The Gideons International is an organization of business and professional men devoted to the sole purpose of winning men, women, boys and girls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
- Gideons International's mission statement
The Gideons is, to put it more simply, a whole lot of people and a whole lot of Bibles.
John Nicholson, Samuel Hill, and Will Knights founded the Gideons in 1899. Nicholson and Hill had met several months before in a double room of a crowded hotel in Wisconsin where both were staying the night. Upon each discovering that the other was Christian, they got the idea to form an association. The early Gideons were largely travelling men who left their mark by leaving a Bible at the desk of each hotel they visited. The idea of leaving a Bible in each hotel room was instituted in 19081.
The Gideons now distributes Bibles not only in hotel rooms, but in schools, universities, prisons, hospitals, military organizations, places of law enforcement, and many other institutions. They are active, as of this writing, in more than 170 countries, distributing texts in nearly 80 languages, with approximately 150,000 due-paying members across the globe, and managing to get approximately one million Bibles placed each week.
The Gideon emblem is a white jar on a navy background with a red flame spurting out of the top. A yellow circle adorns the outside rim.
The Gideons does not associate itself with any other organization. It is, however, an approximation of several of the different denominations of Christianity, leaving a situation that no one Gideon finds perfect, but is nonetheless satisfactory. For instance, in the USA (where the Gideons are best-rooted), there are few Bibles distributed in anything but the New King James version. However, since there is a belief in some churches that 'If it isn't King James, it isn't the Bible', this is unlikely to change.
One might note that the mission statement above reads 'business and professional men'. Indeed, the Gideons is made up entirely of men well-established in the business world, except those who are in the industry of brewing, distributing, or selling alcoholic beverages. The Auxiliary, a part of the organization for women, was created in 1901. The Auxiliary mainly provides support for the Gideons and includes more than 81,000 women worldwide.
The Gideons International Headquarters is located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, with a staff of less than 100 people. It's got a nice little atrium in the centre of the building with a skylight. The walls are adorned with pewter plaques engraved with the passage of John 3:162. Each plaque carries the message in a different language; all of the languages that the Gideons distribute in are displayed. A Gideon emblem mosaic decorates the floor. It makes for a nice place for employees to have their lunch, should they desire.