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01 May 2010

Get into the Book

Get into the Book

What does the Bible mean to you? Is it a book that sits by your bedside that you largely ignore? Does it represent the past? Is it too difficult to read? Or has it become the very stuff of life, the most rip-roaring story you know?

It may be the inspired Word of God, but today in the UK, Bible Society claims Christians often lack the confidence to apply what they know of the Bible to everyday life. And we're among the lucky ones who have the Bible in our own language. According to Bible Society's statistics, more than 4,400 languages still don't have one single book of the Bible.

For many people in Britain, the Bible can seem dull and impenetrable, but it's actually a lively read with the power to change lives. The Biblefresh initiative has brought together more than 100 agencies, festivals, colleges and denominations to boost confidence in the Scriptures in 2011, the 400th anniversary of the King James Version. Work is already underway to produce ideas and resources for individuals, churches and communities, and Christians are being encouraged now to start planning how to join in this year of transformation.

Here four people tell Hazel Southam how the Word is becoming vibrant for them as they respond to the four Biblefresh pledges...

Case study 1: Understand the Bible

The Mark experimentSix years ago, Andrew Page was asked to give a talk about Mark's Gospel. He was a bit disappointed, being a fan of the Gospel of Luke. But applying himself to the task, he had "a series of light bulb moments".

"I thought it would be great if Christians knew the order of the events [in Mark] so that they could do a Bible study in the shower without getting their Bible wet," he says, "or when they're out walking the dog."

The resulting book, The Mark Experiment, is now available in five languages and is currently being translated into Swahili. It gives a six-pack structure to the Gospel, helping readers to learn the basic events of any section in 10 minutes.

A team minister at Above Bar Church in Southampton, Andrew says the aim is to help people "to meditate on Scripture while going about their daily lives".

"I don't think Christians read the Bible very much," he says. "Mark is so fast-moving, you don't get a moment to get bored. I really believe that God uses the Bible to change people's lives."

And Andrew has now created The Mark Drama (pictured with the book cover), which has so far been staged 40 times in seven countries by churches and Christian unions. It can be done anywhere: 15 people take the roles and use The Mark Experiment to understand the basic plot, then they improvise (with the exception of Jesus, who has lines to learn). Performed in the round in colleges and churches, it's had a profound affect on audiences and actors alike.

Andrew recalls a performance in Southampton. "When Jesus was being tried it got so quiet you could hear a pin drop," he says. "When Pilate asks what he should do with Jesus and everyone shouts, 'Crucify him,' it is really quite awful.

"One student said that when Jesus was being pushed around, she nearly got up and said, 'Stop doing this. He's a good man, you can't do this.' And when the nails were being hammered in, she had to put her hands over her ears and think about something else."

Andrew says that the aim is to "bring the whole thing alive and for people to experience the whole book in one evening. Most people wouldn't read it in one go. But the impact of the whole thing is astonishing." themarkdrama.com

Case study 2: Translate the Bible

Bible translation with Wycliffe Bible Translators"It's my vision to see the British Church excited about what God is doing through the Church in Africa," says Eddie Arthur, executive director of Wycliffe Bible Translators. And he wants to start that this year in Burkina Faso.

This land-locked West African state, which has a population of 16 million in a space that's larger than the UK, has been described by the United Nations as the third poorest country in the world. Over the past 30 years, it has suffered repeated droughts and military coups, leaving the country fragmented and economically shattered.

Yet its churches are growing. This year, Church-based organisations are running their own version of Biblefresh, while Wycliffe Bible Translators, in conjunction with Bible Society, is hoping to raise funds to pay for new translations of the Bible. There are 352,000 Bissa people in the country who speak two languages, Lebir and Barka. The Barka language doesn't even have one book of the Bible, while the Lebir language only has a New Testament. The aim is to change all that, seeing both languages with their own complete Bible.

