November-December 1998

Dr. Eugene Habecker on "The Year of the Bible"

Giving the World the Word

by Joel L. Rissinger

"This organization lives and breathes to put the Bible into the hands of every man, woman and child on earth!" So says Dr. Eugene Habecker, President of the American Bible Society (ABS), a 183-year-old organization dedicated to sharing God's Word with all people in their own languages.

ABS has distributed approximately seven billion Bibles, New Testaments, Scripture Portions and Selections in cooperation with the United Bible Societies and other Bible agencies. In addition to distribution, ABS is actively involved in Bible translation and the production of teaching materials, including CD-ROM-based programs.

Dr. Habecker has held senior management positions in higher education for over 20 years. He has served on the boards of several organizations including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Christian Management Association. Internationally, he sits on the board of the United Bible Societies' (UBS) Americas Regional Committee and on the UBS's Executive Committee. Dr. Habecker is the author of three books, The Other Side of Leadership, Leading with a Follower's Heart, and Rediscovering the Soul of Leadership.

He holds degrees from Taylor University, Ball State University, a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Temple University School of Law. He is also a graduate of Harvard University's Institute for Educational Management.

Plain Truth: What led you to become involved with the American Bible Society?

Eugene Habecker: In 1989, while serving as a scholar in residence at Regent College on sabbatical from my presidency at Huntington College, I received a call from a friend on the board at the ABS asking me if I'd like to be a candidate for the presidency. At first I said, "No!" I had my life figured out. But then he asked me if I would be willing to pray about it. After over a year of prayer, my wife and I felt that this was in fact what God wanted. It is a wonderful ministry. We came here in June 1991.


Q: What has been the greatest revelation for you since becoming President of the ABS?

A: I'd say that it was the shocking fact that the work of Bible translation in the world has only just barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done. Almost two-thirds of the world's language groups do not have even a portion of scripture in their own native language. The church at large needs to hear this story. It's a travesty of immense proportions! Only about 350 out of the world's 6,000 language groups have a complete Bible translation. And we in the English-speaking world have the luxury to fight over which translation we prefer.


Q: What is being done or can be done about it?

A: We have a tremendous need for students to learn the art of Bible translation. It's important that we provide translations in what we like to call the "heart language" of people. This takes about 10 years per translation to do because it must be done right and it must be done from the original languages. We have a partnership with Wycliff and the United Bible Societies, who cooperate in this effort.


Q: Define what you mean by "heart language."

A: It's the language that people use to communicate not only intellectually, but emotionally. It doesn't take as much work and effort to understand, as a second language would. This means a lot to people. For example, recently we did a translation for a group in Africa. When thanking us, they said, "Now we know that God speaks in our language." That's what we're trying to get across in Bible translation. We want them to know that God speaks in their language.


Q: What are some of the other challenges you face?

A: In a culture where 80 percent of books are purchased by people 35 and older, and those 25 and under only purchase 4 percent, we face a challenge of reaching people with other forms of media. If we don't, they won't hear the message. For this reason, we're looking at many more non-paper products using animation and visualization. These include CD-ROMS. For example, we've done one called The Father & Two Sons, otherwise known as the Prodigal Son.


Q: Are there other issues that emerge when trying to reach this group?

A: Yes. How do you reach a generation that feels differently about supporting the things their parents' generation did? For example, when I was young, we used to fight over whether Ford was better than Chevy. Now, kids make up their own minds and don't have as much "brand loyalty" on these things. We've been using musical performers like Brian Duncan and 4 Him with great success.


Q: I know you do a great deal of work overseas with the United Bible Societies. Tell me about your work in China.

A: In the 1980's, we established a printing press in Nanjing. So far, we've printed over 17 million Bibles there and hope to print and distribute approximately three million every year. God has really blessed this effort.


Q: What are some of the other ABS projects?

A: Each year, over 4.5 million people walk past our building at 1865 Broadway in New York. We decided to retrofit our building according to our mission. We've added a gallery including the world's second largest collection of rare Bibles, a conference center and a video wall some are calling the "Times Square of the Soul" which displays scriptures and biblical messages in multiple languages. This way, people will see the Bible as they walk by and have a chance to interact.


Q: Tell me about "The Year of the Bible."

A: The Year of the Bible is a special promotion, whereby we encourage people to invest five minutes a day to read the entire New Testament in 1999. We are promoting this worldwide and seeking help from individuals and churches. We're going to make copies of the New Testament available for distribution at the cost of only $1 each (see sidebar).


Q: Let's talk a little about your family and your personal walk with Christ. You have two sons and a daughter?

A: Yes. They are all grown now -- ages 23, 24 and 26. They are doing very well and we're proud of them. My wife volunteers for ABS and travels with me occasionally.


Q: What personal challenges have you faced in your walk with Christ?

A: The greatest has been relatively recent. In January 1997, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At first, we didn't want to tell anyone because of the frightening and serious nature of this illness. But then we realized, hey, we're a family. We told our pastor and folks here at ABS. People around the world began to contact us and pray for us. It was a powerful experience. I learned to let go and give this problem to God. I said to him, "I'll do my part, but the result is truly yours." I learned that these kinds of trials upset all your plans, but they push you toward God. I learned that, as Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him" (Job 13:15). That's what we do at ABS -- we give hope to people. Some of my favorite verses in this regard are:

"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

"You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word" (Psalm 119:114).

I also found the entirety of Psalm 91 to be of great comfort during my ordeal with cancer.


Q: How are you doing now?

A: I'm fine. I had surgery in March, 1997 and the Lord has been merciful. I'm doing very well and feel grateful for the fruit this has produced in my life.


Q: What advice would you give to our readers, especially those who may be new Christians?

A: I don't know what I would do but for the Word of God and the whole counsel of God. I think we all need daily study and reading of the Bible. We gain something new from it every day. The Word, Jesus, became flesh. This book gives us those words of life. We should never go without it. After all, at ABS we're trying to make sure nobody has to go without it!

Joel Rissinger has served in pastoral ministry for many years.


1999 Year of the Bible - 5 Minutes a Day

More than 90% of all Americans own at least one Bible, but surveys indicate that fewer than half of them actually read it. To change that, the American Bible Society has launched a daily Bible-reading program based on its easy-to-understand Contemporary English Version.

By reading Scripture for just five minutes a day, the New Testament can be completed in one year.

Other materials specially prepared for the "1999 Year of the Bible" include "Year of the Bible" New Testaments, as well as videos and lapel pins for a nominal fee. Free materials include buttons, bookmarks, bumper stickers and special kits for pastors.

The program is endorsed by several denominations and ministries. Newspapers in several cities will publish the daily scripture reading guide during 1999 as a service to their communities.

"The '1999 Year of the Bible' program is a great way to reacquaint our contemporary culture with the Bible," says the Rev. Ronald W. Mixer, manager of the program. "Churches joining together across denominational lines to take the Bible into their communitiesmake a positive statement to the rest of society about the love that God gives."

For more information on resources and materials related to the "1999 Year of the Bible," contact Rev. Mixer at 1-888-3-BIBLE-5 (1-888-324-2535).


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