Youth and the Bible in the 21st Century

By Roger Moses, Headmaster, Wellington College
Board Member, Bible Society New Zealand

It was the dynamic 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who once said memorably that “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t!”

Spurgeon, of course, spoke in an age far removed from the post-modern world of the early 21st century; a world where Christians and non-Christians alike would have been familiar with common Biblical stories and themes that had helped shape the morality and ethics which underpinned Western civilisation.  The stories of creation, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah and the Whale, the Nativity story, Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus would have all been known to the wider populace, even those with no personal commitment to the Christian faith.  Influential writers took for granted the positive influence the Bible had on the world around them.  Charles Dickens, for example, wrote that “The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.”  Abraham Lincoln, the most legendary of all American presidents, said “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man.  All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this Book.”

The contemporary world of New Zealand however, presents some very different challenges for those who still believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  No longer can we take for granted that the young people we are endeavouring to reach have any knowledge of the scriptures or, indeed, the one who throughout the past two millennia has been known as the Saviour of the world.  In a very real sense, we find ourselves once again in the same circumstances as Paul when he addressed the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill.  Like Paul, we need to present the Gospel in both the language and context that is meaningful to our audience.

Young people today in New Zealand are as hungry as ever to find genuine meaning and a moral compass that gives direction to their lives.  The fundamental questions are as relevant as ever.  Who am I?  Where do I come from?  What is my purpose?  What happens when I die?  Millions of searchers throughout the centuries have found the answers to those questions in the Bible.  In the words of St Augustine, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”  The challenge for us today is how to communicate that message in a post-modern culture which assumes the relativity of truth and often marginalises historic Christianity as narrow, outmoded and largely irrelevant.  Yet despite the obvious challenges of the day, Charles Colson’s words ring true:

“The Bible-banned, burned, beloved.  More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history.  Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it, dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it.  Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons.  Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.”

 


Reaching Palestinian children and youth

The Palestinian Bible Society reaches children and youth through creative programmes

The Palestinian Bible Society aims to reach out to Palestinian children and youth through a Bible-based programme which includes conferences, camps, puppet shows and biblical trips for special events like Christmas and Easter. The programme reaches children and youth with its message of encouragement and biblical values in churches, clubs, villages and schools.

“One of the children who participated in the Bible camp comes from a Christian family that is not engaged in the Church and has never taught anything Christian to their children. It was a shock for Tony to hear stories from the Bible, as he never had a Bible and never understood what it meant to be a Christian,” explains a Palestinian staff member.

“The story of Joseph touched his heart, so he returned home and shared with his parents that God can take care of us, even in the hardest of circumstances. This testimony touched his mother’s heart. Today she is reading the Bible with her children every night and has started to attend church on a regular basis.”

One young sceptic met the Bible Society team who shared with him the story of Jesus. He is now a volunteer! The staff worker explains, “One young man was reluctant to hear the story of the crucifixion at first, as he had many doubts about Christ and why he was crucified.

“However, when we began sharing the story of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, he listened attentively. After a long discussion and many one to one interactions with him, he began to understand that the cross paid the price for his sin. Today he is one find it challenging, even threatening, to cope with the high number of refugees. So I found it was a signal of true Christian of the active volunteers who is doing puppet shows and reading his Bible on a daily basis!”


12,000 Kiwi youth to encounter Luke’s Gospel at Easter

Common Bible reading barriers have been addressed in this year’s Easter Gospel to be distributed at Easter camps around New Zealand.

The barriers were revealed in Bible Society’s 2016 Youth Bible Engagement Research. Not knowing where to start reading, having trouble connecting with God, time pressures and simply not understanding the Bible content were the key barriers uncovered in the research.

To help youth overcome some of these, Bible Society has published a special edition of the Gospel of Luke. The publication features chapter summaries, an eight-week youth group discussion guide, and new reflection sections called pause.

The pause sections invite readers to imagine themselves in a Bible scene using their senses of sight, smell, hearing and touch.

“Using your imagination is another possible way to connect with God and the Bible. I encourage them to just go for it and not be concerned about getting all the details right. It doesn’t really matter if you imagine the disciples in sneakers,” commented Jeremy Woods, Bible Society’s Youth and Young Adult’s Ministry Partner (pictured above).

“It’s about inviting youth to discover the Bible for themselves, hear what God is saying, and for them to reflect on what God is doing in their community.”

Since 2011, when Bible Society first began preparing specially designed Bible resources for Easter Camps, more than 50,000 Gospels and other resources have been given away to youth throughout the country. The material is often used post-camp by youth group leaders as a discussion resource.

“This Gospel is about encountering and following Jesus. In Luke we encounter Jesus who (often over a meal) challenged common understandings about what it meant to follow God. Luke is an invitation for all of us to come and see if the way of Jesus is better than the way of the world,” commented Jeremy.

A key goal in producing these resources is to give youth permission to grapple with their understanding of their faith with others. “It is important that they own their faith,” Jeremy said.

