Our Story

The International Bible Reading Association (IBRA) was founded under the inspiration of Charles Waters in 1882.

Charles Walters

Charles Waters (1839–1910)

Bank manager and Sunday School teacher -– not a scholar, preacher, or public speaker – who had a gift for organisation and a vision for making the Bible accessible to all. Passionate about young people, Waters saw first-hand how education and literacy benefited all in British society, especially the poorest. Inspired by his minister, the influential Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, Waters threw himself into working with Spurgeon and the National Sunday School Union. Following the centenary of the founding of the first Sunday Schools in Britain in 1780, Waters encouraged the Sunday School Union to strengthen and expand Sunday School teaching.


  • IBRA established in 1882 by the Sunday School Union. The Union wrote to all members in Britain and overseas, inviting them to join the newly formed IBRA. Lists of daily Bible readings were circulated, supported by brief commentary notes. IBRA was born.

  • The movement spread to Australia. No Bible reading association had yet been conceived on this scale, and popular Bible reading notes were not yet commonplace. Readership grew rapidly in all walks of life in Britain and soon spread to the continent, where the Sunday School Union was helping found Sunday schools.

  • Nearly 30,000 members.

  • Materials produced for New Zealand, Canada, USA, Germany, Sweden, and the first published materials in a foreign language, French.

  • 158,000 members.

  • Members support a Sunday School mission to India, beginning the IBRA International Fund. In 1890 members of the IBRA gave a halfpenny each to pay the salary of the first western Sunday School worker in India: Dr JL Phillips, the so-called ‘missionary to the children of India’. Sunday Schools reportedly grew to nearly half a million in India by 1907.

  • 620,000 members.

  • Longer daily Bible notes are published, which become the long-running Words for Today.

  • One million members: by 1910 IBRA membership had exceeded a million. People all over the world, alone or in groups, felt comforted and encouraged by the idea of joining other Christians throughout the world in reading the same Bible passages. Sunday School teachers found the materials invaluable in preparing their lessons. Branches, or reading groups, were formed in factories and mines, churches and prisons, homes, and even in the trenches of the First World War.

  • In 1925, the IBRA asked its members to help fund Sunday School organisers in Latvia, Poland, and elsewhere. IBRA’s International Fund, first set up for work in India, is still supported by the generosity of members and readers, and still provides Bible reading materials in local languages around the world today (see The IBRA Today page).

  • Jubilee is celebrated in the Royal Albert Hall, London, under the slogan ‘A Living Book for the Living Age’.

  • During the Second World War, translators risked their lives to bring IBRA notes to readers, encoding them to avoid censorship and discovery. In Czechoslovakia, a local pastor published the notes in a calendar form, to get around a ban on religious literature. In occupied Shanghai, a Chinese IBRA team sold their own clothes and furniture to keep publishing during difficult times. IBRA in China ended in 1951 with a new Chinese government in power. Paper rationing in the postwar years curtailed IBRA publishing in Britain for a time. After the war, missionaries and local Christians in West and Central Africa and India spread the notes from home to home and mission to mission. Publishing in local languages grew rapidly, spurred on by co-operation from British denominational missionary organisations and local leadership. IBRA grew in the South Pacific, West and Central Africa, and in India. Notes were prepared in Zulu, Tswana, and Xhosa (South Africa), Shona (Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, and Mozambique), Sotho (Lesotho and South Africa), as well as Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Malayalam, Bengali, and Hindi (India), and Portuguese. Inmates of Cuddalore prison, Tamil Nadu, formed groups to read IBRA notes, published by the India Sunday School Union.

  • English language notes are reorganised to reflect current biblical scholarship and a ‘broad, middle path’ of interpretation.

  • Materials are launched for very young children. IBRA is approached by the Methodist Missionary Society about publishing materials for West Africa.

  • Light for our Path produced for first time, written by men and women with missionary experience.

  • 50,000 copies of children’s book Treasure Trove and other materials published in Yoruba in western Nigeria, backed by the Anglican and Methodist School authorities.

  • Notes are published for the first time in Ghana in Ga, Fante, and Twi as well as Lwo (Uganda) and Melanesian Pidgin (Solomon Islands).

  • Roman Catholic and Orthodox writers are welcomed.

  • IBRA start to plan Fresh from the Word with the appointment of Editor, Nathan Eddy.

  • Light for our Path and Words for Today combine to create Fresh From The Word.

  • Over 130 years later, this rich history lives on, touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Our aim is still to enable Christians from different parts of the world to grow in knowledge and appreciation of each other’s experience of God through our international contributors and writers. IBRA materials are translated into 13 languages and distributed to 16 countries, benefiting nearly 1 million people every year.

The original mission continues today and on in to the future!

Source: Aubrey Smith, Opening the Book: The Story of the International Bible Reading Association. London: IBRA, 1961.