In late January, about 50 Christian business and professional men and their wives, who serve as Gideons and Auxiliary, came together for the Miami Beach/Florida Keys Scripture blitz. This outreach event drew members who serve in locally organized Gideon camps in the South Florida area and several states including Alaska. For three days, blitz participants placed and distributed Bibles and New Testaments in approved areas including hotels and public sidewalks near schools.
Bob Owers, the local coordinator for the event, lived in Miami for 47 years before moving to Maryland last November. A retired hospital administrator, Owers began planning for the event a year earlier as a member of Miami’s Kendall Camp. In the months leading up to the event, evangelical churches in the Miami Beach area welcomed Gideons to share with their congregations how the Lord is moving through the ministry of The Gideons. The churches provided additional support through prayers, financial gifts, and even pastors’ recommendations of men in their own congregations who might qualify to serve as Gideons.
overcoming challenges by god’s power
With approximately 200 linear miles of territory to cover in three days, there were many challenges, but the Lord was faithful. “The Lord showed up in miraculous ways,” Owers says, adding that during the blitz, he saw God prepare hearts to receive New Testaments. He also felt the Lord’s presence in helping him discern how to manage logistical challenges during the event.
One day, an organization where Gideons planned to store vehicles loaded with Scriptures communicated their property would not be available after all. Owers says the Lord immediately impressed upon him to reach out to Riverside Baptist—the congregation where he had been a member when he lived in Miami. Owers contacted the church, and they welcomed Gideons to use their property to secure the trucks.
Johnny Oliver, another Gideon who serves in the Kendall Camp, is also a member of Riverside Baptist. He took time off from his lawn care business and served all three days of the event.
“Our brother Johnny is a fearless powerhouse witness for our Lord. He is tirelessly dedicated to this mission, and is, therefore, a natural Gideon, giving generously of both his time and personal resources,” says Owers.
Gideon Al Grissett is a member of Old Cutler Presbyterian Church in Miami. He served as the assistant coordinator for the event. He, too, saw the Lord show up in response to challenges. “On the second morning, a lock on one of the storage room doors jammed. Gideons were lined up waiting to load Scriptures. I worked with the lock but had no success. I told everyone we would have to wait for the storage facility office to open for help. One of the Gideons was an engineer. He also worked on the lock with no success. He then turned around and said, ‘Men, it’s time to pray.’ After the prayer, he twisted the lock–and instantly the lock released.”
Gideons also distributed over 8,000 Scriptures to receptive middle school and high school students on the public sidewalks near the schools. Those Scriptures were shared only weeks before a tragic mass shooting at a high school just an hour away from the area.
people respond to god’s word
One of the Gideons sharing Scriptures with high school students was Riley Shay, a 21-year-old rancher from Edson, Kansas. His grandfather is a Gideon. Also, a good friend of Shay’s is a Gideon. The friend invited Shay to a Pastors Appreciation Banquet several months ago, after which Shay expressed his interest in joining. Just last fall, he became a Gideon and now serves in the Colby Camp.
“My first Scripture blitz was later that month in Wichita, Kansas,” says Shay. “I was only able to attend for a single day because fall is a very busy time of year for my cattle business. When I learned a blitz was planned for Miami Beach in January, I found a cheap flight and purchased my ticket.”
Shay was amazed at the dense population of Miami. He realized more people would mean more potential moments to share about Jesus. “There were so many opportunities to share the Gospel—the lady sitting next to me on the airplane, the driver with a ridesharing service, the lady behind the counter at the hotel, and many more,” he says.
“My favorite moment was distributing Testaments on sidewalks at two schools on Wednesday, where almost every one of the students accepted a New Testament. I was able to talk with a security guard at one of the schools for a while. He even accepted a Testament. He was very grateful for our visit and talked with me for quite some time after the students left,” says Shay.