This Easter, Bible Society, through the generosity of its supporters, will give away 12,000 Gospels of Luke at the following Easter camps: the three main Easter camps – Baptist Central (Fielding), Baptist Northern (Mystery Creek, Hamilton) and Canterbury Youth Service’s Southern (Christchurch). It will also be given to youth at the nine Presbyterian Easter camps held around the country, the Central Division Salvation Army Easter camp at Silverstream, Upper Hutt and at the Wellington New Life Camp.


A special Christmas present for Oman’s teenagers

There are some very happy youth in Oman with brand new Bibles thanks to your amazing support.

Last year we invited you to support the distribution of Youth Bibles in Oman and at Christmas this project became a reality. Thanks to you, we were able to help give away 100 Youth Bibles at a special youth Christmas cafe event organised by the Bible Society in the Gulf.

“I was happy to receive the Youth Bible. I have my own copy but I really needed one to give to a friend who is not a believer. I think this will be the best Christmas present for her. Please pray for her,” said Anisha.

“I felt so special when the Bible Society gave me this Bible. I am very thankful to you. I find it very easy to read. I especially love to read the four Gospels. I can’t express my gratitude enough,” said Enoch.

And finally from a grateful youth pastor at the event: “Everyone who participated is now able to share the full story with friends and family (because of the free Bibles). This cafe’s impact will not be measured by the joy of the night but by the lives changed by opening the Bible and reading it for themselves. Thank you Bible Society for your continued passion and service to the communities of the Arabian Gulf. God’s Word is being read in heart languages and changing the communities, one Bible at a time.”

 


Bible Society partners with game studio on innovative Bible game

Thousands of kids around the world are playing a New Zealand-made online Bible game designed to bring the Scriptures alive.

“We love it,” was the resounding comment from kids at the Hope Centre, Lower Hutt, who recently trialed The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance. So far, the game has more than 15,000 players across multiple platforms, mainly from New Zealand, Australia and the United States, with 400 kids playing the game every day. Game makers Scarlett City in Auckland estimate more than 30,000 hours have been played worldwide.

The game tells a tale paralleling the story of the Bible, re-imagining the Bible story as a ’steampunk’ allegory, taking characters and stories from the Bible and putting a fresh face on them to connect with kids.  Bible Society is partnering with Scarlett City to help families and churches connect the story kids encounter in the world of Aethasia to the real story of the Bible.

”Reading the Bible for most kids these days is a foreign concept. This is a way for them to engage with and understand the Bible,” said Hope Centre Children’s Pastor, Sarah Hart.

Ten-year-old Mackensie Te Pohe loved playing the game. “It’s really fun and interesting,” she said.

Episodes are released every few months (episode two The Resistance Takes Flight was released in July 2016).

“By connecting game players to the big story of the Bible, The Aetherlight brings a significant opportunity to help pre-teens understand the Bible’s relevance in their lives,” said Stephen Opie, Bible Society Programme Director.  “It really is the ancient art of storytelling for the 21st century.”

The game comes with its own companion Bible, which has just been released in the USA and New Zealand.  The New Living Translation even includes two unique codes to unlock exclusive game items.

The Aetherlight is available on PC and Macs, as well as Apple and Android mobile devices.  Visit www.theaetherlight.com for full details or download the game from the app stores.

The Aetherlight Companion Bible is also now available from Bible Society New Zealand at $24.99 email: orders@Biblesociety.org.nz or telephone 0800 4 BIBLES.

Learn more about The Aetherlight

New children’s Bible app aims to ignite love for the Bible

Bible Society New Zealand has launched a new app for mobile devices that is designed to help parents share the Bible with their kids.

Called The Big Little Bible, the app features New Zealand-made illustrations using a unique ‘one line’ art technique called contour drawingwhere the pencil never leaves the page.

Aimed at 8-10 year olds, the app includes 30 Bible stories taken straight from the Contemporary English Version and seeks to bridge the gap from paraphrased Bible stories to independent real text Bible reading.

For illustrator Meesh Holswich, the project was a dream come true. “God gave me the heart to draw and I have been drawing non-stop since I was a child.”

The 100 illustrations took more than six months to complete and were made especially for the app.

And amazingly her unique style of art dovetails with the overall message of the Bible. “One line, one thread, from the beginning of the Bible until the end, it’s all one story. Each illustration is made with one continuous line, which then joins with the next illustration, and the next, representing the one story that runs through the Bible from beginning to end,” she explained.

jesus-and-peter-the-big-little-bibleMeesh’s passion for illustrating goes back to her childhood love for the Bible. “The Bible is a precious gift that gives us insight into the great story of God’s love revealed throughout time. Reading Bible stories shows us how other people, just like us, live out their lives in faith, sometimes in failure, and the wondrous things that happen when we follow God.

“Drawing Bible stories brought me back to when, as a child, I used to wonder at the beautiful illustrations in Bible story books. Remembering those days helped me think of how I wanted to illustrate each story,” she said.

Bible Society New Zealand’s biblical literacy research found that many children would read, listen to or watch Bible stories more often if they were on computer or mobile app. This will be their third mobile app and is free to download. You can download The Big Little Bible app at the Apple and Google Play stores now.