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    Bibles have an exotic mission

    Gathered from all over Florida by a Seminole woman, they will end up in Africa, eastern Europe and other destinations.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- Gwen Holz stood in her modest garage among tables full of neatly organized soft-cover and hard-cover Christian-oriented books, videos, cassette tapes and CDs.

    There were copies of Just As I Am by Billy Graham, A Gentle Thunder by Max Lucado and My Utmost for His Highest, a classic devotional by Oswald Chambers.

    On the floor were boxes full of Bibles.

    Holz, 77, a regional representative of Christian Resources International, has conducted Bible drives from her Seminole home in the past, but she has never before organized a statewide effort.

    By her side was Mark Campo, executive director of the 50-year-old non-denominational ministry, who traveled from its base in Fowlerville, Mich., to lend a hand and offer support.

    CRI collects and distributes Bibles, hymnals, Sunday school materials and other Christian resources that are used by missionaries throughout the world to teach God's word. The ministry ships 50,000 to 100,000 books overseas each year, Campo said.

    By sending letters to churches in every county in Florida, Holz was hoping to collect 5,000 Bibles and $5,000.

    "Five thousand dollars will ship 50,000 pounds overseas," Holz said.

    But because of unfamiliarity with the program and a postal service that delivered her letters late, she came up short, receiving 3,000 Bibles and $105 in donations.

    She invited missionaries who are meeting at her church, Indian Rocks Baptist Church, this week to take as many Bibles as they wished. The remainder, along with the $105, she intends to hand over to CRI's national office.

    CRI will ship the Bibles to Africa, Eastern Europe and other destinations where Bibles, study books, reference books, workbooks and other Christian reading materials are highly prized, according to Holz and Camp.

    "These people are so desperate. They don't have literature, they don't have anything," said Holz. "In a community the size of Seminole, there is (often) only one Bible. They tear it apart. Each person that can read will take a page, read it, learn it and memorize it. The next week they will switch pages. There is no order. It's a very ineffective way of learning the Bible. Old Testament one time, New Testament one time."

    When the Bibles are delivered to impoverished Third World countries, it is not unusual for two, three or four people to walk up to 500 miles from remote villages to pick up a few 30- to 40-pound boxes of them and take them home to distribute among their neighbors, she said.

    Sitting in her home, dressed in an elegant black and gold dress and golden earrings to attend a function at her church, Holz displayed a photo of villagers walking on a dirt road with boxes on top of their heads.

    She also offered two more photos -- proof, she says, that the CRI Bible ministry works to turn non-Christians into Christians.

    One, labeled "before," showed a man wearing a traditional costume and a mask apparently doing a dance. A photo labeled "after" showed the same man dressed in pants and a button-down shirt.

    "This is a witch doctor who used to kill people," she said. "Then he read the Bible. He learned about God, and it changed his mind, his heart and his life."

    Holz, a firm believer that people who don't accept Jesus Christ as their savior during their lifetime will spend eternity separated from God, said she "gets chills" and sometimes cries when she receives letters of thanks from those who have received Bibles.

    Collecting Bibles is the easy part of the operation. Someday, she hopes to establish a warehouse in Pinellas County to hold them. But collecting enough money to cover shipping costs is more difficult.

    "Bibles are heavy," Campo said.

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