Bible Societies in some of the countries where Christians suffer high levels of persecution are reporting a sharp rise in the number of Scriptures distributed.
There is no doubt that the persecution of Christians is on the rise. Official reports and news articles are describing it as a 'war on Christians', with horrifying statistics clearly showing that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world.*
In some countries the situation for Christians has become so dangerous in recent years that many are fleeing, and there are fears that the birthplace of Christianity will soon be devoid of Christian believers.
But recent figures from Bible Societies around the world indicate that in 2012, Christian Scriptures were in more demand than ever before, including in some of the countries where Christianity is under extreme pressure.
Global Scripture distribution by Bible Societies rose by 6%, from just over 381 million in 2011 to more than 405 million in 2012. Of that 405 million, 32.1 million were full Bibles, matching 2011's record-breaking year of Bible distribution.
Syria, Iraq, Egypt, India, Laos and Nigeria are some of the countries highlighted as suffering high levels of persecution in the Open Doors World Watch List. In 2012, Scripture distribution by Bible Societies rose significantly in all six of these countries.
The highest increase was in war-torn Syria, where, amidst intense fighting, the Bible Society distributed over eight times more Scriptures in 2012 than in 2011.
Scripture calendars and special Scripture books for Christmas and Easter account for much of this surge in distribution. Altogether, more than 163,000 Scriptures were given out in Syria in 2012, compared to 19,000 in 2011. Just over 14,000 were distributed in 2010.
"Christians in Syria are under enormous pressure and are in great need of encouragement," notes Mike Bassous, General Secretary of the Lebanon Bible Society, which oversees Bible Society work in Syria. "Staff in Syria are working hard to produce enough Scriptures to meet these needs.
"They have focused on producing smaller items of Scripture, like calendars and Scripture booklets, because they can do this quickly and also because they are easier to transport than full Bibles.
Much of the distribution is being done by a network of church volunteers who are going into communities and getting the Scriptures to all who need them."
Huge exodus of Christians
There was also a substantial hike in Scripture distribution in Syria's eastern neighbour, Iraq, in 2012. Although there has been a huge exodus of Christians from Iraq, around 330,000 remain and they are in desperate need of encouragement and support. Last year, more than 66,000 items of Scripture were distributed there - a 57% increase over the previous year.
Despite the increasingly difficult situation for Christians in Egypt, Scripture distribution rose by 25% last year, with more than 2.8 million Scriptures distributed. As in Syria, the main increase was in Scripture booklets and leaflets, which are easy to hand out and easy to read.
"With so many mass gatherings taking place in Egypt, such as those in Tahrir Square, we took the opportunity to produce and distribute simple Bible booklets on topics such as the Sermon on the Mount," explains Bible Society of Egypt General Secretary Ramez Atallah.
"There has been so much stress and tension in our country and people are increasingly interested in spiritual things and are grateful to read about peace and hope in these booklets."
Amidst all the turmoil
"Amidst all the turmoil, the largest Scripture distribution in our history took place in March 2012 after the death of Pope Shenouda III, the much-loved head of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the spiritual leader of half the world's Arabic-speaking Christians.
We produced a million special Scripture leaflets in his memory and these were all distributed in a week as people across the country gathered to mourn his loss and show unity in a time of deep division."
Christians are also under pressure in some parts of South Asia, but there have been encouraging increases in Scripture distribution there, too. India is home to 71 million Christians, many of whom face difficulties and even personal danger due to their faith in Christ.
But the Bible Society there has reported a 19% increase in Scripture distribution, with more than 27 million Scriptures put into people's hands in 2012.
Life is also hard for the small Christian population in Laos but Scripture distribution tripled in 2012, with a significant increase in the distribution of full Bibles and Testaments. Nearly 21,000 precious Scriptures were distributed.
Christians in the north of Nigeria have suffered deadly attacks in recent years as well as wide-ranging discrimination. Here, too, however, Scripture distribution rose by 5% in 2012, with 8.1 million Scriptures provided to Nigerians.
United Bible Societies Director General Michael Perreau says that he is greatly encouraged by the continued growth in demand for Scriptures, particularly in countries where Christians are under increasing pressure.
"With rising persecution of Christians in certain parts of the world, and increasing secularisation in others, it is encouraging and heartwarming to see that God's Word is more sought after and cherished than ever before," he observes. "In addition to these significant increases in the distribution of printed Scriptures, there has been a huge boost in digital access to Scripture, too.
"Our fast-growing Digital Bible Library™ allows partner organisations to access hundreds of digital versions of Bible texts. These are then used in online services and apps, such as YouVersion's Bible App. Thanks to this, millions of people around the world are reading the Bible on their computers and devices, including in countries where it's dangerous to read printed Christian literature.
"Bible Society staff are dedicated to making the Bible available to everyone, and some are risking their lives to do so. Please join us in giving thanks to God for their commitment and courage, and ask him to protect and bless them. We also pray for each and every person who has encountered God's Holy Word this year."
United Bible Societies is a fellowship of 146 Bible Societies operating in more than 200 countries and territories. Together, they are the world's biggest translator, publisher and distributor of the Bible. Bible Societies are also active in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention, trauma healing and literacy. Bible Societies work with all Christian Churches and many international non-governmental organisations.