Over the 4th of July this year, thousands of people along Main Street in Purcellville, Va., witnessed something beyond the usual festivities: a local youth group serving free slushies and reading the Bible aloud in its entirety.
Rich Shipe serves as the Discipleship and Youth Pastor at Blue Ridge Bible Church in northern Virginia. He says he was inspired by a blog post about a Bible reading marathon in Wisconsin, and decided to start a similar project in his own community.
Shipe’s project, which took just over 70 hours, involved reading the Bible from cover to cover without stopping.
“I thought about it as a way to inspire better reading habits among the students and to give them an opportunity to share their faith,” he says.
Together with the students, Shipe developed a website that would adequately explain the project to passersby.
“I wanted a name for it that would pique people's curiosity and cause them to go to the website,” he explains. “I knew that far more people would go to the website over stopping and talking to us. So it is based on Jeremiah 15:16: ‘Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.’”
The team set up a banner pointing to iatethem.com, a site that delivers an explanation of the project as well as information about the Bible, the Gospel, and ways that people can get involved.
“The point of this project is to challenge everyone to read the Bible and form their own opinion,” according to the website.
Rich says he and his fellow participants received a lot of questions about the project during their three-day public Bible reading.
“We'd just say that we are reading the Bible cover to cover without stopping,” he explains. “Then we could ask them if they have ever read it and what their thoughts are. Usually that would give an opportunity to ask them about what they believed and then we could share the gospel with them.”
Shipe says his goals for the project were simple. “Challenge the youth to read the Bible more faithfully themselves,” he says. “Challenge Christians in the community to read it. And to challenge people that don't believe to not form an opinion simply on the basis of what someone else has told them. We want people to read it for themselves.”
He says he hopes other churches will try out the concept. “I'd love to be able to share the website and whatever else we can give away to let others challenge Christians and non-believers in their community,” he added.
Rich says one unexpected result of the reading was his own personal spiritual growth. “I didn't expect that I would enjoy reading so much of God's word,” he says. “That almost sounds sacrilegious, I know. In my personal quite times I never read for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Normally we are taking very small sections of the Bible at a time in our study and devotions. That is good but it sometimes misses the larger themes and messages of individual books of the Bible.”
He says that the youth group was excited about the project, and everyone had a positive experience. “It was great to see the youth showing their passion for their faith by talking to people and sharing the gospel,” he says.
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights issues. Kristin has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She recently returned from Turkey and the Syrian border, where she covered the plight of refugees fleeing the conflict. She can be contacted at [email protected]
Publication date: August 9, 2013