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American Bible Society opens Springfield branch

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by Bryan Smith

SBJ Staff

When the American Bible Society holds its chamber of commerce ribbon-cutting July 12, it will celebrate a long history and a bright future.

The organization, which opened its Springfield office in the Hammons Tower last year, was active in the city long before the actual office opened.

"There were seven of us working here out of our home offices," said Robert Hodgson, manager of ABS's Research Center for Scripture and Media. As a result, the Manhattan, N.Y.-based ABS made Springfield the location for its third and largest branch office.

Founded in 1816 in New York to distribute Bibles to soldiers after the War of 1812, the society eventually formed an agency distribution system, in which a person would cover a certain territory, delivering Bibles to western settlers.

By the 1960s, the organization added Bible translation. Two translations include the Good News Bible and the Contemporary English Version. The latter edition brought the ABS to Springfield.

Donald Johns, ABS assistant director of translations, was part of the group writing the CEV translation.

That early group was led by another Springfield resident, Barclay Newman.

"We each had books of the Bible assigned to us (to translate)," Johns said. "We would do a draft version, and when we were done with that, we would circulate it to the other two members of the team."

Because the translation process was long and called for several impromptu meetings, the entire group met in Springfield to write the CEV translation.

From there, the organization became a part of Springfield.

"ABS roots and investments really go deep in the community," Hodgson said.

The office still comprises seven employees and is split into three different areas: the department of print translations, the development office for major gifts and the Research Center for Scripture and Media.

Right now, Johns said, "We're trying to provide the groundwork for the society to decide whether to do more work in English translation."

The CEV translation written in Springfield was intended to be read aloud, while other Bibles are more oriented to silent study. The disadvantage of the CEV, however, is that its simple language is not always appropriate for a church setting.

Johns is looking to write a translation that combines simplicity and usefulness.

One project that Johns is excited about is the translation of the Bible into Native American languages.

Johns said the organization may soon be working with the Summer Institute of Linguistics in translating a Bible for the Choctaw tribe in Mississippi.

"We're working with the SIL in trying to come alongside of them in projects they have under way, but need some assistance," Johns said.

Johns said the project would not bring in much money, but that carried little weight in the decision to do it.

"It's a gift that we can give to a small group of people that really need the Scriptures in their own language," Johns said. "When you get to things of the Spirit, which can be difficult to comprehend, you need to hear them in your own language."

The Research Center for Scripture and Media continues the organization's original mission, but its methods have expanded with new technology.

Center manager Hodgson said, "We're trying to use the digital media as a studio and testing facility." Those media include five Web sites, and musical recordings by Branson artists that take Scriptures from the CEV translation and put them to music of different styles. The society also produces movies of Bible stories.

"The Bible society is not giving up its print translation," Hodgson said. "But we know that a lot of young people are getting their spiritual education from music and television."

To remind the group of its original mission, the office includes artifacts from the organization's early days to the present. The entrance of the office features a Gutenberg printing press on one end, and the computer system on the other end.

With the work the group is doing in Springfield, funds are a necessity. That's where Rob Smith's gift department comes in.

Smith, who manages the department, is responsible for contacting donors and thanking them.

He also supports gift annuity giving, which allows donors to earn a lifetime income of a percentage of their donations.

The format of annuity giving was created in the ABS in 1843.

"It's one of the simplest forms of giving that most people don't know about," Smith said.

ABS assists nearly 150 denominations, but is not affiliated with a specific church.

"Our mission statement says everything we do is without doctrinal note or covenant," Hodgson said. "That's what has enabled us to progress over the past 183 years."

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