In the childrens’ home in San Marcos for two mornings a week I am working on literacy and numeracy skills with three young people who, for various reasons, are not going to school. They’re great kids, I’ve been working them as hard as I dare, and we are pleased with our progress. One is a lad of twelve, who went to school for the first time last year. It was an unmitigated disaster, and he was sent home by ten o’clock every morning for fighting. So last November we gave up with school, and started working with him from zero again. Over the last couple of months he has really progressed to having a basic foundation of literacy, and in the last couple of weeks we have witnessed a real breakthrough as he is beginning to realise that reading is a transferrable skill which is actually useful to him, and he is finding words everywhere he looks…. from posters on the wall, to CD cases and even food packets. In the afternoons I focus on the children who do go to school, coaching the kids who struggle, and challenging those who are further ahead. I use a range of activities and different types of literature, including stories from the Bible. In the last couple of weeks with a few of the older kids we have been looking at the structure of the Bible and how it works…. the Old Testament, and the New Testament, using the index to discover different books, and looking up chapters and verses.
Visiting another city, I was talking with a lady from Bolivia, about a trip that she had recently made back to her home village after an absence of many years. What had impacted her the most was the almost complete death of Christian witness in her valley. When she had left there had been an evangelical work, with about 35 active families, and now there was nothing. She attributed this to several reasons. One the local governer and the “Catholic” priest were hand in glove, to the extent that people are fined for not attending mass. Two that there was no permanent Christian leadership, and the teachers who used to visit from the city had stopped coming. Three that there are a lot of people coming through peddling different religions and philosophies, and the local people listen to all of them without discernment. Four, the high incidence of alcoholism and lack of social-economic opportunity in the area. And yet, she found that when she produced her Bible and started reading from it, there was a real hunger and desire to know more, and the people came and sat on the ground around to listen. So what had gone wrong? Quite simply she believes that the uniting factor behind all the reasons above is a lack of literacy. Without literacy, people don’t know that they have religious freedom, so they don’t know that they are free not to go to mass without paying a fine. They are unable to read the Bible so they cannot learn or grow for themselves, hence they have no tools to discern between good and bad teaching. And they are unable to develop socially, or take advantage of economic opportunities. Thus the cycle grinds on.
I believe we can see a clear link between the two accounts above. Sometimes I have met people, or read articles by people, who want to say that literacy work is “secondary mission”, or even “not Gospel work”. To those people, in the light of these experiences, I would like to offer a word of suggestion: “Rethink”.