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Spreading the Word, Room by Room

July 22, 2017 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

THEY’RE just as much a part of hotel rooms in some 200 countries around the world as are the towels in the bathrooms.

And while most of us know they are there, of all things in a hotel or motel room that we use or play with, only an estimated quarter of guests actually use what we are talking about – despite not only being encouraged to use, but to actually knock-off when we leave.

We’re referring to the ubiquitous Gideons Bible that you’ll find in your bedside table drawer or tucked away in the wardrobe, and which the people who put them there suggest that if you’ve any wayward thoughts upon leaving, “you steal the Bible, not the towels.”

Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin – (Photo: Travel Wisconsin)

And remarkably Gideons International that put that Bible in your room all came about because a hotel called the Central House in Boscobel in Wisconsin was over-booked one night in the American Autumn of 1898. It meant that two commercial travellers, John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill had a choice: sleep on the street, or share a room.

They chose the latter, quickly discovered that they also shared strong Christian beliefs and values, and established a life-long friendship. As a result they also gradually brought together a fraternity of other Christians in their profession – men who spent long and lonely hours away from their families, moving from hotel room to hotel room as they flogged their wares along the highways and by-ways of America.

Archival snap of the lobby of the Central House Hotel that’s always been a haven for commercial travellers. (Photo: Gideons International)

By September 1899 these men had formed a small group that called themselves the Gideons, after a warrior in the Book of Judges who would do anything God wanted him to. And at a meeting in 1904 they decided that to provide spiritual comfort for travellers, each man would contribute towards the cost of a Bible at the Reception Desk of hotels in which they stayed.

Four years later at a convention in Louisville, Kentucky, the Gideons voted to go further than a Bible at every Reception Desk: they’d place one in every room of every hotel in America. The first went into twenty-five rooms in the Superior Hotel in the boisterous little mining town of Superior, Montana and were paid for by one devout Gideon, Archie Bailey.

A typical Gideon’s Bible found today in 200-countries world-wide. (Photo: Gideons International)

Since then 2,000,000,000 Bibles and New Testaments printed in 94 languages have been put free of cost into places as diverse as 5-star hotels, cheap boarding houses, in prisons, at Antarctic bases and in desert military camps, aboard cruise ships, in hospitals and in nursing homes in 200 countries world-wide… currently being distributed at a rate of 80-million annually, which is 2.5 for every second of the year.

Initially members of the Gideons met the costs of the Bibles and their distribution, but later Christian churches began contributing to the cause.

And in a-near 50 years that we’ve been travelling within and without Australia, we’ve found only three hotels in Christian countries that did not have a Gideons Bible in their rooms.

One was at Cunnamulla in Outback Queensland, where the hotelier told us that while there may not be a Bible in every bedside cabinet, they did have one for every room.

“They’re in the office,” she said. “We found some blokes who came in on weekends from cattle stations where they worked, were sneaking the pages out of our Bibles because they’re rice paper – and those blokes reckoned they made the best roll-your-own smokes,” she said. “There’s now a note in rooms saying they can borrow a Bible from the office if they want.”

Queensland’s Cunnamulla Hotel: guests discovered Gideons Bibles’ rice-paper pages made ideal roll-your- own smokes. (Photo: Weekend Notes)

Our second encounter was at the Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island in Canada, where the owners said they’d told the Gideons they could put a Bible in every room – if they also gave a holy book for all other major religions.

“They didn’t of course, but we relented,” they said. “And while not in each room, we do have Gideons Bibles available at Reception.

And the third was in New York where guests at a hotel are offered a complimentary pet goldfish in a tank during their stay, but not a Gideon’s Bible. Their explanation was that “society evolves.”

Wickaninnish Inn, Canada – Gideons are in Reception, not in the rooms. (Photo: Wickaninnish Inn)

And to think it all began 2-billion Bibles and 119-years ago, when two commercial travellers were forced to share a room in an over-booked hotel in a small town in rural America.

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