Aid to the Church in Need’s Children’s Bible marks 40th anniversary

THIS YEAR, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its children’s Bible, “God Speaks to His Children.”  Since its release in 1979, more than 51 million copies have been distributed across the globe in 189 languages.

“It is beyond human understanding just how many children as well as adults have opened themselves to God through the children’s Bible,” said Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN’s executive president. He stressed that for many families living in the world’s poorest regions, the children’s Bible is the only book that they will ever own.

Peruvian students are reading the ACN children’s Bible

“The letters we have received over the past 40 years, in which children, families, bishops and pastoral workers have expressed their thanks for the children’s Bible, bear witness to the deep longing for God that this book continues to respond to today,” said Heine-Geldern.

Divided into 99 short chapters, “God Speaks to His Children” retells the most important texts of the Old and New Testament in a way that is easy for children to understand. The stories in the current edition of the children’s Bible were written by German theologian Eleonore Beck (1926-2014) and illustrated by the Spanish woman religious Sister Miren-Sorne Gomez (b. 1937). The illustrations have become very popular in catechism classes around the world.

ACN first presented the children’s Bible at the Conference of Latin American Bishops that took place in late January 1979 in Puebla, Mexico; Saint John Paul II was there on his first papal journey.

The reception was overwhelming: the bishops immediately ordered 1.2 million copies in Spanish. As soon as missionaries, bishops and catechists from other countries heard about it, additional translations became necessary. Today, the Bible is available in 189 languages, from Afar, which is spoken by around 1.5 million people in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, to isiZulu, a Bantu language spoken in southern Africa.

New translations are produced regularly. After all, more than 2,000 different languages are spoken in Africa alone. On that continent, the children’s Bible continues to play an important role in fostering literacy.

From the very beginning, ACN has distributed the children’s Bible in poor countries free of charge. In more affluent countries, it is sold at cost. The editions with the widest distribution are those in Spanish (around 14 million), Portuguese (10.3 million), English (2.5 million), French (1.2 million) and Swahili (950,000). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian edition of the children’s Bible was mentioned by a Christian radio station. ACN was flooded with orders totaling half a million copies.

Pope Benedict XVI handed out the ten millionth copy of the children’s Bible in Portuguese during his pastoral visit to Brazil in May of 2007.
—Thomas Lehner