by Mark Penninga
My phone buzzed, alerting me to a new voicemail. I wasn’t quite prepared for the message:
“Hello Mark. I am a legislator in the province of Saskatchewan, and when I came into my office today I found a Bible on my desk from ARPA…. I’m very offended by it…. I think there is no place for religion in the state and I’m doing my best to separate it. Even the quote you have in your card about the Charter [‘whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God’] I think is offensive and would work hard to remove that from the Charter and am working on that in my own way….”
She told me to make sure she doesn’t get mail from ARPA again.
This MLA was one of over 1,150 elected representatives who received a leather-bound Bible from ARPA in November, along with a card thanking them for their service.
But her message was not the only one, nor was it representative. In fact, it was the only critical correspondence we received in response to the Bibles. And we got some very encouraging cards and letters, some of which were downright surprising.
From a NDP MLA:
“Thank you so much for your thoughtful gift of a beautifully-bound Holy Bible in recognition of Canada’s 150th birthday which I saw in my mailbox minutes ago. It is a gift that I will treasure and will pass on to the next generation of family members …
God bless the work and ministry of ARPA. In the coming days (when work is not as hectic as the next two weeks) I wish to share with you how the Lord led me to the work that I am doing now… Once again, please accept my prayerful appreciation for the thoughtful gift.”
We also received a warm letter of appreciation from Alberta’s Premier, Rachel Notley, even though the Bible arrived around the time that she was receiving thousands of ARPA Easymail messages critical of her government’s Bill 24. “Your organization has brought together many people from across our nation, supporting each other in their daily lives, and forming a stronger community in the process”, she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent us a letter thanking us for the Bible and adding (in French) “your good words have touched me and I wish you great success for the continuation of your project.”
We received similar letters and cards from Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer, former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and (so far) twenty-three others. Saskatchewan MLA Greg Ottenbreit even shared his appreciation with the world via twitter: “Thankyou ARPA Canada for the amazing gift! #HolyBible #BasicInstructionsBeforeLeavingEarth ;)”
Some other feedback we received from the Bible recipients included:
- “I will treasure this gift and read sections of it as often as I can. I appreciate your work and communications with policy makers to keep us ever-aware of our duties to Canadians and to each other.”
- “Even though I already have and daily read one of my own, I think this Bible sends a stronger message to all members than would a simple card or letter… thanks again.”
- “It was a pleasant surprise. It will be kept on my desk and read with regularity.”
- “It will be a reminder to me of the Creator’s Word for life, hope, and wisdom as I serve my constituents and the people of Nova Scotia.”
It is easy to assume that the Bible is something to which most Canadians, including our leaders, are already well exposed. That may lead us to conclude that this Bible Project is a waste of time and money. But the fact that the Bible is the most popular book in the world, and available online, does not mean we can expect our leaders to read it or know what God’s will is for them. We have a responsibility to be instruments of God’s grace to our neighbours, including our leaders. My hope with this project is that it will make a difference if our leaders actually get their own Bible, while God’s people pray that the Holy Spirit will work in their hearts to read it and take it to heart. Perhaps they won’t be ready to read it now. But there may be a time down the road when they are at a place in life where they will open it.
Some years ago, some Alberta ARPA volunteers gave free copies of our Christian Citizenship Guide and Dr. Van Dam’s God & Government book to Alberta MLAs. In 2016, when I visited some of these MLAs regarding Alberta education, I was surprised to see these books clearly on display on their office book shelves. Unlike an email or paper document that will get quickly lost under thousands more, these books were still close on hand and accessible. My hope is that this will be even more true for these Bibles. They may forget that they have been given a particular book on a particular topic. But they likely won’t forget that they now own a Bible, with their name on it. The leaders who may not respect the Bible will likely not throw it away but rather put it on a shelf. And it will be waiting for them if and when their hearts are softened to open it.
The cards and letters are momentary and yes, they may even appear superficial. But that is not true of the Bible. As Hebrews 4:12 shares, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” You may be one of those who have been praying, asking God to use these Bibles to work in the hearts of our leaders. Please don’t stop.
Many of you have given generously. Even more have prayed. But the project is not complete. Now that we know a Bible is in the offices of many of our leaders, let us not miss the opportunity to use this knowledge to ask them about it. It can be a part of your year-long effort to build a relationship with a government official. Pastors, this is a great opportunity for you as well. Many government officials are lost and lonely. They need the truth of God’s Word to lead wisely, but they also need the grace revealed in the Gospel to truly live.
May the Holy Spirit work though His Word and soften hearts across this land, beginning with our own every day again.