Literacy means empowerment

By March 21, 2011

India (MNN) — The illiteracy rate across India stands at
roughly 32%, although the further you get from a large population center, the
higher the rate goes.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, two years
ago, the illiteracy rate for women was just over 45%, which limits economic
independence.  Grand Rapids,
Michigan-based Mission India President Dave Stravers says,  "In my opinion, it's probably the #1
social justice issue in India today. So it's very closely connected to
poverty. Of course, an illiterate person cannot read the Bible, and most
illiterate people have a very low
self-esteem."

Being unable to read presents a high risk factor to the
illiterate. "When a person is illiterate, it's like being blind. You walk down
the street, you can't read the signs. People of course rely on public
transportation: the bus comes by but you don't know where the bus is going. When
you buy something in the marketplace, you can't make change."  

Often, these people sign rights away and become part of
human trafficking which is so prevalent in Indian society. You might ask what difference Mission India
makes in a situation so dire. "Christians in India are seeing this as one of
the best ways they can show love to their neighbors and they can show love toward
people that are needy. We've been helping local church volunteers for more than
15 years, and it's a really wonderful door opener for the Gospel."

Really, what it boils down to is: relationship. "The teacher
meets with 30 students for about two hours a day, five days a week, and in one
year, 85% of the students will pass the fifth standard exams for reading,
writing, and arithmetic." Over the course
of a year, people get to know each other, they share their stories, and they are
introduced to the hope in Christ.

Stravers goes on to say, "This is, by far, the most effective
evangelistic method known, plus they're receiving very practical help, so it's just natural. About 40% of the learners become Christians."

In a heavily-Hindu nation, or in areas where Islam is the
prevalent faith, a different approach meets with resistance. Stravers explains, "Many places in India are still closed to a professional evangelist.
We've had many cases where a church planter or an evangelist would go to a
village, and the village leaders will get together and say, ‘Leave! Go away, or
we'll kill you.' The very same person
will come back and say, ‘No evangelism, but I have a program to teach people to
read.' They'll say, ‘Okay. Teaching to
read is fine.'"

Throughout the literacy course, the students are taught from
specially-prepared primers. "The first sentences read are from the Scriptures,
even though we don't give the references
always in the books, because it's low-key evangelism."

As truth is explained, the students connect the ideas to the
rest of the course. "The lessons all
have Scriptural themes. Usually by the third or fourth month, people are
learning to praise Jesus. Prayer is also an open door in India."

Mission India is efficient. They can take $30 and  take a
non-reader to fifth grade competency in both math and reading in a year. Factor in the fact that the built-in discipleship program sees new believers every year. The conclusion is action. Mission India is the catalyst to the change
brought by Christ. Right now, Stravers
says, "We have an organization that is providing a matching challenge so that a
gift of $30 right now would bring two people to literacy, and chances are that
one of them would also become a Christian."

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