How Do You Smuggle Bibles…and Why?

There is truly no greater gift we can give to people than the gift of God’s Word in their own language. As we treasure God’s Word in our own lives, we naturally want to share it with the world around us. It is only the truth of God’s Word that penetrates the darkness and hopelessness of fear and oppression that reign in some countries. For many people, however, the hope of owning their own Bible seems impossible.

In China, Believers often share one copy of the Bible. Each person will receive a page; when he or she has memorized that page, everyone gathers together again and exchanges their portions of the Bible. In most Muslim countries, Christians risk imprisonment and even death for sharing copies of God’s Word.

We believe it is imperative to share the message of hope and love with the world! In countries where Bibles are illegal, this means “smuggling” them into these countries in order to deliver them to the local Christians. We do so with short-term mission teams who volunteer to go with a team leader. We then carry the Bibles through customs.

It is amazing to see how God literally opens doors to provide safe passage for His Word. It is seldom the same thing twice, but we continually witness miracle after miracle as teams go through with Bibles.

Once when a team arrived, customs agents were searching everything. The team knew it would take a miracle to pass through customs with the precious “cargo.” Well, shortly after arriving, the electricity went out and none of the x-ray machines worked. The agents resorted to inspecting everything by hand. Then, four large tour buses arrived, and people started packing the customs office. Agents began to simply wave people through in order to deal with the confusion. As the team left the building, the power came back on!

In another instance, a Japanese man was in front of the team; he spoke no Chinese. The customs agent did not know any Japanese. As a result, this man was having a difficult time understanding what the agent wanted him to do. Instead of putting his bag through the x-ray machine, he thought the agent wanted him to go through the x-ray machine. It created such a distraction, with all of the agents laughing and talking among themselves, that the team was able to simply walk through.

Another time, a team was detained and questioned extensively for over three and a half hours. They were asked personal questions, and questions were repeated over and over. They said they would pray quietly as the agents would confer with each other before returning for more interrogation. When they were finished with the interrogation, the baggage inspection people had left, so the team was able to pick up their bags and walk out! The luggage was never even looked at.

God’s faithfulness is consistent! Teams constantly report how they can literally feel the prayer coverage as they cross borders. They sense God’s leading, guidance and protection. It is truly His work, and we are always encouraged to see how He prepares a way when there seems to be no way.

We are surprised at the controversy that sometimes surrounds Bible smuggling. We believe we have a responsibility, a command to take the Gospel to the whole world. How can we do that without the authority of the Scriptures? Surely a disciple must grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which is only done through the Word. We cannot imagine looking into the eyes of the pastors who are desperate for God’s Word, many who have spent more than 20 years in prison for their faith, and telling them, “We cannot bring you Bibles; it is illegal.” They are willing to lay down their lives for the Word of God. They do so on a regular basis. Our risk is minimal, but their risk is great. Where God’s law and man’s law conflict, we will follow God’s law.

Jesus himself was often commanded to stop preaching. The disciples were often jailed for their preaching, which was illegal at the time. They chose to follow God’s laws. Peter left the jail when it was miraculously opened for him. Should he have stayed because that was lawful? Moses’ mother defied the law to save her baby, and Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus rather than turn him over to the “law.”

In fact, the copy we have of the Bible is a result of Bible smuggling. William Tyndale smuggled out pages of the Bibles in bales of cotton, translating them into the first, English-language Bibles translated from the Hebrew and Greek. He received much opposition from the church, who did not think “laity” should own the Bible. One clergyman once taunted him with the statement, “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” He replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”

Tyndale’s work of translating Scripture so that we may now read it freely was all done “illegally.” Tyndale learned the Hebrew language and translated the entire Bible while in hiding. God kept him concealed; and to this day, no one is certain where the translation work actually took place. When he was finished, he was arrested, imprisoned, tried and convicted. He was strangled and then burnt at the stake in the prison yard on October 6, 1536. His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” This prayer was answered three years later when King Henry VIII published the English “Great Bible” in 1539.

It often takes our stepping out in obedience and faith to truly achieve the things God has planned for us. It means being willing to submit and surrender completely to Him. We must be willing to submit to every authority in our lives, as the Word asks; but also to submit to God when God’s law and man’s law contradict, remaining obedient to Him alone.