Did you know illiteracy rates in Pakistan and the African country of Togo are some of the highest in the world?
Can you imagine not being able to read your Bible – the very thing that is foundational to our faith?
In the little West African country of Togo (highlighted above), Christians like Nfoula (pictured right) are eagerly waiting to read the Bible but can’t because of illiteracy.
“Sometimes I am ashamed of my situation (illiteracy), but today I give thanks to God because soon everything will change by the grace of God,” shares Nfoula Gbati, a 46 year-old farmer.
“I am a member of the Assemblies of God Church. I live in Bikotiba, a village about ten kilometres west of Bassar (North Togo). When I was old enough to go to school my parents said rural work was more important than any other activity and that no one had the right to let us go to school. That is why I am illiterate.
“Today I regret it sincerely because I cannot read important documents the authorities send to promote our rural activities. I cannot even read or write my own name. At meetings, other people take notes for me. I do not want this situation to happen to my children and I struggle so they can have a good education.
“Previously, we did literacy classes at the church for a few weeks. Many of us had registered to take these courses, but unfortunately they were suspended due to lack of resources. Our pastor has told us what the Bible Society of Togo wants to do for the illiterates of our village. I lack words to express my gratitude to God to all those who want to help change the condition of the illiterates that we are. We will continue our prayers.
“May God grant you a hundred fold for what you do for us. I hope this literacy initiative will open a new page in my life. My Christian life will be improved because I will be able to read Bible stories myself and comment on them. And I will be able to participate in church services, which will strengthen my faith in Christ.”
Nfoula knows the life-changing impact literacy will have in his life but he is just one of many.
The Bassar of Togo is an unreached people group of 190,000 and its two key languages are Mina and Bassar. The Bible Society of Togo is especially keen to reach these people as the Bible was translated into these languages just a few years ago.
They want to help churches and communities in this region gain literacy skills in their native languages to be able to engage with the Bible. Illiteracy affects 46% of the Bassar region.
“Once translated, the Bible must be read and understood,” said Togo Bible Society CEO Estelle Akouegnon. She told us their mission is that every Togolese would have access to the Word of God in their own language, the language they understand best.
“The challenge is truly big and we are waiting to see great transformations in the lives of our church members who are mostly illiterate and who have come to register in large numbers for literacy classes,” said Emmanuel Ayi Ajavon (pictured right). He is Pastor of the Togo Methodist Church (Bethany Parish of Agouégan) near the lakes in Aného.
“The Bible in Mina was published by Bible Society in 2014. Many of our members have this Bible but they are still unable to read it because they have not been to school. As soon as the literacy classes were opened, the elderly people of our church and a few young people from the village who were not even attending our church came to express their joy and their enthusiasm for these classes.
“I myself have been particularly touched by the content of the literacy programme which helps in a very short time, the illiterate to read and write. It particularly helps me with Bible study and meditation with the elderly.
“I want to express my gratitude to Bible Society and its partners who supported us and allowed us to really understand, the meaning of this biblical verse, ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; On those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death a light shines.’ (Isaiah 9:2) We have truly come out of the darkness of Scripture ignorance and see the light whenever those who did not read yesterday read it today,” said Pastor Emmanuel.
The light literacy shines is happening in Pakistan where women are particularly affected, with three out of five unable to read or write.
That’s why the Pakistan Bible Society has been working hard over the past 15 years to give thousands of women like Shahida the chance to gain life-changing literacy skills through the biblical Beacon of Light programme.
“I am Shahida Manzoor (pictured left) and my husband Manzoor Masih works in the fields. Nowadays we have harvesting season and it was very difficult for me to come to join in the programme but due to my desire my husband allowed me to come. Now I can collect the graduation certificate. I am so glad that now I can read the Bible. When I read the Bible with family, my children listen very carefully because I read slowly. When I make a mistake or get stuck, my children laugh and enjoy it. I am thankful to God that I can now read the Bible.”
Parveen Akhtar (pictured below centre) is a literacy teacher, she has been teaching in adult education for two years. “When you go to the home and teach the women to read, this also exposes their men to the Bible stories. I feel very good, that I am doing something for them. It’s very necessary to provide these people education. Very few people go to school, they are very poor. There is a lot less fighting in the families, they have good friendship and fellowship between them now they are following Christian ways,“ commented Parveen.
“Culturally and historically in Pakistan, the woman is the key to the family,” said Pakistan Bible Society CEO Anthony Lamuel (far right in picture). For every Pakistani woman who learns to read and receives Scripture, an average of six additional people will be reached with God’s Word. In addition to sharing the Bible with their family, women tell us their self-esteem is boosted through learning a new skill. They can demand a fair wage for their work as they can read numbers. They can help children with homework and access healthcare by reading things like medicine bottles.