News Articles

New book, ‘Wonderful Words of Life,’ reflects scope of literacy missions

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–What if your child or grandchild begged to be read a Bible story and you couldn’t do it? What if you had to depend on others to read the Bible to you or had to listen to tapes instead of reading it yourself?

That’s the plight of millions of illiterate people in the United States who either cannot read at all or who read on such a low level that they are classified as non-readers.

Using the words of the beloved hymn “Wonderful Words of Life,” Cathy Butler of Fayette, Ala., has written a book by the same name with chapter titles taken from the lines of the hymn. The book on literacy missions was published by Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, Ala., supporting the organization’s Project HELP: Literacy emphasis.

Literacy is learning to read, write and speak the English language. Literacy missions is sharing the gospel through meeting the needs of adults who are functional nonreaders, people who need to learn to speak English and school-age children who need help with schoolwork.

WMU’s two-year emphasis on literacy missions, which began October 2000, has a twofold purpose: to give every person the opportunity to learn to read, write or speak English, and to learn the meaning of God’s Word. The project also seeks to help individuals impacted by computer and health illiteracy.

Butler recounts the history of literacy missions in the first chapter of her book, featuring the work of John and Lillian Isaacs, who pioneered the ministry in Southern Baptist life. WMU also has produced a video on Lillian Isaacs, who lives in Tallahassee, Fla., as a part of the Project HELP: Literacy emphasis.

A mountain woman living in Kentucky by the name of Ruth provided the impetus for the Isaacs’ involvement in literacy missions in 1958. Ruth wanted more than anything to be able to read God’s Word. John Isaacs was a Bible college teacher in Kentucky. He and Lillian also had observed that many young pastors were struggling to help their congregations in Bible study and discipleship. They realized that many of those problems stemmed from lack of reading skills.

The Isaacses began what turned into a lifetime of literacy missions effort throughout the United States. They used the famous Laubach Way to Reading skill books and taught hundreds of volunteers their methods for teaching non-readers. Their legacy of literacy is demonstrated through the network of tutors and literacy missions available today in Southern Baptist churches.

Butler relates moving stories about adults being taught through the Adult Reading and Writing workshops (ARW) and also about International Mission Board missionaries and other volunteers who tutor through classes in English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Butler notes in her book that, because people in other countries are eager to learn English, their enthusiasm provides an open door for teaching them the language and also introducing them to the Bible.

Butler’s book relates the story of Denis, a young man in postwar Bosnia who was ministered to by volunteer missionaries during summer missions trips. He wanted to learn to read, write and speak English with the hope of obtaining a better job. In so doing, the tutors led him to Christ, and he was baptized in the summer of 1999. He is now a valuable ministry partner with the IMB as he works with Americans in translating Bible studies and sharing God’s Word with his fellow Bosnians.

Immigrants in the United States receive tutoring through English as a Second Language (ESL), Butler continues in her book. EFL and ESL programs are similar in their approach, the main difference being the intent of the person learning to read.

Another major area of literacy missions is working with Americans who cannot read or write English, with Butler noting that more than 1 million American students drop out of high school every year. A primary reason is that many have failed to achieve basic skills before being promoted to a higher grade, and they become overwhelmed with a sense of desperation and failure in trying to keep up with their studies.

Literacy missions, Butler writes, thus includes tutoring for children who are struggling to achieve in their grade level. The hope is that these children will be helped to learn basic skills and build on those skills. By helping children build confidence in their abilities, the rate of high school dropouts can be drastically reduced, Butler writes.

In addition to explanations of the different types of literacy missions and the poignant stories, Butler ends Wonderful Words of Life with a detailed chapter on beginning literacy missions in a church or association and a comprehensive chapter on resources.

Wonderful Words of Life can be purchased through WMU by calling 1-800-968-7301 or visiting the online bookstore, www.wmustore.com. The book also is available through LifeWay Christian Bookstores.

Information on Project HELP: Literacy also is available at www.WMU.com by clicking on Project HELP, or by calling WMU Customer Service.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WONDERFUL WORDS OF LIFE.

    About the Author

  • Sammie Barstow