Here we are in the middle of Banned Books Week (September 21-27), where librarians, teachers, and avid readers from across the globe are celebrating the books which have been censored throughout history and their right to read and think about whatever they wish. This may not seem important to you… unless you’ve been in a situation where what you were allowed to know about was heavily censored.
Several years ago, I stepped off an airplane and into a Communist country to find myself greeted by a long row of soldiers with rifles at the ready. Coming from America, this blatant display of power was like a cold slap in the face. Later, I was taken to an elementary school where I would be teaching English, and as the school administrator introduced me to the children two more guards stood with rifles pointed at the elementary students. The message was clear and effective: “Stay in line… or else.”
By the way, I was teaching 2nd grade.
While such a scenario shocked me to my core, it’s really not as uncommon as you might think. Various nations around the world continue to monitor and restrict the public’s access to the Internet, books, and news information.
As I stood there watching the stone-faced guards point their rifles, I wondered what they would do if they knew I had smuggled illegal literature across their border and had it hidden away in my suitcase. Because, you see, that’s exactly what I had done. I had brought one of the most controversial, most restricted, and most dangerous books ever printed on this trip with me…
I had smuggled in a Bible.
As a Christian, to go several months without reading from God’s Word was unthinkable. But if the guards had known it, I would have surely been punished. Over the next few weeks, I read this forbidden book only in the privacy of my hotel room; sometimes, I would even sit on the bathroom floor to read it, where I felt sure I wasn’t being watched. My fellow teachers and I would copy an encouraging verse each day onto a small index card and pass it out with the rest of the teaching materials at breakfast. This managed to slip under the radar, and having that verse in my pocket each day felt like holding on to a brick of pure gold.
I saw the powerful effects of censorship in the news reports I was hearing about world events, where America was painted in an extremely negative light. I remember thinking, “That can’t be right,” but the computer I had access to was not able to bring up any of the news websites I was familiar with. But the reality of government censorship impacted me the most as I was preparing to return to America, and gave my Bible to a local woman. When she realized what it was, she gasped and threw a trembling hand over her mouth, gaping at me just as fearfully as if I had shot her. My immediate reflex was to doubt the wisdom of my decision.
“I can take it back,” I said, rushing in to fix the situation and help her calm down.
But she grabbed the Bible and clutched it to her chest, like a mother might hold on to her child after being rescued from a burning building. We both knew the risks, and she swallowed hard, with eyes full of tears.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I’ll never forget her face.
You might think I’m just dramatizing the situation, but I assure you it really happened. We don’t like to think about it, but the Bible is considered religious contraband in several countries. Currently, the Gideons are not allowed to operate in the following areas: Afghanistan, Algeria, China (People’s Republic), Comoros, Djibouti, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen.
While other governments have not banned the Bible completely, they do restrict its access to certain religious groups only, foreigners only, or certain languages only. Countless numbers of people the world over would give anything for the chance to read the Bible just once…
And here in America we leave it sitting on our bookshelf, untouched.
Nothing will give you a passion for God’s Word like having someone tell you that it’s illegal to read it. Maybe more of us should travel to these type of countries and experience this first-hand… or maybe we should simply read the Bible as if it were outlawed in our country.
Because if we keep neglecting its truths, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.