There has been an explosion of late in the use of digital Bibles, with hundreds of millions of tablets and smartphones now carrying Bible apps that offer up personal studies, daily readings and a variety of scripture translations.
Consider that the popular YouVersion Bible app has already been downloaded more than 230,000,000 times across the globe — and counting.
But while many people are openly embracing the digital phenomenon, some in the underground church world are still pining for paper copies, according to David Reeves, director of technology advancement at Wycliffe Associates.
Reeves told Mission Network News that his organization — which equips missionaries by assisting with Bible translation — was caught by surprise when they realized that many churches still want paper copies of the biblical texts.
He said that Wycliffe Associates needed to re-think plans surrounding digital offerings after further assessing the reality on the ground in some countries where Christian churches must live in secret or where the Bible is banned.
"They really want to have this," he said of traditional paper Bibles. "They can have it in their hands, it doesn’t require any power, it doesn’t need to be recharged and they can hide it in various locations."
Despite the need and demand, there are certainly a plethora of challenges surrounding printed Bibles, including how to transport copies to locations that are not accommodating — or are outright hostile — toward faith.
And, as Mission Network News noted, another barrier is that some languages do not yet have Bible translations.
To try to bridge that divide, Reeves said that Wycliffe Associates has created a "print-on-demand system" — a secretive and compact technology that allows for the quick and covert printing of Bibles in tough-to-reach places.
It's all accomplished through a tiny printer that has robust capabilities, yet is compact and can be concealed.
"A print-on-demand system just kind of [designed to] blend in and hide," Reeves said of the effort. "Our brothers and sisters are using them to print freshly published scripture in places we otherwise wouldn’t be able to get them to."
The system has reportedly been successful in certain areas of the world, with Reeves telling Mission Network News that 190,000 publications and booklets were printed in the Middle East alone over the past year.
But these efforts don't come without their own associated dangers.
For instance, Reeves said that an undercover print operation was discovered earlier this year in one unnamed Middle Eastern country, and that four Christians working there were killed as a result, illustrating how dire the situation is in some locations.
Wycliffe Associates describes each $15,000 print-on-demand system on the organization's website as "a compact, high-speed, digital printing system that can be hidden in one room of a 'safe house.'"
A flash drive with scripture is then used to quickly print copies of scripture.
Christians aren't the only faithful who routinely come under attack in countries across the globe, with the Pew Research Center recently analyzing 2014 data and finding that religious restrictions and hostilities aren't exactly a rarity.
While worldwide restrictions had a modest decrease between 2013 and 2014, 24 percent of the 198 countries in the study had high or very high restrictions.
When population sizes were taken into account, it meant that "roughly three-quarters of the world’s 7.2 billion people (74 percent) were living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities in 2014, down slightly from 77 percent in 2013," Pew reported.
On the Christian front, Open Doors, an organization that monitors Christian persecution across the globe, found in the group's most recent analysis that Bible-believers face "extreme persecution" in nine countries: North Korea, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.
That said, 41 countries were found to have environments characterized by at least moderate persecution, showcasing a widespread problem.