— Film Transcription —
Mart Green: In 1998 I had this impression of the head and the heart. Something I felt like the Lord put on me that was going to happen in the future. It was going to be a project so big that no ministry could do it by themself.
Bobby Gruenewald: The question that I was asking was, "Could we be at a moment in history where if we could just leverage the technology that we have available today that it could transform how this generation engages with the Bible?"
An Anointed Businessman
Mart: The generosity story for me began with my grandmother, Marie Green, my father’s mother. Couple of the stories that just really impacted me as a young person growing up was that she would actually pay tithes even on the gifts that she received. And so if somebody gave her a coat, or a gift of food or whatever, she would figure out how much it was worth and pay tithes on that.
Grandma and Grandpa were both preachers. They wanted six preachers, and they got five. And so I saw my dad struggle with that. Missionary was the very highest thing you could be. And then a pastor. And then a business guy came way, way down here. And so he kind of felt second-class in his family for the longest time. And then he was at a church meeting, and he really felt God moved upon him to give a certain gift amount. And it was $30,000. And he knew he didn’t come up with the amount because he didn’t have $30,000. And so he went forward to the guy and says, “Look I feel like the Lord has told me. So I’m going to send you four checks. $7,500…September, October, November, December. Don’t cash ‘em till I call you! But I tell you what, if I do have it, it’s yours. And so this is my way at making a faith gift.”
And that was out of town. And on a plane flying back God really convicted by dad, “You’re not second class. I made you as a businessman. You’re anointed for what you do. And giving is one of your gifts.” And so my dad has never looked backed. Has never felt second-class. He’ll tell you he is an anointed merchant.
And then in 1997 we decided to come together as a family. And I always like to get things together to real simple things, real simple terms. And so what is the one word our family is going to be known for fifty years from now. I challenged myself. What would it be fifty years from now that people say, “Oh ya! The Greens were known for…” And I put it in a frame, because we’re framers and we’ve been gluing frames since I was nine years old. And in the biggest frame I had the word “Bible.” And as I look back even to the first gifts we’ve gave I’ve always felt like God’s Word was one of two things that’s going to last forever. God’s word lasts forever and the souls of men last forever. What greater thing to give to than making sure God’s Word is in people’s hearts? And so we’ve done that.
Tithing Our Profits
When I was at school my dad called me when I was nineteen to talk about Christian retail. And boy, that sounded exciting. Now I love learning. I’ve been a lifelong leaner and I did well in school and I loved that. But when he called I really thought about that and I just felt like, “Wow what a chance. What an opportunity.” My dad was going to help me sign on the dotted line. He didn’t have enough money. He only had about five stores at that time. He was still trying to make a go at it at Hobby Lobby. And so…but at nineteen you don’t think through all of those things. I didn’t have a business plan or anything. It was just I called my dad and said, “Dad what do you think about that Christian retail? You’re really going to do it someday?” And he says, “Well, you wanna do it? If you come home I’ll help you get a loan.” And so I prayed about that. And I thought I guess I go back home and make some money again and if I don’t do well I’ll have some money to go back to school.
So I quit school, came home, and started Mardel in 1981 and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 34 years of my life. And we did do very well the first year and we were able to make a little bit of money. And so I really want to say,” Where does Mardel tithe its profits?” And so you know I thought, “We sell Bibles. Wouldn’t it be neat to help people get their Bibles?”
And I just found out about Wycliffe Bible translators. Had no idea there were 6,000 languages on planet earth. And that 4,000 of them don’t have adequate scripture. And all of this. And so I said, “What if we help pay for the printing of those Bibles that get translated.” It takes a long time to translate a Bible. So it would be hard for my employees to get excited about a ten, twenty year process. And so we pay for first-edition print Bibles. So that was a thrill for us at Mardel, something that all of our employees are proud of, to say, wow if we do better this year, we are going to help somebody get God’s word in their heart language.
Guatemala & Gaspar
After doing that for a couple years Wycliffe Bible translators, Dave Witmer, one of the gentlemen that worked there said, “Mart you’ve got to come to one of these dedications. You’ve just got to come. You’re paying for the printing. Why don’t you just come to one?” And I said, “Yeah, that sounds great. I don’t know what a dedication looks like or feels like. So yeah. Let’s go!”
So on February the 7th I was going down to Guatemala, and on that flight they actually gave me a sheet of paper. And it listed Eastern Jaceltec people. There’s 30,000 people that speak Eastern Jaceltec. 8,000 of those can read. 1,000 of those are believers. And 400 believers can read. Well I’m a business guy. So there’s three letters that through my head. And that’s R.O.I., return on investment! What kind of return on investment is this!? And then I looked and I realized the translators that happened to be from my home town, right here in Oklahoma City, were there for 40 years. They went down in 1958. This is 1998. I’m born in ’61. This couple has been down there my entire life translating God’s Word for 30,000 people. Now is that a good return on investment? And I just paid for all those Bibles and only 400 of them can read it. So that’s the spirit I was in when I went to this dedication. Okay?
