Why we care that they learn to read
Thousands of years ago, God had an important message for His people, and He did not want them to forget it! We call it the Law. God gave that Law not only with a thunderous voice, but with tablets of stone; not only orally, but with instructions that the whole message be written down. In this way, God ensured that the Law was transmitted faithfully and accurately: what God had said is what they read. And it is what we read today, translated to our language.
Writing it down also preserved God’s message. When the people did forget God’s law because they were unfaithful to God, His message was still preserved. Hundreds of years later in the midst of King Josiah’s temple-cleaning project, Hilkiah the high priest finds a scroll. He delivers it to Shaphan the scribe: “Look! We found the scroll. We found the Law of the LORD!” They read it, and Josiah is stirred to further action.
Because God’s law was written down, it was preserved. And when they found it, God’s people who had forgotten His way knew God’s will once again!
Now, a question. In the jungles of South America—or on an island in the South Pacific—lives a remote and illiterate, but intelligent, people group. What would these people do if they discovered a book with God’s words in it?
Or a more pertinent question: What will they do when the book of God’s Word is translated into their language?
Maybe a few will try hard, stumble through, and get a little of the idea, at least the gist of what is being said. But many would not even attempt to read it. They’re illiterate, having never learned to read in their own language.
So what’s to be done if the Bible is translated into their language which they can’t read?
Well, an audio version of the Bible should be recorded, right? Yes, and it certainly will be! But there are many benefits of having access to written text and being able to read it. Think, for example, of how often you quickly look up a reference and skim the content. Also, Scripture text available digitally can be searched.
Really, illiteracy is simply a form of ignorance. It limits creative expression and learning, and becomes a disadvantage in interacting with the rest of the world—which even the remotest peoples increasingly need to do. There are plenty of others ready to take advantage of their inability to read and write.
Literacy, we feel, is crucial to planting sustainable churches. Here’s why:
- Literacy embodies the lesson that, yes, God has endowed them with abilities to learn and develop just like any other people. He is a good and impartial God.
- Literacy expands their world as they learn new, creative ways of expressing and exploring ideas through writing and reading.
- Literacy opens God’s Word to them. As individuals and as a new church, with full access to God’s Word they seek His will and learn to know and follow Him together.