Postal Bible School
Stephen Gillham, Bournemouth, England
It is amazing how a work of God which starts in a very small way can grow and increase beyond the wildest dreams of those involved. The grain of mustard seed - smaller than all the seeds on earth - becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, see Mark 4. 31-32.
The work of the Postal Sunday School began in 1958 with one student in Ballydehob, Ireland. Bert and Wendy Gray had a vision to reach the children scattered throughout southern Ireland and, in view of the distances involved, it was decided that a Postal Sunday School was one of the best ways of bringing the gospel to them. Slowly, lessons were written and then printed and distributed. Others in the UK saw the possibility of using these lessons in their areas and so a number of Postal Bible School Centres commenced in different parts of England.
A system was soon established whereby each child was sent a set of four lessons for each month and when they have completed these lessons they are returned to the Centre and a team of markers, or teachers, is responsible for marking the lessons. Correct answers are awarded points so that, every so often, prizes are distributed and, in certain areas, prizegivings are held and an endeavour is made to bring all the children and their parents together for the special event. Hundreds of faithful Christians, month by month, spend time marking lessons and adding suitable comments for their students.
Four levels of lessons were written to allow for specific age groups, 4-6’s, 7- 9’s, 10-12’s, 13-15’s, and the work slowly grew. Today, there are fourteen main Postal Bible School Centres in the UK and Ireland and approximately 8,000 lessons are distributed each month.
Around twenty-five years ago it was realized that the lessons which were currently being used had a number of shortcomings and needed to be completely revised. A team was formed to edit and re-write the lessons. This project is on-going. Lessons have been written for a threeyear syllabus for each grade and the designs from the late 1980’s have been revised twice so that the lessons now are in a modern, full-colour format giving students today the opportunity of studying God’s word in an attractive and interesting way.
Bert and Wendy Gray handed over the running of the Postal Bible School in Southern Ireland to Noel and Liza McMeekin in 1992, but they have continued to be very involved in the publishing of the lessons and in the overseas work.
Our concern is that these lessons should be more widely used, especially in the UK. We are all conscious that we live in a country where less than 5% of our children attend any place of worship on a Sunday, so there is a mission field on our doorsteps. We need committed leaders who, in their homes and churches, with their families, and in any other way possible, can introduce children to PBS lessons and encourage them to study God’s word.
A large number of people have been blessed and helped through studying the Postal Bible School lessons. A parent writes, ‘Thank you for all the marking you have done for our daughter’s Bible Time Lessons. She professed faith in the Lord Jesus when she was eleven years old and is going on well with the Lord, being a blessing to us, in the family and at the church. Her brothers and sister aged 10, 8, and 4 would also like to commence doing the lessons’. A missionary mother writes, ‘Thank you for the input into my daughter’s spiritual life; it is a big help since most of the meetings and Sunday School are in the local language which at present she does not understand’.
A Charitable Trust (Bible Educational Services) has been set up to be responsible for the publishing of the lessons and the overseeing of the work as a whole, but each Postal Bible School Centre carries its own financial and administration responsibilities.
Over the years, Bert and Wendy Gray have made a large number of trips overseas and there has been a growing interest in the lessons being translated into other languages and used in other situations. The first major step forward was when the Primary and Junior lessons were translated into Korean and they are now widely used amongst Korean Christian families.
Peter Smith left the Editorial Committee in 1999 and moved to serve the Lord in Canada. He commenced a Postal Bible School work there which has grown rapidly to over 1,300 regular students.
However, the main thrust has come in Eastern Europe, particularly after the end of the Cold War, and the work has been established in Romania, Hungary, Russia and the Ukraine, with other developments in Poland, the Czech Republic and Armenia. Teams of translators have worked very hard to produce the lessons in their own language within the standard BES formats. Support and encouragement have been given to establish Postal Bible School Centres in these countries. In the last two years there have been many enquiries about the possibility of either using these lessons in Englishspeaking countries or translating them into other languages from virtually every continent of the world. God’s timing is always right, and as the work has grown He has called Sam and Louise Balmer (from Northern Ireland) to become the International Secretaries and they are making a major contribution in the overseas work. To date, we would make a conservative estimate that at least 32,000 children (and some adults) around the world are regularly doing PBS lessons.
No one could possibly have imagined that the work which commenced in such a small way in an obscure part of Ireland could have developed into such a massive outreach in producing Bible Study lessons for children and adults world-wide. Neither can one really begin to estimate the impact that the lessons have had in children’s and adult’s lives. We give God the glory and acknowledge His hand upon this work recognizing that the potential is even greater as technology gives the opportunity for students in many parts o f the world, with many different languages, to download lessons from the internet. The new website www.besweb.org will have lessons in many languages and it is planned to set up a contact team to deal with lessons in whatever language students may choose to return them to us.
Prayer would be valued in these busy days that the Lord will raise up others to share in this ministry and that the work will go forward unhindered, and, as a result, many more children and adults will study the scriptures which, as with Timothy, will be able to make them wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
For further information in connection with the Postal Bible School and Bible Educational Services you may contact: Stephen Gillham, 01202 873500; Bert Gray, 029 2053 1445; or Sam Balmer, 0286 6327 801.
A book has been recently published charting the history and development of the Postal Bible School and it is available from John Ritchie Ltd. Authored by Noel Davidson it is titled Love Letters around the World. There is a review of it in the Book Review section of this magazine.