Staff Spotlight: Rhoda Gathoga

Meet American Bible Society’s Regional Manager for First Bible Ministry in Africa

This is part of a series of monthly staff spotlights at American Bible Society. We hope you enjoy getting to know our staff members, who are using their gifts to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.

What is your role at American Bible Society?

I am currently a regional manager on the First Bible team, serving mainly Africa. I’ve been at American Bible Society since 2007, so I’m just coming up on 14 years!

What did you do before coming to American Bible Society?

I’ve been fortunate to work in Christian ministry for most of my career. I’m originally from Kenya, but I came to the U.S. and completed my master’s degree here. Before American Bible Society, I worked with a Christian foundation that funded faith-based NGOs in Africa and elsewhere. I also worked with an international NGO that provided medical relief and community health education through churches during the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.

In terms of my career, Scripture, faith, and crisis have been central themes of what I’ve been privileged to do. Faith affects how people deal with crises. Think of how a single house fire here in Philadelphia brings devastation, displacement, and hopelessness to a family. How do you help people when they are facing trauma or loss? In my work, I’ve seen the resiliency of people coming out of difficult circumstances through the power of Scripture. I worked in post-genocide Rwanda and visited Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. I was here in the United States during 9/11 and have worked with the Red Cross in Philadelphia. More recently, I helped implement a project in the COVID-19 scenario in Uganda. Strengthening communities to be all they’re meant to be, even in the face of crisis, is my passion! Most days, I am not just doing a job. I am enjoying moments of seeing people—heroes of faith—do great work. Being at American Bible Society has only continued that experience for me.

What is the mission of the First Bible team?

Our aim is to remove barriers that prevent people from encountering the Word of God. The most basic barrier, of course, is a lack of Bibles. Illiteracy or visual impairment could also be a barrier, which would mean that people need God’s Word in audio or Braille formats. Reading level can be a barrier. For example, someone might only have access to a King James version when they need a Good News version, or a four-year-old could be given a Bible meant for adults instead of a children’s Bible. Another barrier could be the price of the Bible or the logistics of getting Bibles from where they are printed to remote villages in Africa. All these barriers can limit a person in understanding God’s Word and getting to know him on a personal level.

I work with my team to ensure that communities have the tools they need to serve their people well. We work with national Bible societies to support churches with Scripture in the format and at the level their congregations can understand. And we don’t just distribute print Bibles. Right now, the digital space is growing. The challenge with digital formats is that even though people have phones, data is very expensive in Africa. Fortunately, we partner with organizations that are willing to innovate with us and provide tools that work in the digital space but also remain practical and accessible to those who might not have sophisticated technology or data to read Scripture. We’re distributing solar-powered tools like audio Bibles and devices with offline sharing capabilities, which even an elderly person can use.

I see myself as a problem solver, working to remove the barriers that keep people from the Bible. This work is at the core of my heart, and it’s also at the heart of American Bible Society’s mission!

How does the First Bible team promote Scripture engagement?

In the journey to knowing God, having a Bible is only one step. Understanding how to use it and gain from it is another step! Through our partnership with other Bible Societies and churches, we make sure that discipleship always follows receiving a first Bible. Discipleship can take many forms, depending on the context. Whether people receive Braille Bibles or audio Bibles or children’s Bibles, they are always connected to discipleship options. They are welcomed into churches or small groups where they can meet weekly and study God’s Word. We even see Bible studies on WhatsApp, especially during this last year of COVID-19 when people couldn’t physically gather.

Through discipleship, we’re not just distributing Bibles. We’re providing a deeper understanding of God’s Word. People learn how the Bible applies to their lives and how it speaks to them. That’s the impact First Bible is committed to.

What is it like to witness someone receiving God’s Word for the first time?

Every time I go to a Bible distribution event, it’s a unique experience. It’s powerful—I don’t know how else to describe it! It’s a life-changing moment for each person who is receiving the Bible in a language that they can understand. When you multiply the impact of that moment to the many people who are touched through the generosity of our partners, it’s overwhelming!

It’s especially powerful when you meet people face-to-face. I recently met someone whose only access to Scripture was a handful of verses he would scribble in a prayer book during church services. When I asked him if he had ever owned a Bible, he showed me those verses. He was a grown man, and those verses were all he had! They were life-giving to him, but you can imagine what having a Bible does for someone like this man in the long-term.

We may never see the full impact, but for every person who is able to live out their faith today, there is a partner who gave whatever amount to share Christ’s love. Their generosity is extended way beyond the dollar value. I would encourage partners, when you have the opportunity, to experience these moments. You’re always welcome to come with us! We also share video clips of people receiving their Bibles so that others can watch these special moments.

Watch a 103-year-old woman in Kenya sing for joy after receiving a Talking Bible in her heart language of Kikuyu.

Would you share one of your favorite Bible verses with us?

My current favorite verse was shared with me by a little boy in Uganda. I met him in a children’s home this May. He’s only about five years old, and I asked him what his favorite verse was. His answer was Titus 3:15 (NIV): “Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith…” At first, I thought he was joking with me. But then I reflected on the verse and realized that there’s a powerful connection between believers. When you give to American Bible Society, you’re connecting with a real person, like this little boy, who feels the love of Christ through you. It’s love that compels us, and where there is love, there is so much more. There is faith, because these people are believing in God’s Word. The gospel of Christ is not going out in vain. It’s connecting you with new believers who are putting their trust in Christ purely because they’re getting the chance to internalize the Word of God for themselves. And there is unity, because whether we’re praying or giving financially or helping in another way, we are all united in Christ.

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Elisabeth Trefsgar
Elisabeth Trefsgar

Elisabeth Trefsgar is a content specialist for American Bible Society. She has made a home in New Jersey and Sofia, Bulgaria, and is always on the lookout for the next adventure. She is passionate about seeing communities around the world flourish through the power of God's Word and the efforts of the local church. When she isn't writing, you can find her reading good stories, photographing local sights, and spending time with friends.

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