Mission teaches written
word with God’s Word
By Edward Terry, The Layman, March 23, 2010
Focusing on a skill most Americans take for granted, Literacy & Evangelism International (LEI) is winning new hearts for Jesus Christ one word at a time.
Based in Tulsa, Okla., the nonprofit ministry began in 1967 at the home of its founder, the late Dr. Robert F. Rice. It has since grown to a worldwide network sharing the simple goal of teaching people to read while at the same time introducing them to the Gospel. The organization now offers basic literacy materials in more than 200 languages, and shares its Biblically-based materials with people on nearly every continent.
A Sena-speaking woman reads her Bible after learning to read using the LEI Sena literacy primers in Southern Malawi.
The Rev. Carey Jo Johnston, managing director for LEI’s Canadian office and primer construction coordinator, said that overseas illiteracy rates average from 30 to 50 percent, and in some third-world areas as high as 95 percent. But the organization’s work isn’t limited to faraway locales. The program also targets the United States and Canada, where illiteracy rates can average 20 to 25 percent in some areas.
“The combination of teaching a life skill plus presenting the Gospel through that life skill, through a loving and caring teacher, is a powerful ministry that churches can have,” she said. “The heart is that we would be a service organization to churches and mission groups, and that we would be giving them another tool to use to reach their community for Christ.”
‘Each one, teach one’
That “tool” comes in the form of primers, a term probably most familiar among educated adults over the age of 50. The primers are available in hundreds of languages in a very simple format. The hope is that each student will then take the primer and teach others to read. The materials are set up so that those with the most basic skills can teach others.
“Our goal would be to go into an area with several churches who want to have literacy ministries and train their trainers,” Johnston said. “Our goal would be that they have someone who keeps that ministry going on an indigenous level.”
Johnston offers “Maxwell,” in the African country of Malawi, as an example. LEI had developed primer lessons for Maxwell’s regional dialect and he’s made the most of the opportunity.
“He’s now trained four trainers in his region and those four trainers have trained 54 literacy teachers, all connected to a local church,” Johnston said. “Out of the classes that have come from that they have more than 900 students enrolled.”
Rev. Carey Jo Johnston, left, consults with Lambya team speakers in Northern Malawi, helping them to produce literacy lessons for the Lambya Literacy Primers.
Similar training models are set up through regional offices in Latin America, West Africa, Asia and North America. The organization also is focusing efforts on a new English-as-a-second-language component to its ministry.
While many missions are focused on feeding the hungry or providing health care, Johnston says literacy shouldn’t be discounted as a basic need. Literacy provides the opportunity for a better life on this earth, she said, and eternal life through hearing the Gospel.
“God reveals Himself to us through writing, through Scripture,” Johnston said. “Reading is part of God’s creative power for us … That’s part of who God has created us to be.”
The interdenominational fellowship draws its financial support from several churches, mission agencies and parachurch organizations. In addition to financial support, Johnston said the organization needs the prayers of supporters.
To learn more about LEI, and review some downloadable sample primers, visit the organization’s Web site at www.literacyevangelism.org.