Perhaps the word literacy on the receipt caught her eye. After I explained to the clerk that my work is to help churches help persons with literacy needs, she said, “My husband can’t read.” I offered help. Thus began a two-and-a-half year journey through the Laubach Way to Reading.
I had been a promoter. A trainer. A minister encouraging churches to help people with literacy needs. Now I was challenged with the opportunity to slow down the travel and invest in the process. My territory was merely the states west of the Mississippi River and Western Canada. Could I commit to meeting with an adult student once or twice a week? Could I trade breadth for depth?
My student was a disabled sixty-two year old who often took phone messages at home for his wife. But take them was all he did. He couldn’t write them. And he couldn’t read his Bible or the newspaper. But he was willing to try. And so was I.
“This is a bird with a long tail and a round body. This looks like a bird with a long tail and a round body. Say ‘B.’” Slowly we progressed through the consonants, then the vowels. I was amazed that an adult would really be interested in the stories in the little green, yellow, and blue books. My student read them carefully and deliberately. Then verses and chapters in his Bible. And then newspaper articles.
He wasn’t the only one who was learning. He was thirty years older than me. He had raised a family. Fought in a war. Worked on an assembly line. He was a teacher, too.
I still promote and train. And travel as a minister encouraging churches to help. My calling as a minister is not the traditional one. I am opening this window for you to better understand the connection between and literacy initiatives. We need each other. We need to work together.
It’s estimated that 3.8 million adults in Texas lack sufficient literacy skills. Texas LEARNS estimates that 100,000-plus are currently served through state and federally-funded adult education in Texas. No one knows how many are served through other programs (including faith-based). Probably all told under 200,000.
I’m convinced that people of faith are a great untapped resource for literacy programs across Texas. I’m convinced that there are dozens of ways churches can help people with literacy needs. Teaching basic literacy and ESL, yes. But also by providing books to children in support of family literacy. And mentoring in schools makes a difference, too. I also believe that advocating on behalf of education at the federal, state, and local levels is needed.