Scripture Distribution Report 2020: Over 190 million Scripture items bring light to a challenging year
Despite the myriad challenges posed by COVID-19 throughout last year, Bible Societies showed remarkable resilience in supplying over 30 million full Bibles during 2020. Over 190 million Scripture items, including Bibles, New Testaments, Gospels, and smaller Scripture portions and selections were distributed across the world.
In a year marked by lockdown restrictions, economic challenges, and considerable emotional suffering, it was perhaps unsurprising that Scripture distribution – and wider Bible Society ministry – was significantly impacted. Distribution of full Bibles reduced by 37% in comparison to 2019, and New Testament distribution declined by 63%. Although internet downloads were diminished in some areas, overall, total downloads increased by 113% year-to-year – no doubt impacted by larger numbers of people following ‘stay-at-home’ orders and engaging with Scripture digitally.
The figures are compiled from annual Scripture distribution numbers reported by Bible Societies around the world, and include local sales and exports of Scripture material and unique internet downloads.1
Even with the difficulties caused by the global pandemic, the UBS Fellowship, which is made up of around 150 Bible Societies operating in more than 240 countries and territories, continues to be the largest translator and one of the largest distributors of Scripture on the planet. Together, Bible Societies have provided around 70% of the world’s full Bible translations.
Sustaining Bible ministry during a global crisis
Following a decade of encouraging growth in Scripture distribution, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic posed considerable difficulties, not just to Scripture distribution, but to ongoing Bible ministry around the world. In early 2020, a survey among Bible Societies indicated that around 30 were in ‘critical’ condition and another 65 were ‘at risk’ if restrictions continued.
Fellowship leaders, supported by the Global Mission Team, worked together to establish the Solidarity Fund. The goal of the fund was to ensure that Bible Societies whose operations had been particularly badly hit were able to keep their doors open and continue Bible ministry – including Scripture distribution.
Bible Societies, large and small, began contributing to the fund to help their struggling sister Societies. A Scripture donation programme worth $500,000 supplemented the financial assistance, enabling the provision of Scriptures at a time of great need. This support, from Bible Societies, their supporters and church partners, has allowed Bible distribution to continue around the world.
To date, more than 30 Bible Societies have received support, with further applications currently in process2.
“It is hard to find the right words to express our gratitude for getting the funding for our Bible Society to survive,” explains Anatoly Kirillov from the Bible Society of Moldova. “During this time of great uncertainty, we have been comforted, encouraged, and humbled by the outpouring of generosity from our Fellowship family.”
The Bible Society of Moldova was forced, temporarily, to close their office, bookshop, and warehouse. In line with government advice, distribution projects were postponed to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
Despite these difficulties, the Bible Society continued to work hard to reach as many as possible with God’s Word by adapting projects to reflect the restrictions in place. The mobile Bible bookshop became vital to operations, travelling throughout the country when it was safe to do so, delivering Bibles and Scripture materials. A special project saw hundreds of children’s Bibles distributed as Christmas gifts to young people in hospital.
Support from the Solidarity Fund also helped the Ceylon Bible Society. The impact of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka was considerable. Lockdowns led to a two-thirds drop in sales, and rental income from office space evaporated. Membership contributions decreased by 87%. These cash-flow issues were compounded by the inability to import Bibles using credit facilities due to government restrictions.
Distribution programmes were adjusted to reflect the new normal that the pandemic has brought, but the Ceylon Bible Society was able to continue vital projects, including the provision of Braille Bibles and Scholarly Editions for theological colleges, as well as moving the Trauma Healing programme online.
Bringing hope and blessing
For many Bible Societies, the pandemic brought an opportunity to respond with compassion to the communities that they serve – combining Scripture distribution with holistic ministry.
‘Pan de Vida’, or ‘Bread of Life’ is Peruvian Bible Society’s longest running ministry programme. Pre-pandemic, the Bible Society team supplied over 6,000 children in poor areas with both Scripture and food, addressing issues of malnutrition, thought to affect 17.5% of children in Peru, whilst supporting their spiritual development.
The pandemic brought the programme to a halt, with children unable to gather for Bible classes and meals. However, the team was able to adjust the way they delivered the programme: After obtaining the necessary permits, staff and volunteers began delivering help directly to the children’s homes.
Nearly 1,000 families received New Reader Portions for the children and food supplies. Subsequently, Peruvian Bible Society was able to resume the usual programme with strict social distancing in place to ensure safety.
“Getting my own Bible was something that made me happy,” explains Yuliño Huamán Ticona, a beneficiary of the programme. “I had never received such a special gift.” One mother who received help from the Peruvian Bible Society said, “I used to sell things in the street but no longer can. I had no food for my children. Thank you for the help and the Bible stories!”
In Zimbabwe – a country already rocked by a dire economic crisis and massive unemployment – the pandemic lockdown made life considerably more difficult, especially for those working in the informal sector. The Bible Society of Zimbabwe was already working on a programme to reach out to mothers of differently abled children, providing Scriptures, training, and support groups, as well as advocating on behalf of the families.
Knowing that the families would need extra support due to the pandemic, the Bible Society worked to provide Scriptures, food supplies, and face masks to help them cope with the crisis.
Setty Hwande, 66, was delighted to receive a visit by the Bible Society of Zimbabwe. As is the case with many mothers in her situation, Setty’s husband deserted her after their daughter, Lister, was born with additional support needs 26 years ago.