“All of the Gideons there were amazing. It was a great time to meet men of different occupations and from all over the country,” says the young rancher. “I served with a retired physical education teacher, an airline pilot, and a construction company owner. I met Gideons from Alaska, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and many other places. I am very excited to be involved with The Gideons and plan on attending at least one of these events every year.” Shay says after seeing a hotel worker and two children pray to receive Jesus, he knew the 1,800-mile trip was worth the journey.
The airline pilot Shay met was Steve Tasson, a Gideon in Florida’s Broward South Camp. His wife, Sheri, serves as an Auxiliary and they are members at Hollywood Hills Alliance Church. Tasson was inspired to see a young man like Riley Shay getting involved with The Gideons and serving. “Just to see someone so young join…it was a blessing getting to work with him. We need more young members like Shay,” says Tasson, who has grown children of his own. As Tasson and Shay rode together from hotel to hotel placing Bibles, they talked about the Lord and His Word. Tasson invited Shay to enjoy dinner with him and Sheri at their house one evening, as well.
“All of the Gideons there were amazing. It was a great time to meet men of different occupations and from all over the country.”
A truck driver named Mike was one of the many lives touched as a result of receiving a Scripture during the blitz. Originally from Belize, Mike had just finished talking with the front desk clerk in a hotel when he met Steve Tasson. The two men began talking and Tasson felt the Holy Spirit’s prompting to present the Gospel to Mike. As it turned out, the truck driver confessed he didn’t have an assurance about his eternity. Steve shared a New Testament with him and shared God’s plan of salvation. Moments later, there in the lobby, Mike prayed to receive Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. After praying, he thanked Steve, saying, “I’m taking this New Testament up to my room now to start reading.”
Eugenia Pagenta of the Osceola Camp was one of about 25 Auxiliary who served in the blitz. Along with her husband Daniel, and other Auxiliary, Mrs. Pagenta stayed busy placing Scriptures in nursing homes in the Miami Beach area. She says most of the 45 nursing homes they visited were very open to receiving Scriptures.
One of the nursing home residents to receive a New Testament from Eugenia was a pastor. When the pastor saw Auxiliary blitz participants standing at his door with Scriptures, his face lit up with joy. “I know your ministry! You have been a blessing in my life,” he said. “Never, ever stop what you are doing with The Gideons.” Then the pastor said, “Please let me pray for you.” As Mrs. Pagenta and other Auxiliary gathered around, the pastor offered thanks to the Lord for their faithfulness.
“You had to be there,” says Mrs. Pagenta through tears as she recounts that touching moment. This was just one of many more special memories she and her husband have experienced in their 23 years of service in The Gideons. “It is such a blessing to be a servant of the Lord,” she says.
Andy Mathis, of the Johnson County West Camp in Kansas was also glad he made the trip to Florida. As doors opened for him to share Christ with others, the Lord used him in leading many people to pray to receive Jesus. Andy says he is always looking for opportunities to share Christ. “If you ask the Lord for opportunities, be ready, they will happen,” he says.
When the pastor saw Auxiliary blitz participants standing at his door with Scriptures, his face lit up with joy. “I know your ministry! You have been a blessing in my life.”
One such opportunity occurred while Mathis was delivering Bibles to a resort in Key Largo. “I had the opportunity to show Tanya, the resort manager, the Helps in the front and then lead her through the Scriptures in the back of a Personal Workers Testament,” he says. “Tanya was not sure where she would go when she died. When given the invitation to pray and receive Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, she smiled and said, ‘Yes.’ After we finished praying, to my surprise, I turned around to see a lady standing right behind me. Veronica was the head of housekeeping and had been listening to my conversation with Tanya. She was also smiling and shared she had just prayed along with us, inviting Christ into her heart as her Lord and Savior, as well.”
John Faile is retired from 45 years in law enforcement and juvenile corrections. He is a member of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa and is a Gideon with the Tuscaloosa East Camp, Alabama. “We spent three days on the South and North Beach,” says Faile. He says getting hotels to allow Bible placements was a challenge; however, even in the challenges, there were blessings. “While many of the clerks told us ‘no’ after asking management if we could place Scriptures in each room, they did ask for a copy of God’s Word for themselves.”
