The Canadian Bible Society began distributing Scriptures to new immigrants in the early 1900’s when representatives of the Society were present at Pier 21 in Halifax, greeting immigrants arriving on ships from the old countries. By the end of the fifties, the presentations were happening in more organized ceremonies in citizenship courts across the country. While a Bible had been on hand in other legal courtrooms to swear in witnesses before testifying for instance, many new immigrants welcomed the idea of a keepsake Bible of their own that they could keep as a souvenir after the citizenship ceremony. CBS responded to the unique opportunity to connect new Canadians with God’s Word, eventually even designing a specific Bible for the program and distributing almost 25,000 copies in the last year the program was offered.
In 2004, however, the government put a stop to this practice. In an editorial, Lloyd Mackey, a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa, noted that the ban apparently came as a result of “complaints that the Citizenship Court appeared to be plumping too closely in favour of religious belief.” Individuals being received as immigrants new citizens remained free to bring their own copy of their preferred holy book, but groups making them available were no longer welcome in the process.
Disappointed by the lost opportunity, some of CBS’ field district staff developed an alternate plan that would eventually connect new immigrants with the Bible earlier soon after their arrival. Many churches that serve immigrant communities had begun offering English As a second Second language Language (ESL) courses, often using Bible texts and stories to teach vocabulary, grammar and reading skills. This added an additional incentive to for immigrants anxious to understand and adapt to their new homeland where the Bible and Christianity are very much a part of the social fabric.
From the first few local staff members who offered discounted Bibles to local church-based ESL groups, the new initiative eventually developed into a full-fledged national program at CBS. A team of ESL teachers worked collaboratively with the organization to develop a Bible based on the easily readable Contemporary English Version and that includes a basic dictionary and a number of other helps. This resource is now known as the Word of Welcome Bible.
In 2010, the government relaxed its ban on distributing Bibles in citizenship courts. Today, the Word of Welcome Bible is not only present in ESL classes but also in citizenship ceremonies along with bilingual New Testament and Psalms.