The carriage stopped in front of the Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin, and discharged its lone passenger. Very few people strolled about the darkened streets that evening in mid September. The Central Hotel, however, was ablaze with lights.
“Thank you, driver,” Mr. John H. Nicholson said with a weary smile, “and God bless you.”
He watched as the driver tipped his hat, then whisked the buggy whip over the horse’s flanks and moved on. Sighing, Nicholson took one suitcase in each hand and ascended the steps to the hotel door. He anticipated a quiet evening of writing down orders for the aluminum ware he had sold that day.
Maneuvering his suitcases through the door, he inwardly groaned. The hotel lobby was crowded with men in small boisterous groups.
The manager greeted him as he approached the registration desk.
“Ah, Mr. Nicholson! So good to see you again!”
Nicholson smiled. “I’ve had a very long day, James. Would you happen to have a spare bed for a tired traveling salesman?”
The manager frowned with genuine concern. “We have a lumbermen’s convention in town and all the rooms have been taken. Let me see if I can find something for you.”
He began to scan the hotel registry.
“Lord, You brought me to this place tonight,” Nicholson prayed silently. “Please show me what I am to do.”
James tapped the book with his finger. “Mr. Nicholson, I think I may have a solution if you would be so kind to wait here for a few minutes.”
He signaled a bellboy. “Give Mr. Nicholson whatever refreshment he would like.”
He ascended the staircase to the rooms upstairs. When he returned several minutes later, he was smiling.
“If you wouldn’t mind sharing a room, I think we can arrange something.”
The salesman agreed and then followed James and the bellboy with his suitcases up to Room 19. A bespectacled man about Nicholson’s age answered the knock at the door.
“Mr. Hill, this is the man I told you about,” the manager began. “Mr. Nicholson here is a traveling salesman, too.”
The two men sized each other up. With a handshake they agreed to share the double room.
After more fully introducing themselves to each other, the two men spent some hours attending to their sales orders. Laughter, curses, and raucous singing mingled with the clinking of bottles and glasses and the tinny music of the mechanical organ drifted up to their room.
Readying themselves for bed, Mr. Hill was about to turn down the light when Nicholson stopped him.
“I wonder if you could leave that light on a little longer. You see, for almost thirty years I have kept a promise I made to my dying mother. If you wouldn’t mind, I want to read God’s Word and talk to Him before retiring.”
“Of course I don’t object,” responded Mr. Hill. “I’m a Christian, too. Would you mind if we read the Bible and prayed together?”
To the background sounds of the noisy convention the two men shared their faith and prayers.
“Sam, I believe the Lord brought us together tonight for a special purpose,” Nicholson mused before turning out the light. “This is just a thought to pray about, but what if the traveling Christian men were to be able to identify each other wherever they find themselves and have the type of fellowship we enjoyed tonight?”
The two agreed to pray individually about this idea. No definite plans were made that night, or the next morning when Mr. Hill and Mr. Nicholson went their separate ways. From this small beginning, though, seeds were planted which would germinate into the Gideons men’s association the following year.
Today, members of the Gideons number one quarter of a million members in 180 countries and are responsible for placing and distributing about 120 Bibles every minute worldwide. The Bibles are sometimes worn out, lost, or taken from the rooms, but are cheerfully replaced. According to a 1997 Fodor’s survey, 23% of American travelers read the Gideons Bibles placed in their motel rooms.
The hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin, is now on the National Historical Register and a plaque marks room 19 as the birthplace of Gideons International.
The Lord did, indeed, have a purpose for introducing two salesmen, travel-weary and needy for Christian fellowship, to each other.
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