A Bible for everybody in the world!
Last Summer, I had the privilege of being an officer on an EMW Camp at Bryn-y-groes, Bala. On our second day, as we were walking in the hillside on one of the hottest days of the year, some classic Wales v England banter broke out amongst the group I was with. When challenged to name one famous Welsh Christian, the name Mary Jones was quick to appear.
The story of Mary Jones is well known, especially in Wales, but as I walked through Bala with that group of young people, sharing with them the life of this Welsh teenager who lived centuries before them, I was struck by how important it is to keep telling and retelling the story of Mary Jones.
Desire for a Bible
Born in 1784, Mary Jones lived with her family in Llanfihangel-y-pennant, Abergynolwyn. Her family were devout Christians and Mary was raised going to church. From a young age Mary heard about Jesus. When she was eight, she professed her own faith in Christ as her Saviour.
Thanks to the Rev. Thomas Charles in Bala and his circulating schools, Mary had learnt to read. Now she wanted nothing more than to read God’s Word herself and grow in her faith.
However, there was one small problem. Mary, like most of Wales at this time, spoke, read and wrote in Welsh. Bishop Morgan had translated the Bible into Welsh nearly two centuries earlier, but since then, not much had been done to produce the Beibl Cymraeg (Welsh Bible). Welsh Bibles were big, bulky, costly to make and expensive to own. Mary’s nearest Bible was a two mile walk away.
Nevertheless, Mary was determined. Even though the cost of a Bible was far beyond anything she or her family could afford, Mary worked and saved to make her dream a reality. It appears to have taken her around six years but eventually she had the money: three shillings and six pence.
Determined to find a Bible
Mary’s next problem was to find a Bible that she could buy. As a Welsh Bible was so expensive, not many were being produced even for those who could afford them. The nearest place for Mary to buy a Bible was in Bala, from the Rev. Thomas Charles. Bala was a 25 mile walk across mountainous terrain and at the end of it there was no guarantee that Thomas Charles would even have a Bible he could sell her. Yet, Mary’s desire to read God’s Word was so strong that she was willing to try, even if she returned empty handed.
So, in the spring of 1800, 15-year-old Mary Jones walked the long and tiring path across the hills to Bala and did so barefoot according to most accounts of her story!
There are differing accounts of what happened next. In one story, Mary Jones arrives in Bala to discover that Thomas Charles had already sold all his Welsh Bibles. Seeing Mary’s faith and determination, Charles was so moved that he arranged lodging for her for two nights until a new delivery of Bibles was expected. When that long awaited day arrived, he then gave her three Bibles for the price of one! In other accounts, Charles gave Mary a Bible promised to someone else and in another he gave Mary his own Bible.
We don’t know exactly what happened, but we know that Mary Jones did leave Bala with a Bible; a Bible in her language, a Bible that she could read, a Bible that undoubtedly helped her grow in faith and love of God.
The Bible for the world
We also know that Thomas Charles was struck by the extraordinary lengths this Welsh teenager went to so that she could have a Bible. Moved yes, but also challenged that nobody should have to save for years and walk for miles to read a Bible in their language.
With this commitment in his heart and the story of Mary Jones ready to tell, Charles arrived in London in 1802 for a meeting with the Religious Tract Society. After hearing his arguments, the society agreed to create a regular supply of affordable Welsh Bibles to Wales. This decision prompted Welsh pastor, Joseph Hughes, to ask: ‘If for Wales, why not for the kingdom? And if for the kingdom, why not for the world?’
Thus began a movement of translating, producing and distributing Bibles across the world. The British and Foreign Bible Society was founded just two years later in 1804 for this specific purpose. In 1807 it produced its first Welsh Bible, edited by Thomas Charles. Today, the Bible Society remains committed to offering the Bible to everyone in the world.
The availability of the Bible today
This is a great story of God’s people working together to help others come to know him and grow closer to him through his Word. Despite playing a great part in these events, Mary Jones had no idea that she and her Bible would be remembered. After receiving her Bible, Mary simply walked home. From there, life continued much as she would have expected it to. She grew up, married and set up her own household and family before passing away on 28th of December 1866. Yet, just like her story inspired and challenged Thomas Charles 200 years ago, Mary Jones continues to challenge and inspire us today.
I sometimes wonder what Mary would think if she were here to witness the variety of ways Christians today can access the Bible. Not only is the Bible readily available in Welsh but there are different Welsh language translations including traditional and modern versions. Welsh and English Bibles are sold online, in book shops and available for free from numerous organisations. We have Bibles of all shapes and sizes. There are study Bibles, Children’s Bibles and Bible apps on our phones. We can even have them read to us if we want to!
Do we appreciate the easy access we have to the Word or God? Would we be prepared to walk 25 miles and hand over our life’s savings for a chance to read the Bible for ourselves? It’s hard for us to appreciate how blessed we are to have these kinds of resources available. Although Mary Jones is an historical figure, stories like hers are not a thing of the past. According to the Wycliffe Global Alliance, the full Bible is yet to be translated into 5,509 languages, 75% of the world’s languages, affecting 1.45 billion people or 20% of the global population.
As she did 200 years ago, maybe Mary Jones can help us reflect on how we treat and view God’s Word.
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