team does offer a lot of free Bible study material.