MOSCOW, USSR (NIRR) – What began as a trickle when Mikhail Gorbachev took power in 1985, has become a torrent this year. Russian-language Bibles have disappeared from shops and warehouses in the West; virtually all have been shipped to the Soviet Union, and a huge backlog of unfilled orders is piling up. There is plenty of unused capacity at plants that print Bibles, but demand is running far ahead of funding. Michael Bordeaux of Keston College says, “The church was caught unprepared for this window of opportunity.”
Already, more Bibles and other literature have gone to the USSR this year than in all the years from the late 1920s through 1987. A “system” is involved in legal shipments: requests for literature by Soviet church groups, after approval by authorities, are channeled to Bible societies and missions. An organization may bear all or part of the costs of production and shipping. Because of this overlap among groups, it is difficult to track totals (two or three groups may list the same request or shipment in their respective records). The United Bible Societies office serves as a clearinghouse for most orders and, through its member societies, picks up much of the tab.
Records indicate additional requests pending shipment next year to Soviet Churches. Open Doors International has a request for one million Testaments from the Russian Orthodox Church; shipments were to begin this fall, with completion within a year. International Bible Translations in Sweden, in cooperation with other groups, has been providing small supplies of Bibles in Soviet minority languages.
Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) in Wheaton, Illinois, the largest publisher of Christian books in Russian, has sent the Baptist union 160,000 volumes by C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Josh McDowell, Warren Wiersbe, and others, along with 60,000 study Bibles. An additional 100,000 books and Bibles are in the pipeline. SGA has translated and printed 20 titles so far.
Unofficial shipments of Bibles and literature are being supplied by other mission and emigrant groups (such as the Georgi Vins ministry serving primarily unregistered Baptists), but leaders decline to disclose figures. The Bibles are supplied at no charge to the official church groups, which in turn usually sell them to individuals, partly to help support church work, partly to deter black marketeering. Prices can be high in comparison to weekly wages, but will come down as supplies increase.