A snug, private hotel room is a welcome sight for traveling salesmen after a long day. But imagine arriving at your hotel only to find it so full rooms had to be shared. That happened on September 14, 1898, at the Central Hotel of Boscobel, Wisconsin. John Nicholson arrived at 9 p.m. to find every room taken. The clerk suggested he share room 19 with a stranger, Samuel Hill.

Before crawling into bed, Nicholson opened his Bible. At age 19 he had promised his dying mother he would read the Bible every night. Hill, asleep in the next bed, awoke. “Mr. Hill,” said Nicholson, “you will pardon me if I keep the light on just a little longer; I make it a practice to read from the Word of God and have a little chat with him before I retire.”

“Read it aloud,” said Hill, jumping up. “I’m a Christian, too.” Nicholson read John 15 and the two knelt for prayer. They stayed up until 2 a.m. discussing the needs of traveling Christians.

Nicholson and Hill bumped into each other again in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. They soon announced plans for an association of Christian salesmen, setting the first meeting for July 1, 1899. Only three showed up—Nicholson, Hill, and William Knights. The men nonetheless launched their organization to mobilize Christian travelers for encouragement, evangelism, and service. They decided to call themselves after the Old Testament character Gideon who was “willing to do whatever God asked.”

Since all the early Gideons were traveling men, the question arose as to how they could be witnesses in the hotels where they spent so much time. Someone suggested the Gideons encourage every hotel they patronize to furnish a Bible for its patrons. At a 1907 Chicago meeting, someone went so far as to suggest Gideons place Bibles in all the rooms of the hotels. The idea was adopted, the first distribution of Bibles occurring at the Superior Hotel in Iron Mountain, Montana, in 1908. Since then over 750 million copies of Scripture have been distributed in over 170 nations.

Gideon said, “When we get to the enemy camp, spread out and surround it. Then wait for me to blow a signal on my trumpet. As soon as you hear it, blow your trumpets and shout, ‘Fight for the Lord! Fight for Gideon!’ ” (Judges 7:17-18)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 28.

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