By Mark Ellis —
Starting in the 1960s, they printed “Marlboro Bibles” as small as cigarette packs to smuggle into the former Soviet Union. Now with millions of refugees fleeing Putin’s Ukraine onslaught, they are meeting the demand for Bibles among the refugees.
“The news media and the public will call it a refugee crisis. We call it a refugee opportunity,” Dirk Smith, vice-president of Eastern European Mission (EEM), told God Reports. “I hate it for Ukrainians, because we know and love so many, and they are near and dear to all of us.”
Ukraine has been called the Bible Belt of Europe, and many of those fleeing bombs and missiles are strong believers. “They are light and salt and God’s moving them. God’s moving them into parts of Europe that need that light and salt desperately,” Smith observed.
“Their spirits are strong. You can see they don’t have food or much clothing, and they want those things. But the next thing they’re asking for is a Bible. They say, ‘I couldn’t take that with me, or I thought I did. Or I want to share it with somebody else because they need to know.”
In the face of suffering, the refugees want to communicate their hope in Jesus. “They say, ‘I’m traveling with other refugees who don’t know Jesus, and I want to share that with them.’
EEM began printing Bibles in Vienna in 1961. “The Marlboro Bible was the exact size of a pack of cigarettes because the guards didn’t care if you were smuggling cigarettes in, they just didn’t want Bibles coming in.
“They were smuggling the Bibles in and providing them to other smugglers until the wall came down in 1989. We’re thankful our board listened to the Spirit and didn’t move out of Eastern Europe. We stayed and the relationships have developed.
“So we now publish, print and distribute (full-sized) Bibles and Bible-based materials into 32 different countries and 23 different languages all free of charge. Our only requirement is this is for evangelistic work. We don’t want it going in a drawer or sitting on a shelf. It’s not a Pew Bible. It’s going into somebody’s hands who is seeking.”
In 2021, EEM delivered 1.5 million Bibles and Bible-based materials to Eastern Europe. They also work with national leaders in Ukraine, Romania, and Croatia to place Bibles in public schools. More than two-thirds of the schools in Ukraine received Bibles from EEM before the war started.
After Putin launched his offensive against Ukraine, EEM evacuated the staff from their Kiev office. As the requests pour in for Bibles in Ukrainian and Russian, they are trying to determine how they will retrieve Bibles that remain in their Kiev warehouse. “It’s very dangerous right now because Kiev is a hot spot, but we are working very intently,” he said.
Smith is quick to emphasize his love for the Russian people. “Don’t hear me say this is Russians against Ukrainians. It’s Putin against the world. Because we know and love lots of people in Russia. They don’t want this war.”
EEM’s distribution of Bibles in Russia has been increasing every year. Smith’s last visit to Russia was in 2019. “I will tell you of the 32 nations that we work in, I’ve never been more warmly received by the people. They are welcoming. They want a spiritual foundation. They want to move towards freedom. And I think Putin is doing everything he can to reel that in.”
Videos of the physical warfare have horrified many, but there is also an unseen battle taking place. “It’s a spiritual battle,” Smith noted, and we’ve got to battle it spiritually. We, as His church, must be on our knees, praying about this, constantly battling this spiritually. Satan will use whoever is open to be used and Putin has definitely shown his cards.”
To learn more about Eastern European Mission, go here