Little Welsh girl Mary Jones anxiously walked the 40 kilometres. She couldn’t wait to buy a Bible in her language, as she had been saving for it for more than six years. But when she reached the shop of Mr Charles, her pastor and teacher, she found with despair that all the Bibles were either sold or already spoken for.
Deeply impressed by the little girl’s story, Charles Thomas proposed to the Council of the Religious Tract Society to supply more Bibles for Wales. The year was 1800. A member of the Council, Joseph Hughes, then suggested the establishment of a new society to handle the publication of Bibles. “If for Wales, why not for the kingdom? And if for the kingdom, why not for the world?”
William Wilberforce, who became a new man after reading the New Testament in 1783, was one of the three hundred participants in the meeting that decided to establish the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. Wilberforce was its vice president until 1833. The Society created several branches, both in England and abroad, so that by 1903 there were 5,726 in England and 2,230 abroad.
“A Bible for the millions of people who do not have it, in a practical form, at an affordable price even for the poorest” became the cornerstone of the society. The first translation was made in 1804, consisting of the Gospel of John translated into the language of the Mohawk people of Canada.
The Bible Society in England became the source and model for the Bible societies that were born in Europe and then in Australia, in the two Americas, Africa, and Asia. In 1808, the first American Bible Society, the Pennsylvania Bible Society, was founded. In 1816, along with many others that were created at the state or area level, they formed the American Bible Society.
In 1946, at a global level, United Bible Societies was born, which brings together 146 national Bible societies and operates in 200 countries and territories. Through these societies, the Bible was translated into 2,527 of the approximately 6,500 spoken languages.
Along with these Bible societies, there are also some that manage distribution—for example, Gideons International—or printing (Amity Printing Company established in 1987 in China, where more than 50 million copies have already been printed). Faith Comes By Hearing is a non-profit organisation that produces Bibles in audio format in 85 countries.
The mission assumed by all these organisations stems from the trust in the power of change and the influence that the Bible has on people from all cultures. Like a huge tree, whose roots supply the sap to thousands of branches and millions of leaves, Bible societies implement, through print, audio format or Braille, the values of the Bible in the universal mind.