More than a half million free copies of the Danish New Testaments were given away in just 10 days in a massive interfaith project timed to coincide with the celebration of Copenhagen as the 1996 European Cultural Capital.
This project is the single largest distribution of the Scriptures in the shortest amount of time in the history of the world. In fact, more than 98 percent of the homes in Copenhagen received a personal visit, and residents accepted a copy of the New Testament featuring an original cover design by Danish artist Esben Hanefeldt Kristensen.
This fascinating cover design, which features Copenhagen's notable architectural landmarks coupled with famous biblical stories, has become a collector's memento. Demand has been so great that the initial printing was exhausted during the first week of distribution, and more copies were rushed into print to meet the need.
During a visit with Morten Aagaard, general secretary of the Danish Bible Society, Borge Schantz and I were thrilled to learn how this great initiative was launched to demonstrate the relevance of the Bible in today's society. "When Copenhagen was designated as the 1996 European Cultural Capital, it seemed essential to emphasize the Bible's role in the development of Danish culture as well as to show its current impact on the lives of individuals today when they read God's Word for themselves."
Aagaard, who is also an ordained Lutheran pastor, said the project received massive coverage in Denmark's media, and most encouraging, brought cooperation between the city's churches, all of which took part in distributing the Bibles. Aagaard said, "Every household in Copenhagen received a visit from a member of a local church, and not necessarily their own church. We discovered that only 1 or 2 percent of the households said 'No thanks' to the free Bible."
In some places Lutherans received a New Testament from a Methodist, while Catholics distributed Bibles in primarily Protestant areas. Elsewhere Baptists coordinated distribution by Lutherans and Catholics together, and Adventists covered neighborhoods in areas of the city beyond the location of their own congregations. In other cases Pentecostals and Lutherans, who have been living in the same area for 10 years, cooperated for the first time.
Now that more than 500,000 copies of this special-edition New Testament in Danish have been distributed, the Bible Society is coordinating a further distribution of the Bible in more than a dozen other languages for more than 38,000 Danish households whose residents speak a different first language. These languages include Arabic, Tagalog, Spanish, German, Polish, English, Urdu, Farsi, French, Turkish, Serbian, and Croatian.
Congregations that participated in the distribution were encouraged to host special events in their own churches. Along with the free copy of the New Testament, each home received a letter from the Bible Society listing 600 of these follow-up events ranging from concerts to Bible study groups.
For example, Adventist pastor Thomas Mueller, of Copenhagen, describes what happened in his congregation. "Our church participated in distributing the Bibles, and it was a marvelous experience. The massive media coverage meant that everyone was expecting someone to visit their home with a New Testament. We were encouraged by the positive reaction of virtually everyone we met, as well as by their obvious eagerness to read the Bible."
Mueller continues, "We also used the opportunity to host some special follow-up events at our church. We planned five evening seminars, 'An Introduction to the New Testament,' which have developed into a weekly Bible study group."
Borge Schantz, pastor of the Roskilde Adventist Church, realizing that his suburban city was outside the area covered by the distribution plan for Copenhagen, believed that many residents of Roskilde would also like a copy of this beautiful souvenir New Testament. So his church purchased 800 copies and advertised in the local news paper for anyone who wanted a free copy to telephone the church office. In addition to distributing all their copies of the Bible, the Roskilde church has had more than 150 individuals visit their church, with nearly half of those choosing to attend public lectures on the topic of how the Scriptures impact society. Schantz, missiologist and former director of the Adventist Church's Center for Islamic Studies, continues to present follow-up meetings on related topics. His local church leaders are amazed at the number of individuals who have visited their church.
Schantz says, "Twenty years ago in Denmark people were embarrassed to talk about religion. Today there is a new openness to discussing religious issues, and many individuals are asking questions concerning the role of spirituality in their everyday lives. This Bible distribution program has heightened awareness of Scripture as it impacts society."
Aagaard says that theologians and local church pastors continue to contact the Bible Society to say thank you for what they had thought was impossible. The interest shown in this special edition of the New Testament has been so great that the Swedish Bible Society plans a similar distribution when Stockholm is the 1998 European Cultural Capital.
The total cost for the project was the equivalent of US$500,000. Readers who wish to make a contribution toward this project or the upcoming distribution in Stockholm can forward a donation to Ministry designated for "Bible Distribution."
Although Europe is often described as a post-Christian, secular society, I am encouraged by this bold initiative of the Danish Bible Society. I am inspired by the cooperative spirit of the various denominational entities in Denmark, by the openness of thousands of residents to receiving a specially prepared edition of the New Testament, and by the encouraging reports of attendance at various follow-up events. God's Word still has the power to change lives one at a time as we come in contact through the Scriptures with Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.