down the open road
By William R. Walters
In 1984, I made my first Gideon trip overseas to Kenya, East Africa, for the purpose of Bible distribution. On Sunday morning we held 43 church services. Early on Monday morning, we loaded the vehicles with cases of God’s Word and headed out to the first school. We went in to see the headmaster and showed him the New Testament that we had for students 10 years of age and older. He stepped to the corner of his office, pulled on a rope to ring the bell for student assembly, and kids came running from every direction.
The headmaster, a born-again Christian, asked us to tell the students who we were, why we were there, and all about Jesus. I built a small platform out of cases of New Testaments and stood on top of them. I talked about Jesus for 20 minutes, and then gave away the New Testaments. Every student and teacher received one.
We asked them to repeat the sinner’s prayer if they wanted Jesus to forgive their sins and wanted to accept Him as personal Lord and Savior. They repeated each phrase until the sinner’s prayer was completed. Then I asked those who had prayed to receive Jesus as Savior for the very first time—and really meant it in their hearts—to raise their hand and their New Testament. This is the picture I took.
The Gideons did not have enough cars for the seven teams working in Nakuru, so a pastor offered his little car to drive us around. The luggage rack on top of his car was stacked with boxes of New Testaments, as well as the trunk and back seat. The car was so overloaded that the tires scraped the fenders as we wobbled down the road on the way to the next school. After a long drive, we finally drove through the rusty, iron gates that led to the school.
Again, we were welcomed with open arms, and 800 students and teachers received the Word of God. Many received Christ as their Lord and Savior during the visit.
As we backed down the driveway through the iron gates, I looked back toward the school and saw a little boy running down the drive toward us. He stretched his arm through the bars of the gate as far as he could reach, pressing his face up against the bars.
We stopped the car. I rolled down the window and called him to me. He unlatched the gate. I can still hear the squeak of those old rusty hinges. He dashed down the drive to rear window where I was sitting. His eyes were filled with tears.
I said, “You must not have received your New Testament.”
Shyly, he shook his head. I handed a New Testament to him. As he tried to pull it away, I held it and wouldn’t let go. I wanted him to look me in the eyes. He wiped his shirtsleeve across his eyes, drying his tears. His eyes got as big as saucers, and his sad, lonely face slowly transformed into the biggest, most beautiful smile I had ever seen.
I turned loose of the New Testament, and he ran back up the driveway, grabbed the gate, and pulled it closed behind him. One last time he looked back at me. Then he glanced down at the New Testament and with a big wave and a smile, he turned and ran back toward the school.
His hope, his salvation!
These two experiences more than 25 years ago changed my life forever. Our team of 27 went to 433 other schools during those two weeks with very similar acceptance and responses.
Take a journey with me to Samara, Russia. We traveled all night long on a train on tracks that were severely worn. The temperature was 28 degrees below zero and it was snowing heavily. When we got off the train with our luggage, we wondered if anyone knew we were coming. Three believers soon met us at the station, and we loaded up in their frosty car and headed straight to a high school.
Standing outside the school in the frigid air, we asked the Lord to prepare the way. When we showed the headmaster the Russian New Testaments we had for her students and teachers, she allowed us to visit every classroom. Afterwards, she asked us to come back the next morning because there was a completely different shift of students in the morning.
The next morning we prayed, and again, we went to every classroom. Every student and every teacher received the Word of God. When we finished, the headmaster invited us to her office for hot tea and chocolates. As we sat talking, she said, “I am an atheist; it is all I have ever known. I am a communist; it is all I have ever been taught. You have come to my school and given all my students and all my teachers the Word of God.” Then, turning to the Samara Gideons, she said, “You must come to my school twice every week for two hours and teach all my students the Word of God.”
We can’t even do that in the United States. The Gideons are making a difference!
About the Writer: Bill Walters is the head of the Gideons International Division and travels extensively for this organization. He is a member of the Donelson FWB Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Gideon organization held its first meeting on July 1, 1899. The name Gideon was chosen from the Bible reference of Judges 6, 7. To date, approximately 1.3 billion Bibles and New Testaments have been distributed to more than 180 countries around the world. I remember receiving the New Testament during my grammar school years. I was already being raised in church, but it captured my attention at an early age to see Bibles being distributed to everyone.
The Gideons have always been welcomed into Free Will Baptist churches, and many Free Will Baptists have participated in the national and international distribution of Bibles.
These stories describe international distribution, but Bibles are also distributed here in the United States, many to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from every corner of the world. They need someone to lead them to the Lord. They need a solid, Bible-believing church in which to worship. They need friends and those who will love and help them in their daily walk with the Lord.
Reaching the world at our doorstep is a vital part of the ministry of our church planters and members across our nation. We greatly appreciate the work of the Gideons, and of the laity in our Free Will Baptist churches and all they do to further the gospel.