A Texas-based Christian ministry that once smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union delivered the largest donation of children's Bibles to the Eastern European country of North Macedonia, where many children don't have access to Scripture in their own language.
Founded in 1961, Eastern European Mission (EEM) prints and distributes free Bibles to Eastern Europe and surrounding nations, delivering them to youth camps, schools, refugee centers and other places in need of the Holy Scripture.
The organization began when a small group of missionaries started sneaking Bibles into the Soviet Union and has continued providing access to Scripture in seemingly unreachable places.
EEM recently delivered over 225,000 children's Bibles to North Macedonia after the nation's government, having heard about EEM's work, gave the group permission to deliver Bibles in the region. The group's Bibles for Kids fundraising campaign made the donation possible.
The government heard that EEM delivered 650,000 bibles to public schools in Croatia last year, with the Bibles carried to the schools via nine semi-trailer trucks.
Bart Rybinski, vice president of EEM's European Operations, said the ministry connected with North Macedonia's government due to the organization's previous work with the Bible Society of North Macedonia. EEM contacted the Bible society to obtain the rights to publish their texts, and the group had connections with the government and Orthodox churches in the region.
EEM President Bob Burckle told The Christian Post that when the organization began, the team was lucky if they could deliver a few hundred to a couple of thousand Bibles a year. But within the last few years, the group has grown and delivered 1.5 million Bibles in over 20 languages to over 30 countries last year.
"God's word is a seed that we've been planting, and we team and come together with a number of different organizations to help us do that," Burckle said in an interview. "We go to major Bible translators like Bible League and then different Bible societies to get their translations. And then they take and they format the books, put them into the printed word, and then we print, publish and distribute."
Burckle said most of the group's funding comes from individuals and churches. At least 1,082 churches in the United States currently support the group's mission, he added.
In July, EEM delivered the Bibles to North Macedonia's Department of Religious Relations, who then distributed the books to churches and individuals. Both Rybinski and Burckle attended a ceremony in Skopje to celebrate the donation and introduce copies of the books they're giving to schoolchildren.
North Macedonia has experienced conflict with many of its neighbors after the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Yugoslavia's collapse resulted in the Republic of Macedonia declaring its independence in 1991.
"For many years, there was conflict with the Greek state about the name of their country," Rybinski said. "They had a conflict, too, recently this year with the Serbian Orthodox Church about being recognized as a national Orthodox Church in its own right. From the Bulgarian side, there's disagreements of culture and history."
The lack of positive influences, Rybinski said, prompted the country's government and church leaders to see the benefit of kids having a Bible in their own language, as such a thing is not widely available there.
"It's more than just the Bible," Rybinski said. "It's the Bible in their national language, and that's very meaningful to them."
Burckle said that North Macedonia's leaders asked EEM to deliver another 225,000 bibles in 2023, a request the organization intends to grant.
He pointed to a "spirit of unity" that binds people together, noting that everyone can agree that all people deserve access to God's word.
The EEM president said his organization wants to ensure everyone has a Bible and hopes people will also engage with the Scripture.
"You've got to get [God's word] in your heart; you got to get it totally within your entire body and soul in order to fully appreciate and understand what God has done for us and what our future hope is for how to manage the difficulties of life, which we all have."
Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.