Over a decade ago a Chinese missionary enlightened Ken Allen, a Texas pastor and computer programmer, to the need for Bible study materials in a digital format. Allen had asked the missionary why he was trying to scan English pages of Matthew Henry's commentaries onto a compact disc, and the answer was, "Anything is better than nothing. And that's all that we have in China-nothing."
Knowing that Bibles and commentaries already translated to Mandarin would be more helpful to the missionary, Allen enlisted the help of his three young sons and founded the Digital Bible Society (dbsbible.org) in his home in 2001. They spent the next 10 years creating and revising a copyright-free data CD containing hundreds of Chinese-language hymns and books (includingThe Pilgrim's Progress) along with an 80-minute evangelistic film called The Hope. Allen, now 51, told me millions of Chinese people have copies of the CD.
Since then, DBS has finished similar digital projects in Arabic and Farsi, the language of Iran and Afghanistan. Today the organization's 10 full-time employees are working to produce another 10 language libraries (Spanish, Russian, Turkish, Vietnamese, and others). Rather than translating books themselves, the team mainly collects content from dozens of partner organizations, which have agreed to allow DBS to digitize their books and Bible translations, and give copies away.
DBS can crunch those Bibles-along with 400 hours of video, 900 hours of worship music and audio Bibles, and hundreds of books-onto a 32-gigabyte micro SD chip that is smaller than a dime. "The micro SD chip is the floppy disk of the Middle East," Allen said. The chips are popular in developing nations because they fit in computers, pocket projectors, tablets, and mobile phones, making it easy to exchange files between the devices.
Allen, who asked me not to use his real surname because of his work in closed countries, said DBS's content operates on computers and mobiles without the need to download software. That protects believers who might get into trouble if government officials confiscated their laptops and found a Bible program installed.
Michael Wood works for one of DBS's partners, Open Doors USA. Wood told me Open Doors helps ministry leaders in the field put together a "shopping basket" of digital materials they'd like to own, then works with DBS to format the content and distribute it in the field on SD chips or USB flash drives. He said the digital libraries are great for house church leaders, who often don't have access to many Christian books.