In the autumn of the
year 1898, John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wisconsin, came to
the Central Hotel at Boscobel, Wisconsin, for the night. The hotel
being crowded, it was suggested that he take a bed in a double room with
Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin. The two men soon discovered
that both were Christians, and that John Nicholson, as a 12-year-old boy,
had promised his dying mother that he would read God's Word and
pray daily. It had been his custom for many years to read the Bible
before retiring for the night. They had their evening devotions
together, and on their knees before God the thoughts were given which
later developed into an association.
On May 31, 1899,
they met at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, concluded to band Christian
commercial travelers together for
mutual recognition, personal evangelism, and
united service for the Lord. They decided to call a meeting in Janesville,
Wisconsin on July 1, 1899, in the Y.M.C.A.
Only three men were present
at that meeting: John H. Nicholson, Samuel E. Hill, and Will J.
Knights. They organized with Hill as president, Knights as vice
president, and Nicholson as secretary and treasurer. Much thought was
given to what the name of the association should be, and after special
prayer that God might lead them to select the proper name, Mr. Knights
arose from his knees and said, "We shall be called Gideons." He
read the sixth and seventh chapters of Judges and showed the reason for
adopting that name.
Gideon was a man who
was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own
judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience
were his great elements of character. This is the standard that the
Gideon association is trying to establish in all its members, each man
to be ready to do God's will at any time, at any place, and in any way
that the Holy Spirit leads.
In view of the fact that
almost all of the Gideons in the early years of the association
were traveling men, the question quite naturally arose regarding
how they might be more effective witnesses in the hotels where they
were forced to spend so much of their time. One suggestion was that a
Bible might be placed at the reception desk in each hotel so
that the patrons would have the privilege of borrowing it if they wished.
It also occurred to these men that this would be a silent witness
remaining in these hotels when they were elsewhere.
This question of
advanced activities, as they called them, was carefully considered in
the Cabinet meeting held in Chicago, October 19, 1907. One
trustee went so far as to suggest that The Gideons furnish a
Bible for each bedroom of the hotels in the United States. He
commented," In my opinion, this would not only stimulate the activities of
the rank and file of the membership, but would be a gracious act, wholly
in keeping with the divine mission of the Gideon Association." This plan
was adopted by the convention at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1908.
It is interesting to note
that the practice of the churches contributing to the support of
the Gideon Scripture program originated with a pastor. Just two
months after the 1908 Louisville Convention, a state convention
convened in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. National Secretary Frank Garlick
and Mr. A. B. T. Moore attended a meeting of the Ministerial
Union, and after their program they asked if Brother Garlick
could address the ministers on the work of the Gideon Association.
He spoke of the needed Bible distribution, and at the close of his
10-minute address, Mr. Moore's own pastor, Dr. E. R. Burkhalter,
First Presbyterian Church, arose and moved, "...that Gideon Bibles be
placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the
funds." The motion was unanimously carried and a committee
appointed to apportion the cost to the churches, according to their
Thus the idea of the
Gideon ministry as an "extended arm" of the church came into
being, and the church took an initial stand to give financial support to
the Bible placement program. The Gideon association praised
God for the revelation of His plan whereby the local church would
supply the needed funds.
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