Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Should Bibles be sold or handed out?

This is a question which all missionaries working in poor countries will have to answer. And the answer is not as simple as we sometimes try to make it.
I was recently reminded about this issue while watching a DVD of an international missionary organisation working in Swaziland. We all realise that DVDs or pamphlets or whatever other medium is used, are made in order to convince people to donate money towards the cause. The DVD starts with a shot of a number of school children, singing and dancing with Bibles in their hands. The caption reads: “Swazi kids excited about their new English and SiSwati Bibles.” These Bibles had been handed out to them with the help of donations received from overseas. Who’s heart won’t soften when seeing children in darkest Africa dancing with joy because of receiving a Bible?
Many people however feel that it is wrong to hand out Bibles free of charge. The logic behind this conviction is that something is only appreciated if it is paid for.
And now the question: Who is correct? Should Bibles be sold or handed out? And the answer, as I said earlier, is not as simple as saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When I arrived in Swaziland in 1985 we used to receive boxes full of tracts, some in English, others in siZulu (closely related to siSwati) and when visiting schools I handed out these tracts by the thousand. But there came a time when I became convinced that I’m not doing the right thing. I did realise that the children were merely grabbing the tracts, not because they were really interested in reading them (although I believe that many did read them), but because it was something given to them free of charge. After making this decision I planned the distribution of literature in a much more disciplined way. The fact is that I became convinced that I could distribute Jehovah’s Witness literature or even Muslim literature free of charge and that the children would still grab as much as possible.
So what is my solution? In the good old days I was able to get 30% discount from the Bible Society if we bought Bible directly from them. Bibles were fairly cheap (around $2) and after the 30% discount they were still affordable for most people. We literally sold thousands of Bibles. But at the same time we were open to hand out Bibles to people who we felt would put the Bible to good use and who could not afford to pay for it. I’ve received many things free of charge which I deeply appreciate and I sincerely believe that many people receiving a Bible free of charge would also appreciate it. Which means that we used both systems of giving and selling Bibles, but always selling it without profit.
Things have changed. The Bible Society refuse to give churches discount. Discount is now only given to stores and prices have gone through the roof. The cheapest siSwati Bible available in stores would probably be around $12 – this in a country where 70% of the population live on less than 45 US cent per day! Money received for Bible distribution is now used to buy Bibles at shelf price, but then we sell them at about a quarter of the price at which we buy them. And then we still have an understanding that Bibles may be handed out free of charge or sold at an even lower price if the recipient can really not afford to buy it.
We don’t have much singing and dancing with Bibles in the hand using this system. But I’ve seen many people sitting with their Bibles, reading it and when I look at the congregation on a Sunday as they follow the Scripture reading in their own Bibles, I see Bibles with pen marks, showing signs that they have been used. For me this means more than the singing and dancing.


Monday, July 14, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, Church, Culture, Giving, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology


  1. As I was reading this particular post, I ended up thinking about the classes I teach within my organization. For years I had a hard time charging for the class, especially since most of the attendees are financially challenged. However, I began to see a problem where both the class, our organization and myself were taken for granted in a bad way. I also saw students who claimed they couldn’t afford the cost of tuition (which is minimal for what they receive) then decide to buy a plane ticket to go someplace or had a Starbucks coffee in their hand every time they came to class.

    Like you, I completely agree that we should be flexible enough to also see when someone really is in need and cannot pay for the product.

    Good post. I think it is only through experience that I’ve come to see the truth of this. When I was first starting out full of idealism, etc. I would have been really offended by my own comment here! LOL

    Comment by Maya | Monday, July 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. We have some very close friends who are also missionaries and who are always complaining about a lack of money. Yet recently two of their children went to South America for a month-long vacation and I just thought to myself that this is very unfair to the people sponsoring them to know that their children are enjoying vacations which few of their donors can afford.

    By the way, my previous post about the medical clinic was about the people that you had met in Seattle and which you told me about – Harry and Echo VanderWal.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, July 14, 2008 | Reply

  3. please i am writing to you because i need a copy of the holy bible with no mission but to read and learn the word of GOD.please here is my address.
    emmanuel akakpo
    west africa

    Comment by emmanuel akakpo | Monday, December 29, 2008 | Reply

  4. Dear Sir/Madam,
    The leadership of victory Miracle World Ministries is requesting in Jesus name your outfit to supply our church with Holy Bible to be given to our new christian converts.
    northern part of Ghana with about population of 4,000,000, and out of that, about 80 percent are moslems ,we have been able to convert and baptized many of them whilst more are also intereted about the word of God.
    the people are poor that some can not even purchase Holy Bible to read and to know more about the word.
    we are therefore requesting your out fit to send us enough Holy Bible to be given to them as we are not been able to supply them because of our limited finance.
    we hope our request will be granted in Jesus name.
    Pastor Adjei Foster Castro
    Victory Miracle World Ministries
    P.O.Box AN 10949
    Accra North

    Thank you very much and God Bless you

    Your brother in Christ
    Pastor Adjei Foster Castro
    Head Pastor

    Comment by Pastor Adjei Foster Castro | Saturday, January 3, 2009 | Reply

  5. A Big Mistake
    It is unfortunate that some people mistakenly believe that Muslims worship a different God than Jews and Christians, and that “Allah” is just the “god of the Arabs”. While word Allah is also used by Arabs Cristian . Last words of Jesus waere ” Ilahi Ilahi Lima sabaqtani” It means O my God O My God why left me”. Word Ilah is rood word of Allah. This myth, which has been propagated by the enemies of Islam, is completely false since the word “Allah” is simply the Arabic name for Almighty God. It is the same word for God which is used by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians. However, it should be clarified that even though Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christian, their concept of Him differs somewhat from the beliefs of other religions – mainly because it is based completely on Divine Revelation from God. For example, Muslims reject the Christian belief that God is a Trinity, not only because the Quran rejects it, but also because if this was God’s true nature, He would have clearly revealed it to Abraham, Noah, Jesus and all of the other prophets. Islam was religion of Abraham, Jackob, Isaq, Ishmael. (Peace and blessings of God upon all of them). Because Islam literally means path of submission to God Almighty only worthy to be worshiped and only worthy to be begged.

    for more http://islam100.wordpress.com

    “Islam” is an Arabic word which means “submission to the will of God”. This word comes from the same root as the Arabic word “salam”, which means “peace”. As such, the religion of Islam teaches that in order to achieve true peace of mind and surety of heart, one must submit to God and live according to His Divinely revealed Law. The most important truth that God revealed to mankind is that there is nothing divine or worthy of being worshipped except for Almighty God, thus all human beings should submit to Him.

    Comment by Muqeem | Friday, December 18, 2009 | Reply

  6. I am looking for Siswati Bibles for a mission trip to Swaziland in late August- I am having a tough time finding them; do you have a resource for Siswati Bibles?

    Comment by nancy weber-brough | Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | Reply

  7. hi Nancy. I get my Bibles in South Africa at R40 each (last price when I bought some a few months ago.) Have you tried the Bible Society in Manzini? Where are you from?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | Reply

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