August 23, 2007
Have you ever been caught taking Bibles into a communist country? I hear that question a lot and, actually, the answer for me is “Yes.”
It happened the first time I ever left the country with Bibles and our friends from the Bible League. The trip was to Vietnam and Thailand and the first leg had us traveling from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
When you go into communist countries it is understood that until you’re safely in the country, you’re on your own. Don’t walk together, don’t talk to each other; get through customs appearing as though you’re traveling alone.
We were also told that the same would be true should any of us be stopped by customs. You’re traveling alone; you’re not with any group—and certainly not with a group called the Bible League. If you’re caught, if you’re pulled into a room for questioning, and your passport is taken away, if you’re not allowed in the country for any reason—you’re not with us; you’re on your own.
Different airports have different demands when it comes to screening the luggage. In some airports you can avoid having your bags run through one of those x-ray machines. In other airports it’s unavoidable—each bag will be screened.
Before we left San Francisco we were told that no one in our group had ever landed at the new airport in Ho Chi Minh City, so no one knew how thorough they would be with our bags. One thing, however, remained perfectly clear: if you’re caught, you’re on your own.
I’ve been on many of these trips since that first one. There’s still a deep soberness that settles in as you prepare to arrive and the plane begins its descent. No matter how much talking with your friends has taken place during the flight, each person, on their own, begins to think about going through security—to think about getting into the country safely and about the people waiting for your Bibles. That seriousness sets in each time. And it was there that very first trip, as was the reminder that if anything happens, you’re on your own.
When we landed in Ho Chi Minh City our group was careful not to make eye contact with each other, but also not to appear to be avoiding eye contact with anyone. I tried to blend in (although this is hard to do when you’re a 6’2” blue-eyed man in Vietnam).
As I approached customs, it became obvious that every person would be examined and every bag scanned for its contents. I had three bags containing Bibles: one had several tucked away; one was about half full; and the other bag contained nothing but Bibles except for a T-shirt covering them.
As the line grew shorter and I got closer to the machine, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. What if they talked to me? What if they find the Bibles? What if one of the military guards, with real rifles and real bullets, wants to take me away? You’re on your own.
I scooted my bags closer to the machine and when it was my turn, for some reason, I thought, maybe I should put the bags on the belt in order: the one that contained the fewest Bibles first; the one with a few more, second; then, finally, the one with the most. So there they went, Baby Bear, Mama Bear and Papa Bear, into the x-ray machine.
I walked toward the guard at the end of the belt and waited as the bags were passed through the machine. I watched as Baby Bear came first. I took it and put it by my side. Mama Bear came next. I removed it from the belt and put it by my other side. Then the belt stopped—with Papa Bear inside. I looked at the guard and he looked at me.
Finally the belt began to move delivering, at last, my final bag. The relief that I felt as I picked up that bag and slung it over my shoulder didn’t last long. “Wait!” the guard yelled, “You open bag.” I waited and acted as if I didn’t understand him, but again he said, “You! Open bag.” When it became obvious there was nothing else I could do, I put the bag back on the belt. “Open bag!” he insisted.
I unzipped the bag that had nothing in it but Bibles covered with a lone T-shirt. For the briefest moment I thought maybe I should run. It’s a stupid thing to think, but that’s what I thought. The guard pulled away the T-shirt covering the Bibles and there they were, plain as day, with each cover and binding reading “Holy Bible” in Vietnamese.
He looked down, saw them, opened them and looked up at me. “What you have?” he demanded. Again, I acted like I didn’t understand. I thought to myself, I’m not going to answer that question. Maybe, if I wait, I’ll get a question I want to answer.
The guard persisted, “What you have?” I made that face that you make when you want to say, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand you.” One more time he asked, but this time he said it this way: “What you have, books?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Go.”
After that I zipped up the bag, put it over my shoulder and walked into communist Vietnam with 50 Bibles. As we delivered Bibles on that trip we met pastors who told us they’d been praying for us—praying that God would blind the eyes of the authorities so they wouldn’t see that it was Bibles we were bringing them.
I can’t tell you whether that, in fact, happened. But I know God could have done that if He wanted to. He just might have. And I realized I was never really on my own.
To join Scott sending Bibles to people around the world, go to www.wildershow.com/sendbibles.htm. Scott Wilder is host of “The Scott Wilder Show,” recognized by the National Religious Broadcasters as Talk Show Host of the Year in 2004. His program is heard weekday afternoons in Dallas/Ft. Worth on The WORD 100.7FM. Contact Scott at email@example.com.