So I get to the dedication, and it was a big ceremony through town and they all had a parade. There was four of the Eastern Jaceltec people that helped translate the Bible over… some of them for 40 years. Some of them came along 20 years ago. One of those who had been there the entire 40 years was Gaspar. And when Gaspar went forward to get his Bible, because they gave it to him in this ceremony, he did something I’d never seen before. He openly wept. And I could tell in the culture that people didn’t cry. And he’s getting his handkerchief out. He’s wiping his eyes clear. And I’m stunned by this moment watching a man weep over his Bible. Because I have 1200 Bibles in the bookstores that we have. And I’ve helped people find the right one. And they’ve never wept over it.
At that same moment I felt like the Holy Spirit prompted me. “Now Mart, why don’t you go tell Gaspar he’s not a good return on investment.” You know I was embarrassed by the way I felt because I realized that everybody should have God’s word in their heart language.
But it was at two o’clock that night, having just seen Gaspar weep over his Bible, gone through all that emotion, there were cats running on the tin roof, and so I couldn’t sleep. Four drunks were singing out the window. So I said, “You know what we are not sleeping tonight.” So it was two o’clock in the morning, and I finally got up with my flashlight. I’m reading a book by Kay Arthur and it made a very simple statement. “Being in God’s Word and knowing it for yourself is the key.” “Being in God’s Word and knowing it for yourself is the key.”
I’m a fifth generation Christian on my mom’s, third on my dad’s side. Don’t miss church when the doors open. I owned maybe fifteen or twenty Christian bookstores at that time. I just paid for that Bible that Gaspar wept over. I have over forty Bibles in my home. And yet I don’t read God’s word on any consistent basis.
And so I got convicted by the Lord and I think the Lord had three letters on his mind. “What kind of R.O.I. are you? What kind of return on investment is Mart Green?” Cause I realized I had every advantage in the world and yet I didn’t read God’s Word on any kind of a consistent basis. So February the eighth at two o’clock in the morning I made a vow to the Lord: I’m going to get up first thing and read God’s Word for the rest of my life.
An Impression From God
In 1998 I had this impression of the head and the heart. Something I felt like the Lord put on me that was going to happen in the future. That doesn’t happen to me very often. But I just felt like this is going to happen someday. It was going to be a project so big that no ministry partner could do it by themselves. They would have to come together with other ministries. It would be so big no resource partner could do by themselves. They would have to come together. It would be so big both of those would have to come together and strategize if they were going to in fact accomplish this huge goal. I had no idea what it would be, but I just put it on my heart, wrote it in my journals, and just said, “Lord, we’ll just see what happens.”
It was in 2007 that I had a friend of mine call from Florida, and says “You need to meet a guy right there in Oklahoma City. This guys name was Bobby Gruenewald. He was at a church called Life Church, which was a newer church in our town, but was growing so I had heard of it.
I meet Bobby and man, I fell in love in with Bobby the first time I met him. Just one of those people that you meet the first time and your hearts resonate. And what I saw in Bobby was a generous person, with humility, who had integrity. And that’s somebody I can partner with.
Could We Transform A Generation?
Bobby: So it was October of 2006 and I’m in a long TSA security line at the O’Hare Airport in Chicago. The question that I was asking was, “Could we be at a moment in history where if we could just leverage the technology that we have available today that it could transform how this generation engages with the Bible?” So we built the website and launched it in September of 2007.
Mart: And the idea was you would take a poem, or you would read a verse, and you would tie it to Scripture so people could like it. Or they could have video, audio, all kinds of different things tagged to a verse. And you could do it on a computer.
Bobby: The results of it were really not what we had hoped for. Some people used it. We had some traffic. We had some people that came to it, some people that liked it. But really nothing that seemed like it was going to transform how a generation engages with Scripture. And right at that time as we were beginning to shut this down, Apple announced that they were making it possible to develop an App for the iPhone. And we thought, “What if we could build a Bible App that would be among the very first group of Apps that were available in the App Store?” Perhaps people that weren’t even interested in reading the Bible might see it and think, “Oh that’s a free App and maybe I’ll download it and put it on my phone. And maybe I’ll read it.”