Richard Burns is a Gideon with the Mat Su Valley Camp in Wasilla, Alaska, which is approximately 5,000 miles from Miami Beach. He is a member of Pilgrims Baptist Church in Wasilla and operates an aircraft hangar storage business.
Burns learned about the Miami Scripture blitz while he was out of the country and scheduled a stopover in Miami on his return flight to Alaska. Upon his arrival in Miami, he and two other blitz participants placed over 2,600 hotel Bibles at resort hotels along the beach. Afterwards, he boarded a plane for the 9.5 hour flight home to Alaska. “I enjoyed serving the Lord at the Miami blitz,” says Burns. “I hope to do it again, God willing.”
serving together as a couple
Darby and Fred Walls of Smithville, Virginia, joined The Gideons in 1980 and are members of the Smithfield Camp. In addition to owning and operating an insurance business, the couple also has been very active serving in their church, Carrollton Baptist. Though they are both active in their camps, neither had participated in a Scripture distribution until just a few years ago when they served in a Metropolitan Scripture Blitz in Honolulu, Hawaii. After seeing the smiles on faces of people who received copies of God’s Word, the Walls had a great appreciation for the blessings received from distributing Scriptures.
“After that, we decided serving in Scripture placements and distributions was what we should be doing,” says Mrs. Walls. Since then, the couple has served in several more blitzes.
“God’s Word speaks to people individually. All they have to do is read a verse and the Holy Spirit can use it in their lives.”
Shortly after returning home from the New York Scripture blitz last September, they saw an opportunity to go to the Miami/Florida Keys Scripture blitz. Inspired by what they experienced in New York City, they signed up to go share Scriptures in the Keys, which experienced great devastation from Hurricane Irma.
The Walls wondered what kind of reception they might experience from people who were trying to recover from the storm’s destruction. Would people be resistant or perhaps even openly upset at just the mention of God’s Word?
In the Florida Keys, the Walls drove from location to location. They saw the hurricane’s remaining aftermath—trees blown over, boats washed ashore, and mobile homes flooded. All were reminders of the unpredictable circumstances in life. However, the Walls had the one message that brings eternal hope for those suffering through those events—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
They discovered people were indeed open and grateful for the opportunity to receive the free gifts of God’s Word.
In addition to giving people New Testaments, Mrs. Walls says the couple also shared The Gideons Bible App with others. “My husband loves handing out the printed Bible App cards to people so they can see how to easily download the free app,” says Mrs. Walls. “It’s amazing the smiles you see on the faces when they learn they can download a copy of God’s Word to their phones for free.”
“God’s Word speaks to people individually. All they have to do is read a verse and the Holy Spirit can use it in their lives,” says Mrs. Walls. “What greater value can we give to mankind?”
At one facility, the couple accidentally locked their keys in their rental car. After sharing Scriptures inside the facility, they called a locksmith. When the locksmith, whose name was George, arrived, the Walls offered him a Testament. His eyes brightened and he replied, “My daughters are having such a hard time in their lives right now. This has come at just the right time,” he said. The Walls then prayed with him. Before leaving he told them, “I’m so glad this has happened. This was no mistake.”
How the Lord Opens Windows of Opportunity
By the end of the three-day event in Miami Beach/Florida Keys, Gideons and Auxiliary had placed and distributed over 55,000 copies of God’s Word at hotels, on school sidewalks, in nursing homes and doctors’ offices, and in other approved areas.
“We are called to share the message, but the results are God’s business,” says Van Koelliker, another Gideon from Kansas’ Johnson County West Camp who came to serve in the Miami Blitz. “Our only desire is to demonstrate how the Lord opens windows of opportunity to present the truth of the Gospel and watch the Holy Spirit touch hearts.”