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Gideons let the Bible do the talking

Like a Bible in a motel room nightstand, the Oklahoma City businessman who heads The Gideons International works quietly and unobtrusively.

Larry Aspegren doesn't see himself as a spokesman for the interdenominational ministry known worldwide for placing Bibles in hotel rooms.In fact, The Gideons prefer to stay out of the spotlight individually and as a group, Aspegren said.

His reticence about talking to a reporter contrasted with his zeal for the organization of volunteer lay church members who have distributed more than 677 million scriptures since 1908.

The Gideons' single objective is to "win men and women, boys and girls for the Lord Jesus Christ," said Aspegren, who heads Aspen Commercial Realty in Oklahoma City. "We do this by first of all personally witnessing, and then secondly by distributing scriptures in various traffic lanes of life."

Those "traffic lanes" also include hospitals, prisons, jails, military bases, schools, colleges and universities, he said.

With more than 127,000 members worldwide, The Gideons now give out Bibles at the rate of 1 million every 81/2 days, in 76 different languages, he said.

The Gideons' ministry goes back to 1898 and the interest of three traveling salesmen in Wisconsin who thought it would be great to have Bibles in hotels, Aspegren said. They placed the first Bibles in Iron Mountain, Mont., in 1908, Aspegren said.

The name "Gideon" comes from a man described in Judges, who did what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment.

The ministry, with headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., has grown steadily. More than 9,000 new members were added last year.

Millions of Bibles

More than 33 million Bibles have been distributed in former East bloc countries.

Awareness of The Gideons' ministry comes as members speak in churches and also as people find the free Bibles, he said.

The Gideons also sponsor a program through which individuals may donate Bibles in memory and in honor of others.

Gideons distribute King James and Modern English versions of the Bible.

The average cost worldwide for the scriptures is $1.20 each.

Applying for membership

People who hear about The Gideons and are interested may apply for membership. Members must have the recommendation of their local church pastor and pay their own way to conventions and ministries. Aspegren was accepted into The Gideons in 1964 in Denver. He and his wife, Eda K, and family moved to Oklahoma City in 1967 and started attending Metropolitan Baptist Church, where he is now an elder.

Letters from people who say their lives were changed as they read Bibles placed by Gideons make the work worthwhile, Aspegren said. "That's why we keep doing it."