Mart: Of course I have a BlackBerry at that time, right? And so I said, “Bobby, you can’t get people to read the Bible on the big screen. How are you going to get them to read it on three lines?” Cause my vision was a BlackBerry where you only get about three lines of the Bible. But I said, “We already got the rights. So whatever!” He wanted to do it. He’s an innovative guy. And so sure.
Among The First 200 Apps
Bobby: Apple launched the App Store on a Thursday, and that Thursday our app was among the first 200 apps that were available on the App Store.
Mart: I think we had talked about, what if they had downloaded about 60,000 Bibles that first six months. That was July-December. That’s a lot of Bibles to be downloaded. So sure enough they got it done. Phone comes out on Friday. Monday Bobby calls me. “Mart, you ain’t gonna believe this. We downloaded 83,000 Bibles this weekend!”
Bobby: We were blown away. We had absolutely no idea that this was possible.
Mart: I thought, “Oh my goodness!”
Bobby: And even more importantly than the number of people that installed it between Thursday and Sunday was the fact that we could see that people were using it. And they were opening it. And it was something that was connecting. We were using it on our iPhones. And it became apparent this it was actually working. That God was doing something amazing. And it was actually changing how people are engaging with the Bible.
We believe that this generation has the potential to become the most Bible-engaged generation in history. Something that was unthinkable just seven, eight, nine years ago! We think we will be able to see that happen in our lifetime.
And so what was a part-time project on Friday became a full-time project for that 19 year-old on Monday when he came into work because we had all sorts of ideas on how to improve the app. We had more languages and versions. Lots of things that we wanted to be able to accomplish because we could clearly see that God was up to something.
A Digital Bible Library
Mart: And so when I hung up the phone I thought, “Oh no! He’s going to want Portuguese, he’s going to want Spanish, he’s going to want Chinese! He’s going to want all these languages of the world!” And we had to get the rights for English and it took us a year! So underneath my hat I just knew that was coming so I started thinking, “Man, how are we going to do this? How is this going to work?”
Bobby: When we started YouVersion or were planning to build it we were completely ignorant. So ignorant that I had no idea that the Bible was actually owned by people. Something that today is somewhat obvious. There’s people that do these translations and own the rights to them. But we ran quickly into a brick wall of saying that we can’t actually launch this without getting the rights from the publishers that own the rights to these different translations of the Bible.
Mart: So I started thinking and trying to figure out a way how to help Bobby. And so Bobby got on airplanes and he flew around the world trying to get rights and that was a struggle. And so finally I said, “Bobby, let me help you.” I will try and see if we can go together. I have a relationship. I’ll see if we can get all these guys in a room and let’s try to build a Digital Bible Library. I realized that what God had put on my heart in 1998 was to put together a Digital Bible Library that could centralize, digitize, and standardized text, which is what Bobby needed. But I had one more word I needed to put in this library. And that was to finalize. If we are going to build a library to hold all 6,000 languages it sure seems like we ought to get them in there.
We are going to eradicate Bible poverty. Which means we are going to finalize and make sure that every heart language is finished so that this Digital Bible Library that we built is not empty or have a bunch of empty shelves. Every shelf will be full with every language on planet earth. I have hope that all 7 billion people will all have access to God’s Word in my lifetime.
A True Gospel Patron
Bobby: Mart has been a true partner in this work. A significant partner. I mean, he’s a Gospel Patron.
What’s one of the most incredible things about Mart is not just what he has given and his family has given financially to be a partner, and not even just the time sometimes that he’s invested which is really incredible. I mean he would go anywhere and do anything to sort of help support it.
But there’s many times when, you know when you are discouraged, or when you are not sure how you’re going to move forward that Mart just has this ability to let you know that he believes in you. Sometimes it’s that direct. He’ll send a text message, and he’ll say something maybe a suggestion or idea, but at the end of it, he would say, “I believe in you.” And that simple phrase, as a leader, and someone that feels the weight of what we carry, sometimes just knowing that you have someone that supports you in that way, that is behind you in that way, that believes in you, that...that’s incredible!
Mart: What’s been really fun for me is to be able to be a Gospel Patron. You know I have been a donor before and that’s money. But to be a Gospel Patron to me says, “I’m going to give you my resource.” Which is not just money. I have time. I have talent. I have trust. Sometimes I will use my trust to help you.
But I think that’s what a Gospel Patron is, kind of holistically, it’s all those kind of things. I can’t do that with all the ministries we are involved with, but there’s a few ministries that I am really passionate about that I say, “You know what I’m in for more than just the money and the donations. I’m going to be this patron with you. I’m going to come alongside you. I’m going to fight battles with you. We will go to hell together and back, but we are going to do it. I’m going to lock arms with you and we are going to do it.” And that’s what a Gospel Patron is to me.