A new Heritage Centre opens honouring the woman who inspired the founding of Bible Society, writes James Catford.
Who is the most famous Welsh woman in the world? Shirley Bassey? Think again. It’s actually Mary Jones, the teenager who walked 26 miles in 1800 to get a copy of the Bible in her own language.
So famous is she that her story is taught in every school in Wales as an example of empowerment and citizenship. And now a new heritage centre devoted to her is opening this year in the Snowdonia National Park.
The story inspired the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in London in 1804 and has ricocheted around the world ever since. Several attempts had been made to get urgently needed Bibles into Wales by the time of her now famous walk, but at least two mission agencies turned down the requests.
Thomas Charles, the Welsh church minister and great Christian educationalist at the time, was so moved by Mary Jones that he asked his wealthy London friends to fund low-cost Bibles. To his dismay they declined and he turned to the poor in London and Wales to end the Bible poverty in his homeland.
A commentator at the time observed ‘that true religion had but very partially indeed reached the more respectable of society’. Prejudice against the poor created opposition towards making the Bible available to the masses. ‘Hence the cause of the gospel and of truth had no support but from the lower classes of society.’
It’s hard for us to imagine how committed the marginalised were to the cause of Christ and the Bible, that so many gave sacrificially to fund its mass production. At one point offerings were refused by those collecting because they knew the people could not afford what they gave.
In a letter, Thomas Charles wrote that ‘on several occasions we have been obliged to check their liberality, and take only half what they offered, and what we thought they ought to give’.
The birth of Bible Society ignited a movement that the world has not seen since.
Today there are 146 independent national Bible Societies ministering in over 200 countries and territories, including both Syria and Iraq. From its roots in a small town in Waleshas come a mighty wave that’s rolled out across almost every country on earth.
Now, as the new Mary Jones World is opened this October, complete with state-of-the-art educational exhibits, the world is coming back to Wales.
The Bible Society of India is attending the celebrations, the largest member of the United Bible Societies movement representing over 400 staff. Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda, South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand and Japan will also be taking part in thanking God for the gift of Scripture.
Each country present has its reasons for thanking God for the Bible in their own heart language, and now more widely available than ever. And each has given back sacrificially to
support the centre that describes the lasting impact of the Bible today.
When Mary Jones first knocked on the door of the home of Thomas Charles in 1800 she had no idea the scale of Scripture distributionthat she was to inspire.Yet the story of Mary Jones is still being played out in some of the most vulnerable contexts on the planet. In China I still meet people who have walked as far as she did to get their own copy of the Bible. While in much of Africa to own a Bible is still out of the reach of the majority of the population.
From inmates in Cambodian jails to children in rural villages in China, strikingly, it’s still the poor that most value the written word of God. Why is this? They seem to grasp, as the words from the Confirmation service put it, that ‘this Book [is] the most valuable thing that this world affords’. Sign up to Bible Month and you can help more and more people experience its power today.
July 18th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine