Gideons’ ministry more than handing out bibles

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Five years ago, Clair Ziolkowski was in palliative care and not expected to live. His funeral was already arranged.

“Then God saw fit to raise me up,” Ziolkowski says. “Now I do this because I’m so grateful to God for restoring my health and giving me life.”

‘This’ is representing the Gideons International whenever and wherever possible, distributing bibles and a message of salvation through Jesus Christ. In the past 18 months he has been in five countries on four continents.

“When we visit a country, we always work with established local churches or Christian organizations. In Russia, we connected with Russian ministries; in Zambia, with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia; in the Philippines, with a bible college. We do that because it makes no sense to bring spiritual orphans into the world, to make a decision for Christ and then not know where to go. Inside the cover of each bible we give out is the location of the nearest bible-teaching church. People also fill out a ‘decision card’ which enables local pastors to get in touch.”

The response to this type of evangelism is often staggering. In Bolivia, 70 per cent of the many thousands of people who made decisions for Christ during a Gideons presentation were attending church a year later. In Zambia, 130,000 scriptures were given out in two weeks and 20,000 decisions for Christ made. Some churches reported a doubling in attendance.

“Gideons focuses on distributing bibles along with a word of evangelism,” Ziolkowski says. “We don’t move in, drop a truckload of bibles and run. We try to establish personal contact. Our goal is to present the simple message of the Gospel and ask if the person wants to give their life to Christ. It’s up to them. The Great Commission has been carried out.

“In most countries where we’ve gone, the decision rate is very high,” he says. “It’s interesting that when people are poor and hungry, when they have a high level of need, they are open and eager to turn to God. It’s the same in this country. When people are lying flat on their back in a hospital bed and the only place they have to look is up, God seems much closer and it’s easy to start a conversation about God.”

In most of the countries Ziolkowski has visited with the Gideons, he has worked through an interpreter. “In Zambia, I climbed on an old well-casing about three feet off the ground in a market square and started talking, telling about Jesus and presenting the plan of salvation. Three or four hundred people accepted Christ off that well head that morning.”

“In Russia, things are more restrictive. The people we work with have to find more innovative ways to bring in people to hear and receive God’s word. One church got permission to set up a table in the square to serve tea and a free treat. Each person who came got a copy of Scripture. But there, you didn’t hold the bibles up high to entice people. I soon learned to hold it low, at thigh level. People would pass by and surreptitiously take a copy so no one would see. I passed out many bibles in subway stations in Russia that way.”

Ziolkowski is currently on his way to Brazil for three weeks with about 50 other Gideons from across Canada. The team will work in 12 cities, visiting 600-plus churches, seniors homes, hospitals and orphanages…

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