An Interview with… Peter Shields (continued)
Posted by Gary O’Rourke, 06 February 2020
An interview with……… Peter Shields, Independent Contractor with Biblica
Part 2 – Ministry Project
Biblica: So, Peter, in the first part of the interview you told us about a couple of passions you have – for Bible engagement and for refugees – and these have come together in a project you are working on with Biblica. Tell us a bit more about the project?
From these two passions, one for the Bible and one for refugees, Biblica created an opportunity to explore how we could fund and provide Bibles to refugee communities coming into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa.
On the demand side I am working to identify churches and missions, for whom scripture is central to what they are doing – organisations who are working at the coalface with refugees – and looking at ways we can resource them. It is important that they have a simple plan with a clear objective that shows how they are going to use the Bibles.
Then on the supply side I am encouraging churches to get involved to provide funding and support to provide these Bibles in the heart language of the refugee communities, and to be more engaged in supporting the work or the organisations themselves.
It’s a great little project, connecting people and building partnerships – in many ways, the connecting, the networking, the coffee–drinking, is very similar to what I have been doing for many years in my business role.
Biblica: Can you share with us how churches can support the work?
I can give you a few examples.
Before I started with the Biblica role, I got a phone call from our minister in Orangefield who said that the church had a plan to change our pew Bibles. His suggestion was that if they asked the congregation to fund this, they would do so on the basis that for every Bible placed in Orangefield, a Bible in Farsi would be sent to a refugee church Athens. It was put to the church and within 4 weeks they had not only met but exceeded the target. This allowed us to supply Bibles to two churches who were both working in refugee camps.
When you make it easy for churches to act and let them see what the Bibles are going to be used for, invariably congregations are more than generous
Another example is from a church in California who also wanted to supply Farsi Bibles to one of the refugee ministries working in Athens. I was not involved in them coming up with this idea, but as it happened, it was the same ministry that Diane and I work with when we go to Athens. The church gifted $3,500. When you make it easy for churches to act and let them see what the Bibles are going to be used for, invariably congregations are more than generous. This ministry plans to supply 500 gift bags to be distributed at Christmas, containing clothing and food for refugees, and they will include a Bible in Farsi, the heart language of the people. That’s a huge thing – many people for whom it is dangerous for them to have a Bible regard it as a great honour and a privilege to own their own Bible. They view it as a special gift – and it is right that they should do so.
A final example is of a church leader in Denmark who is ministering to many groups of refugees in that country – some of his Bible study groups have been through the New Testament but he has been desperate to receive full Bibles in the Farsi language so that they can study the Old Testament. Biblica have been able to support this work.
Biblica: What have you learnt through this new project?
What I have discovered is that there are many Scripture organisations who are all wanting to work together – that is so encouraging. Politics don’t seem to exist in getting Scripture to people – a variety of organisations all want to get the Bible in the right language to the right location and of course, Biblica is playing its own role in this.
I’ve also learnt that churches and individuals will give and will support this work if we can make it easy for them to do so – it’s important that we can let them see the impact that it has.
We’ve also learnt that there are refugee communities on our doorstep – this has allowed us to get involved in the work of Windsor Presbyterian Church who are ministering to many Iranian migrants and asylum seekers in Belfast.
I’ve also learnt that what we are trying to do might sound simple but there is significant work involved in making it happen. For example, in ensuring that churches are clear about how they are going to use the Bibles, and the logistics involved in getting them transported. Lots of time spent in phone calls and emails. Thankfully, Oli Proctor in Biblica looks after much of the logistical work in achieving this.
Biblica: In terms of beyond Athens, how might you start connecting with other refugee communities?
In Q1/2020, I will be attending the Refugee Highway Partnership conference in Malmo in February. There will be about 250 church and mission workers from around Europe who are all involved in refugee work – so this will be a massive opportunity to network and form new relationships. I know some of them already, but it will be great opportunity to meet them and others – from a Biblica project perspective this gives us access to a whole range of new contacts. Within the next few months, Biblica will have completed a new Farsi language version of the NIV Bible so, the timing of this conference is also significant.
Biblica: How can people be praying for you and the work?
The big thing I’m seeking is more access to churches, that they will see the potential in this work and want to get involved;
Many of the church and ministry leaders who I am connecting with are working in very difficult situations, so pray for safety for them;
Pray that God will use the conference in Malmo to build leaders up;
On a personal level for wisdom in using the skills I have developed over my career (not least in networking and drinking coffee!) as my passions for the Bible and for refugees converge in this project.