The recent political and social changes in the Soviet Union have come to the small, sleepy Eastern Shore town of Cambridge in the form of an economic blessing.
Western Publishing Co. picked up one of the largest contracts in its 30-year history early this year when it was asked to print 2 million copies of the New Testament for distribution in the Soviet Union.
By now these copies have made their way to residents in Moscow, Minsk and St. Petersburg, who have more freedom these days to read the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and more orders could come in the future. The $650,000 contract came from the International Bible Society, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based religious organization that is involved in the translation, publishing and distribution of Bibles throughout the world.
"This is just a small handful," Judy Billings, a spokeswoman for the society, said of the 4 million copies of the 5-by-7 1/2 -inch paperback copies of the New Testament it has purchased for free distribution in the Soviet Union. There will be orders for millions more copies "as we do all we can do to spread God's word in that area of the world," she said.
There is a great demand for Bibles throughout the Soviet Union, she adds, and Western Publishing "has a strong possibility" of picking up more of this work.
"This is a new day for the Gospel in the Soviet Union," Ms. Billings said. "The Soviet government is giving its people a lot more religious freedom."
Allan Shepard, manager of Western Publishing's Cambridge plant, said that the company beat out competitors in England, Australia and China for the Bible contract.
Western Publishing, which has about 250 employees and prints a range of materials from children's books to government publications, was hoping to to grab all of the planned 1991 production run of 4 million copies. But a printing plant in Minsk told the International Bible Society that it could do the work cheaper and was awarded contracts for the last 2 million copies.