She has been supporting Lister by herself ever since, working as a street vendor and renting a single room, which serves as their bedroom, kitchen, and lounge. Life has been tough, she admits, but she has found comfort in her Bible. Her old copy is so well-used that it had fallen apart entirely: its cover is missing, and so are the books of Genesis to Leviticus, and the book of Revelation! As well as the food hamper, Setty was delighted to receive a brand new Ndebele Bible.
Growing digital demand
In 2020, 38% of all full Bibles distributed were internet downloads – up from 25% in comparison to the previous year.
Global trends showed a huge increase in internet use as many countries experienced restrictions on movement and ‘stay-at-home’ orders. Bible Societies adapted programmes, shifted sales to e-commerce websites, and harnessed digital platforms to ensure that Bible distribution could continue – at a time when the comfort of God’s Word was needed more than ever.
The Bible Society of Costa Rica was already facing a number of challenges before the pandemic struck. Online sales were minimal, and donations were decreasing due to the economic downturn in Costa Rica.
“When the pandemic arrived, the situation got much worse,” explains Mayra Ugalde, the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Costa Rica. “We investigated ways to develop digital across all functions of the Bible Society and considered new ideas with the staff team.”
From this, a number of ideas were implemented to boost distribution, including using social media to provide clear instructions for purchasing Bibles online, offering the tools necessary to read the Bible, and ensuring that Bible texts were accessible in order to bring comfort during times of suffering and uncertainty.
Content was shared across a wide number of social media networks, with encouraging interaction. Importantly, these social media posts led to sales. “The digital world moves very fast,” explains Mayra, “but with our online store, we can now sell every day at all hours.” Sales in 2020 increased by more than 20% in comparison to the previous year.
2020 saw a ground-breaking translation of the New Testament launched in Finland. UT2020 (New Testament 2020) is aimed at those that want to read or listen to the New Testament on their smartphones.
Traditionally, Bible translations are published as a printed book before being exported for online distribution. Instead, Finnish Bible Society placed digital experience at the heart of the translation project, using language that resonates with an audience living in a fully digital world.
Within two weeks of launch, the new translation had been accessed 100,000 times on the Bible Society’s website. Three months later, that figure had tripled. Over 15,000 new users installed the Bible Society’s Piplia app to engage with the text and the audiobook version. Six months after launch, Piplia app users had listened to over 250,000 whole Bible chapters from the audio version.
UT2020, like much of the Scripture available online, comes via UBS’ Digital Bible Library (DBL), which has doubled in size over the past five years. By the end of 2020, the DBL contained 2,696 texts in 1,721 languages used by 6 billion people.
Set up in 2011, the DBL stores Scripture translations by the Fellowship and about 160 other contributors, and makes them available through apps and websites, including YouVersion. Almost three-quarters of the full Bible texts in the DBL are provided by UBS.
Meeting the needs of our audiences
After ten years of war, the COVID-19 pandemic brought yet more suffering to Syria. The Bible Society bookshops, which had faithfully remained open throughout the conflict, were forced to close. However, with relevant safety protocols in place, the annual Easter Bible distribution was given the go-ahead in many places throughout the country. The team from the Bible Society in Syria was able to distribute 28,000 Scripture storybooks, bringing hope to children through God’s Word.
“I’ve already got a Bible,” explained one recipient, “but now I can give this one to my friend who hasn’t got one!”
A further distribution project over Christmas saw 100,000 Bible calendars and 30,000 children’s Bible story books put into the hands of children across Syria, including the cities along the Mediterranean coast, Aleppo and northeastern Syria, Homs and Hamah, Damascus and the southern parts of the country, and Wadi Al-Nasara.
It was a great joy for the staff and volunteers of the Bible Society in Syria to be able to provide children with the opportunity to engage with Scriptures, learn more of Jesus, and strengthen their faith.
“Since I was eight, I have wanted my own children’s Bible,” explains Fadi. “I just got one and I can’t put it down! I just read and read and read!”
2020 was a special year for the Ukrainian Bible Society, as it marked the arrival of the new Contemporary Ukrainian Bible after 27 years of hard work. Much had been planned to celebrate the launch, with the newly printed Bibles due for delivery in April. However, the COVID-19 pandemic meant distribution plans had to be radically altered.
Social media use had increased dramatically as people searched online for meaning and hope. The Bible Society began sharing the LUMO Gospel videos in Ukrainian, based on the New Testament text of the new translation, which had been completed and published earlier in 2000. “The reaction was overwhelming,” explains Rostyslav Stasyuk, Communications and Projects Officer at the Ukrainian Bible Society. “People thanked us for bringing the Gospel to them in a challenging time, and thousands were viewing, commenting on, and sharing the videos.”
Social media posts about the new Bible led to over 1,000 registering for updates in just one week. More than 300,000 users were reached through social media and email, with much positive engagement.
When the Bibles arrived, there was a flood of orders that could be fulfilled through the postal service. The Bible Society continued the positive engagement, hosting online events, sharing background information about the translation, and information from the different denominations involved in the translation work.
“We have clearly seen how the Lord has been opening new opportunities amidst the unprecedented lockdown,” says Rostyslav. “He gave us new ideas and brought us people capable of implementing them. The glory is His alone.”