In the buckle of the Bible Belt last year, Katie Richardson found herself scrambling for, of all things, a Bible.

The World Relief caseworker was shepherding a Muslim Somali family through a refugee resettlement program in Nashville. That's when the family's eldest brother, during his sister's hospital stay after surgery, asked for a Somali Bible.

"I didn't know it would be such an ordeal," Richardson said. Her staff spent weeks chasing dead-end leads before finally sleuthing out an online catalog specializing in non-English Scripture. Richardson ordered 10 Somali Bibles, only to find just one Somali New Testament in stock.

"Many of our refugees come from closed countries where they've never heard the gospel," Richardson said. "It shouldn't be this hard."

The call to "go ye into all the world" spurred a 19th and 20th-century mission movement from North America. But now that the world has moved in next door, some are asking, "Where are the Bibles?"

Often they're concentrated overseas, where Bible agencies hold copyrights to various translations, and where printing and distribution systems are most cost-effective. As a result, a handful of retailers, ethnic ministries, and home missionaries have pioneered their own supply networks to funnel non-English Bibles back to the United States—where at least 12 percent of the population is now foreign-born. But they wonder why, in this technologically advanced, global age, the non-English Word remains so elusive here.

"It's a very significant problem, one the International Bible Society has wrestled with for years," said Steve Johnson, publisher of the International Bible Society, which in March merged with the Christian distributor Send The Light (IBS-STL). "It's a challenge to get ...

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August 2007

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