Nepal Literacy program (Photos courtesy of H.E.L.P.)
Nepal (MNN) ― When people launch community development programs in the Third World, they're usually trying to correct obvious physical needs.
That was true for Tim and Lani Ackerman, who launched the Health Environmental and Learning Program (H.E.L.P.) in 1999.
Using the model of Jesus' ministry to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the poor, they decided to equip the national church and help them in developing their own community, while at the same time minister to people of all faiths.
Nepal is the world's 15th illiterate country. There are schools, but Ackerman says, "The school buildings are there, but many days when going by school buildings on school days, nobody was in the school."
Christians and women are on the lowest end of the social scale, which prevents access to basic things like food and water. Not only are they poor, they are also despised. The lack of education robs them of opportunities. "They're unable to function in society as far as going to the market and buying and selling, reading basic signs, and of course, reading the Bible, which is the most basic of all."
Implementing programs that involve training in agriculture, husbandry and health can improve their circumstances. However, whether these programs are "sustainable" will depend entirely on whether or not the population can read. "The reason we need this basis is because the rest of our training does involve some reading and some understanding of concepts If they can't do that, we really can't educate them."
Of their literacy students, Ackerman estimates 1200 are women. Once they get through the yearlong course, HELP can add to the basics with other community development material of which the Gospel is a key component.
Roughly half of their students are Buddhist or Hindu at the beginning, and the other half are Christians. "By the end of our one year," Ackerman explains, "most of the women that go through our program end up at a second or third grade reading level."
Their students' gratitude is best described this way: "When one lady had finished one of our literacy classes, she said, ‘I was blind, but now I can see.'"
Best of all, Ackerman explains, "We found out that this is an excellent church-planting tool, and that's where the discipleship comes in. [For] the people that do stay in there, it becomes a pastored church." Most of the classes start with roughly half of the students as Buddhists or Hindus. The other half are Christians. Ackerman says, "By the end of the class, many of those Buddhists and Hindus have given their life to Christ."
The program is small, but growing. In Nepal, "We have two national missionaries that run these literacy programs. They're the ones that interview the literacy facilitators; they will train these guys, and then they will oversee that."
With all of the demands on their team's time, Ackerman is asking believers to pray "for health, safety and travel. [Pray also] for all those that are involved, that they would have that very solid evangelical heart to use this as an outreach and a church-planting tool to change the hearts and the minds of those in Nepal."