Why would a non-literate at the age of 60 want to learn to read?
“Rebecca, a Bafut language speaker living in Cameroon, had not learnt to read until she was already about 60. However, she became an exception to the general rule that people over the age of about 40 don’t want to bother with learning to read. A great motivation for her was a deep desire to read the Bible for herself and therefore, she made the efforts that learning to read requires. Reading the Bible and engaging with its message has made a fundamental difference to her”.
That was a story shared by Dr. Ian Cheffy, the literacy consultant of SIL, during his keynote address in our UBS literacy webinar on 8 September 2016. The webinar, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the International Literacy Day of UNESCO, was attended by 41 delegates from 26 Bible Societies and 5 Global Mission Team.
Ian continued: “A few years ago, Rebecca suffered an accident and broke her ankle badly. The break did not heal properly and therefore she has to lean on her stick while walking. She said that if she had not been able to study the word of God she would have died. Why? Because, reading the Bible gave her hope. She realised that God was there in her suffering and that he could help her. Rebecca was not alone; God cared for her. And that made all the difference! Thanks to literacy, Rebecca was able to engage with Scripture in a way that transformed her life. She discovered hope for the future for herself.”
Literacy for Scripture Engagement: Does that sound like a mere slogan?
No, in reality, hundreds of people are there in the world today with a similar story like Rebecca’s. Their lives are transformed because of their ability to read and thereby read the Word of God.
Literacy, as a discipline, falls within the core range of Bible Society activities because the ability to read, and that too, read with a certain degree of fluency, is a non-negotiable prerequisite to meaningful engagement with the translated Word. What is the point in diligently translating the Scriptures and publishing it with meticulous care if a significant number of people for whom we produce those precious Scriptures cannot read?
In the ladder of functional literacy, with different levels of steps & skills in place, Bible reading and Scripture engagement probably demands the highest level of proficiency.
As the following maps indicate:
There are still several countries falling within the literacy priority zones now. Out of a world total of 758 million officially declared non-literates, the region of South & West Asia appears to be the area of most literacy need today with its sheer number of those who cannot read and write.
However, going by the number of countries that fall within the literacy priority zones, Africa appears to be the area of most need.
As we look at this enormous literacy need in the world today, it is clear that Bible Societies need to employ a strategic approach in our literacy work.
A global literacy strategy was launched in June 2014 to guide the literacy work of the Bible Societies in the next 3 to 5 years. This strategy, with these seven strategic choices, was the culmination of various efforts during the period 2010-14.
The strategy paper in its entirety is available in all three official languages of UBS.
Literacy & Translation to work hand in hand
Scripture engagement should be an integral part of all our literacy projects. And in all our translation projects we need to ensure that there is a significant reading community ready to receive and use the translated Scriptures in the most effective and meaningful manner. If that’s not the case, we need to commence literacy projects in such communities or work with partner agencies that are committed to doing that task.
As we move forward to fulfil Philadelphia Promise, it will be important for the UBS Fellowship to
- acknowledge the enormous literacy need that still exists in the world today and the gravity of the unfinished task, specially in the literacy priority zones,
- affirm the close relation that exists between literacy & translation and thereby literacy’s immense contribution to Scripture engagement,
- take a serious note of the steep decline in literacy funding and take appropriate remedial action, and actively participate in literacy efforts by mobilising human resources and donor support.
It is time that we, as a fellowship of Bible Societies,
affirm with one voice that literacy is not simply a holistic project with a desirable social value-add; literacy resides at the very root of our core activities of Scripture translation and Scripture engagement.
The need is enormous. Pray with us that hundreds of Rebeccas spread all over the world will not be denied a basic human right of literacy which in turn gives them access to God’s Word and thereby to a life transformed!
But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? Rom. 10:14
Global Literacy Coordination Desk
Call on us for help if you want to start a literacy project in your country.
Get in touch with us if you want to know where to channel your funds for literacy projects today.