WM District Coordinator Achieves Literacy
Cameroon | WAD WM | December 4, 2022 | Omobonike Sessou
Eighteen women enrolled in a literacy program successfully receive national primary school certification. Now they read their Bibles, count money, and write reports.
Both Adventist and non-Adventist women who enrolled in a literacy program were taught by a village teacher. Eighteen of the women have passed the final examination to receive the National Primary School certificate.
The district coordinator for women's ministries is one of the women who qualified for certification.
Literacy training began in 2019 when the North Cameroon Conference Women's Ministries department, eager to lift up the women in their community, saw the need for a literacy program. Now, these women can read their Bibles, count money, write reports, and also teach their children at home. Women's Ministries leaders in Cameroon and West-Central Africa Division praise God for the accomplishments of these women.
Photo credit: WM WAD
Contributed by Omobonike Sessou, director of Women's Ministries for West-Central Africa Division (WAD)
Published in Mosaic newsletter, 2023 Q1
WHY LITERACY IS IMPORTANT FOR THE CHURCH
“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’” E. G. White, Ministry of Healing, p. 143.
As we strive to witness for our Lord and to follow His example, we look around to find the needs of the people so that we too may minister, win their confidence, and invite them to follow the Savior. One of the most obvious needs for women in the world is the need for literacy—the ability to read and write. Non-readers comprise the vast majority of the peoples yet to be reached with the Gospel.
The United Nations estimates that in the world today there are about one billion adults who cannot read or write well enough to function or reach their basic goals in life. Many cannot read anything at all. East Asian and South Asian developing countries had 70% of the world’s population of illiterates in 1990. In 48 of 102 developing countries, the illiteracy rate exceeded 40%. UNESCO reports that the United States literacy rate at greater than 95%, but the National Adult Literacy Survey (1993) found that at least 45% of the US population has low or severely limited basic skills. Other democracies have similar problems.
Literacy is important to the church in two principal ways: as nurture of the members and as outreach. It is obvious that unless a person can read with at least a minimal degree of fluency, he or she cannot read the Bible. Or anything else that the church produces. These persons cannot do any type of Bible study that requires reading or writing. They cannot read Ellen White or any other devotional or instructional material. If they are parents, they cannot read the Sabbath School lesson to their children. Church leadership would also be difficult. Many of these illiterates live in areas of the world in which it has been particularly difficult to spread the Christian message.
Those who have studied church planting have discovered that in areas of the world where less than fifty percent of the population is literate, teaching reading, particularly classes based on the Bible, is one of the quickest ways of building up a church. In a survey in the United States, half of those surveyed said that the reason they wanted to learn to read was so that they could read their Bibles and participate in church activities.
For the church, the Word, Jesus Incarnate, is supreme. But unless one knows how to read, accessing the Word is difficult. It is important that Christians be able to study and confirm their faith. Pastor Samson Phiri of Zambia once said, “Dictators love an illiterate electorate; illiterates will believe anything they are told.” We do not want church members who will believe just any new thing they are told; we want them to study verse upon verse, to know and hold onto the truth.
Non-readers are captive, prisoners of their handicap. As we carry out Christ’s work, we too can say:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
—Isaiah 61:1, 2 and Luke 4:18, 19, NIV.
As we discover needs, it is with satisfaction that we can develop plans to meet these needs. As Hector Hammerly, Ph.D., of British Columbia, Canada, has said, “To provide the gift of reading to others is a signal Christian service that empowers them to live more interesting and far more useful lives. Furthermore, the teaching of literacy lends itself quite well to sharing the Gospel in a gradual, tactful way."
In many parts of the world, literacy programs can use the Bible as an important part of the lesson and reading material. Each Women’s Ministries group will need to assess the situation and use the Bible only if it is safe to do so. In some places using the Bible openly and immediately can endanger lives and shut down the literacy program. If there are no such conditions, however, the Bible is excellent to use.
There are other ways in which Bible literacy is important to the church:
- It gives church members a way to minister to others in a non-threatening way. It encourages both the tutor and the student to become daily Bible readers.
- The non-Christian will know the tutor cares about them because of the help they are receiving. They will be curious about why the tutor is so loving and kind; they will be more open to the Gospel.
- It strengthens the existing church if church members learn to read. If the members cannot read they can easily be led into false doctrine. A Bible-reading church is a strong and growing church.
- Literacy programs can build non-political cooperation with governments because almost all governments want their people to be able to read. It can strengthen community life as well when topics such as health, parenting, or sanitation are also addressed.
- It is something that can be done right in the local church. One does not have to go a long ways to find people who need the help of a loving church.
WHY LITERACY IS IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN'S MINISTRIES
Of the one billion adults who cannot read, the majority are women, somewhere around 650,000,000. Since writing began, women have had less access to reading and writing than men. It is still true today in many areas of the world. In some countries the situation is becoming worse, however, rather than better. In fact, the number of illiterate women in the world will continue to grow until sometime in the next two decades when efforts to expand access to primary school can provide an education to most children. These women are a natural group for whom Women’s Ministries can work and witness. When a woman learns to read, her whole family has a better chance of becoming literate. As reading is taught, these women can be introduced to material teaching Christian parenting, health, life style, and philosophy.
Some benefits to women from a literacy program include:
- lower birthrates (smaller families)
- with lower birthrates, the parents are better able to provide Christian education
- the children have improved educational abilities
- decrease in maternal mortality
- later marriages
- overall improvement in family health
- decrease in infant mortality
- a greater sense of personal self-worth
- an ability to read Scripture
- an ability to assume responsibility for personal spiritual choices
- an expanded influence in teaching spiritual values to children
- an ability to become involved in the church’s mission
- a greater possibility of becoming financially stable
- increased employment choices and productivity
- the ability to provide financial support to the church
- more involvement in community development
Studies in sub-Saharan Africa and Gambia show that rates of agricultural productivity, mortality, and child immunization correlate more closely to the literacy rate of the women than it does to the gross national product. Another study found that the mother’s schooling is a predictor for her children’s long-term nutritional wellbeing.
The mother’s ability to read often determines the literacy level for the entire family. In Nepal, an AID program found that girls in secondary school performed much better academically if their mothers had completed a literacy class. In the U. S., a study found that 65% of the children whose mothers participated in adult education programs demonstrated improvement in school. Furthermore, what a mother learns in an adult literacy program regarding child rearing and health can have an immediate effect on the family.
Literate women also understand more of what they hear regarding health and family planning and are able to communicate with health professionals better than women who are illiterate.
“When you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.”
"Why Literacy is Important to the Church" and "Why Literacy is Important for Women's Ministries" are excerpted from LITERACY TRAINING seminar, Women's Ministries Leadership Certification Training, Level 2.