Aid to the Church in Need has distributed 40 million Child's Bibles to some of the world's poorest people. And world wide demand for the book is still growing, writes John Pontifex
Tte sight of the refugees in their camps was almost oo awful for the missionary to describe.
Six years into Liberia's civil war, and the people he described had been left almost nothing to call their own.
Their homes, their jobs and their families had all vanished as the shadow of destruction wrought by rebel armies spread across the Liberian countryside.
And yet, despite such catastrophic disaster, they still had hope — in fact they clasped it tightly in their hands.
The refugees the priest described were clutching Bibles. He himself had received a batch of our Aid to the Church in Need Child's Bibles when the storm clouds of war were still gathering on the horizon and now for many people the little books were the only surviving reminder of happier days.
"You are the one charity," the missionary told us, "which understands that people cry out for food for their souls as well as for their hod. ies."
This is why in the last few days we have received a desperate plea from the rnissioi tar), for yet more Child's Bibles.
As the conflict continues, thousands of refugees in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, are desperate for something to bring meaning to their sorrowful lives.
The missionary, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said: "When your life is in danger and you are filled with fear, the Word of God is really your only consolation, Books like the Child's Bible are the only things people can turn to for inspiration."
We hear stories like this month in, month out. "A heartfelt thank you for the 100 copies of the Child's Bible in Portuguese," wrote Fr 'Vitor Margot, one of just a handful of Catholic priests in Japan serving Brazilian workers unable to speak Japanese.
Meanwhile, Sr Assumpta Ngumbi wrote from Zanzibar thanking ACN for 100 copies of the Child's Bible in a local language called Kiseahili.
She wrote: "These children almost never receive any religious education in their schools. Even their catechists have no Bibles to teach them from."
At barely 100 pages in length, with roughly one Old or New Testament passage per page, this seemingly innocuous little book has been described as a "weapon" of' extraordinary versatility against forces of oppression and despair.
When all violence has been tried, one priest said, it is God's Word that will always be our most powerful weapon. Indeed, the success of the Child's Bible is that it has brought the eternal virtues of faith and hope to the very people who have suffered most from the lust for power and gratification.
Nor is the Child's Bible just about religion. For many young people in deprived parts of the world, it is a vital source of basic education.
A director of a children's centre in Pereira, Colombia, put it like this: "Our parish is poor and the children are too. They are reading the little Child's Bible so they can learn better. For us all, the books are a tremendous help."
rae origins of the Child's Bible initiative re inextricably linked with the boundless enthusiasm and confidence of the founder of Aid to the Church in Need.
But not even Fr Werenfried van Straaten could haveforeseen how successful his initiative would soon become.
Struck by the awesome challenge of supporting the Church in heavily populated and poverty stricken parts of Latin America, Fr Werenfried pushed ahead with plans for the initial printing of I .25million copies of the new Child's Bible.
The crucial turning point had come in Puebla, Mexico, where Fr Werenfried's initiative received key backing at a meeting of Latin Arherican bishops in January 1979.
Fr Werenfried's thinking was simple: "Children need a Bible of their own so that the image of Jesus can become a living reality in their hearts. For many children, such a Bible remains inaccessible because their patents are so poor they can never afford the luxury of a book."
Ever since ACN launched the book, the Spanish and Portuguese editions have outstripped the rest, with 12 million and time million printed in both languages respectively.
In line with Fr Werenfried's intentions, the book was quickly translated into a multitude of other languages.
It soon became clear that the book was crucial to renewed confidence in Christianity in countries where communism still demanded an end to all religious practice.
One story alone shows what the Child's Bible meant to young people in persecuted countries.
Aid to the Church in Need was inundated with requests for Child's Bibles from the USSR after people heard about the project in radio broadcasts produced by the charity.
One day, ACN received a letter requesting a Child's Bible, written by an 11-yearold girl called Natasha.
She told us how she fondly recalled listening to Bible stories sitting on her granny's knee.
Her granny had passed away but Natasha could not turn to her mother for Bible stories because she didn't know any.
So she wanted the Bible so her mother could read it to her.
ACN duly sent Natasha the Bibles and not long after we received a very sticky brown paper package in the post. One of our volunteers opened it only to discover it was full of teeth-rotting Soviet sweets.
In the 1980s alone, more than 60,000 copies of the Child's Bible were produced in Russian and a further 36,000 were translated into Ukrainian. But perhaps most astonishing of all in that short period, almost 100,000 were printed in Chinese, Behind these statistics lie the extraordinary acts of courage by people prepared to risk their lives to take the Child's Bibles to the far corners of the world, where the light of freedom and tolerance failed to shine.
Following the example of Fr Werenfried, who disappeared behind the Iron Curtain many times to give practical and moral support to the suffering Church, ACN supporters have gone laden with Child's Bibles contained in suitcases, unlikely to cause suspicion
Demand for the Bible from bishops, priests, nuns, catechists, and the young themselves means that ACN is constantly stretching its capabilities to answer requests for copies.
Translated as it is into everything from Albanian to Arabic and Ukrainian to Urdu, the Child's Bible is available from one side of the globe to the other. Now to be found in a total of 135 languages, the Child's Bible has, in effect, been translated into five new languages every year.
ACN's ever-widening contacts in ever-more obscure parts of the world mean that it is possible to approve translations in languages spoken by people largely cut off from the rest of the world.
Parts of the world hitherto unreached by significant quantities of Christian literature are finally receiving copies of the Bible in their native language.
Many new translations are being prepared, including Maya for Mexico and the Songje language for the embattled people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nor is the Child's Bible reaching out only to the very poorest in the world. It has now cut through to the very latest in technological advance, thanks to its appearance as a CD-Rom.
Inter-active and resplendent with its bright, colourful images, the early signs are that the CD Rom version of the Child's Bible appeals to the latest generation of youngsters who become computer literate so young.
Little did the child 'mow it, but deep in the heart of rural Uganda, he or she became the recipient of the 40 millionth copy of ACN's Child's Bible.
Perhaps that child is an orphan or a refugee. Perhaps the youngster in question has AIDS or has lost both its parents to war and disease.
Whatever the youngster's circumstances, the chances are that he or she was delighted to receive the little Bible.
The priest who asked for the books certainly had no doubt of their worth.
Fr halo Puffer had requested 2,000 copies of the book for his region of northern Uganda, about 200 miles away from the capital, Kampala.
In a country recognised as one of Africa's poorest, the area al mind Oulu, the main