Mandy Helton Jones had planned to spend the next couple of months traveling to Asia and Australia with her new husband, Jon. But when she spotted a blog looking for couples to carry a handwritten Bible across America, their travel plans changed in a hurry.

"We thought it just sounded like such an amazing opportunity," said Jones, a 23-year-old Christian youth camp river guide from northern California. "I think it's going to be a spiritual experience for the people who participate in it."

The experience started Tuesday (Sept. 29) as the first of 31,173 Americans each wrote a verse in America's NIV, a handwritten Bible to be produced by Zondervan publishers.

The road-worthy Bible will be driven in a 42-foot RV by the Joneses and a Florida couple, Brooke and Tim Pancitz, to 90 cities in 44 states. At each stop, they will set up a tent and invite locals to print one verse from Zondervan's New International Version (NIV).

The cross-country tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of the NIV, the top-selling English-language Bible with more than 300 million copies in print.

Zondervan President Moe Girkins wrote the first verse, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth," at company headquarters here on Tuesday.

The Bible Across America tour will cover more than 15,000 miles in five months, stopping at churches, stores, a NASCAR race and the U.S. Capitol along the way.

Zondervan hopes it will attract families and farmers, teachers and preachers, Billy Graham, and President Bush by the time it winds up in San Diego on Feb. 12.

Two original copies will be produced, one to be offered to the Smithsonian Institution and the second auctioned to benefit the International Bible Society, which holds the copyright to the NIV. Zondervan will publish America's NIV with an index of contributors.

The experience of writing — and possibly making mistakes — should humanize the Scriptures for people who may vaguely imagine the Bible "descended from heaven," said Jeffery Weima, a New Testament scholar with Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"The original manuscript did have to be copied, exactly the way this is doing here," he said.

Charles Honey writes for the Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where a version of this article first appeared.

Related Elsewhere: offers information and updates on the tour.

USA Today also covered the tour this week.