"It will make a huge difference to the Church," says Eddie Arthur. "It can be a way of people coming to faith. But it's about being a disciple. How can you do that, if you can't read God's word?"

Here in the UK, any church can hold a Bible Census Sunday during which everyone in the congregation counts the number of Bibles they have at home and gives £1 for each one. "Biblefresh gives us an opportunity to see God at work," says Eddie, "and that will be great for the Church in the UK. We will get just as much out of it as people in Burkina Faso." biblefresh.com

Case study 3: Experience the Bible

Saltmine Trust’s From Eden to EternityThe Bible in one hour: that's the essence of Saltmine Trust's From Eden to Eternity, which is touring Britain in May and June.

"It's quite a powerful thing," says Saltmine Chief Executive Phil Collins. "You can get bogged down in the micro-elements of the Bible. But there's a macro narrative of life and God's interaction with the world. These are the mountain-top moments of the Bible."

First performed last year with Matt Jones (pictured) in the lead role, From Eden to Eternity is making the Bible accessible for people who've either never read it or never got to the end. "Our role is to creatively communicate Christ," says Phil, "and part of that is bringing the biblical narrative alive - to take it from being two-dimensional when looking at black and white on paper and giving it the Avatar experience, making it 3D."

For a generation that doesn't read, theatre is an easy way to understand the Bible, Phil says. Reading ability or lack of enthusiasm are no longer barriers to getting to know God's Word. "We understand theatre," he says, "but books can be quite daunting, particularly for young people who find it hard to relate to the Bible."

Phil remembers hearing about an 8-year-old boy who had seen another Saltmine production. "Later, the little boy was trapped in a car for hours and hours," he says. "After he was rescued his mother asked him how he had coped, and he said, 'I remembered the play and I sang the song.' That child in that moment related to the biblical story. That's a wonderful thing." saltminetrust.org.uk

Case study 4: Read the Bible

Kate Litzell and her husband Anders"I am so excited about the Bible now," says 33-year-old church worker Kate Litzell. She and her husband Anders (pictured) are reading the Bible in a year under a scheme run by their church, Holy Trinity Brompton in West London. More than 1,600 people at the church already receive the One Year Bible daily by email, with accompanying thoughts from church
leaders Nicky and Pippa Gumbel. The scheme first ran in 2009 with a goal to unite the church through learning and prayer.

Kate and Anders started to read the One Year Bible this January. "I used to find it difficult to read my Bible and to know
where to start. This just sets it out for you; it's so easy," says Kate. "I thought this would be a good discipline to do it daily. And I'm quite surprised at how much I love doing it. It's also blessing our marriage. It's a lovely time for us to spend time with God."

Already the couple says they've been aware of times when they felt that God was speaking to them directly through the Scriptures. "Also, we are doing this as a community, as a church-wide thing," says Anders, "and that brings a significant benefit I think. Any time you get many people with a common purpose, aim and experience I do believe it blesses us as a community."

Already, Kate and Anders are looking forward to 2011 and doing the One Year Bible again. "I can't talk highly enough about it," says Kate. "I would never have thought to read the Bible this way. But it means that I'm reading the Bible far more than I did, even though I'm a committed Christian." htb.org.uk/one-year-bible

Take it further

    The initiative aims to get Christians more engaged with the Bible.
    Biblefresh is backed by 100 Christian organisations including the Baptist Union, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Bible Society and the Alliance.
    Throughout 2011 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible.
    Thousands of churches around the country are expected to get involved next year.
    Sign your church up to the Biblefresh pledge to: (1) read the Bible, (2) train leaders in understanding the Bible, (3) give to translate the Bible for Burkina Faso and (4) provide the opportunity for people to experience the Bible in new and creative ways (biblefresh.com).
    Sign your church up now.
    Find out more at the Christian Resources Exhibition 11-14 May in Esher, Surrey (creonline.co.uk).
    Get a copy of the Biblefresh book, just £5 from Authentic (authenticmedia.co.uk).

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