Investing in the Process

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.

Moving Toward a Library in Every Home

More than 1,200 families have received beginning home libraries in the past five years through church-based family reading fairs under the Books for the Border banner.  Books for the Border began in seven Texas counties identified as among the twenty poorest counties in the United States.

Books for the Border is now in phase two:  Books for the Border and Beyond.  Following Together for Hope’s Objective Two:

Churches, organizations, mission groups, and individual volunteers who participate in TFH efforts in the focal counties will gain a greater awareness of our biblical mandate with the poor and will be able and willing to implement what they have learned with the poor in their home communities.   (www.ruralpoverty.net)

Family reading fairs have been hosted in a variety of such communities beyond the Texas-Mexico Border, including Amarillo, Dallas, Joshua, Lubbock, and San Antonio.  Others are planned for Copperas Cove, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth this year.

A reading fair in your community would involve identifying families in your community, getting a bookshelf pattern from Literacy ConneXus, building them, collecting and buying age appropriate books and holding the actual fair to distribute the books and bookcases.  A project outline is available in the Books for the Border Planning Guide.

Significantly, literacy projects including books and bookcases or bookshelves have been held in other Together for Hope venues in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

But what happened recently causes me to try to capture my thoughts now.  Karen Morrow – CBF missionary to refugees in Texas – and I sat with three Karen refugees and three members of Agape Baptist Church in Fort Worth looking for common ground between the real need for language skills of children entering kindergarten in American schools and the linguistic heritage and skills of that ethnic group.  (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_people)

Karen and I have both just completed reading When Helping Hurts (http://www.whenhelpinghurts.org/). Chapter Five provides an excellent explanation of asset mapping.  Implementing this idea, beginning with recognition of the gifts and talents of the group, was a challenge with language differences–to say nothing of cultural differences.  We were wondering how home libraries (ala Books for the Border) might fit in the context of Karen families living in Texas.  We did not leave with clarity so much as commitment to begin with what we learned of the desire of these brave people to preserve their language while gaining English.  We will walk with them to discover how to use the Karen love for their children and the valuable gifts of volunteers who stretch to help in ways that do not hurt.

Literacy Connexus seeks to work with those who recognize the value of placing libraries in every home—especially for those living in poverty.  Children who are read to, who see their parents reading, and who grow up in homes with books are more ready for kindergarten.   What about your community?

A workshop session entitled A Library in Every Home will be offered at the Metroplex Literacy Conference in Dallas March 10 (See http://hopeliteracy.com/).  For additional information about ways to encourage and equip ESL students to read to their children, contact Lester Meriwether,  817-696-9898/Lester@literacyconnexus.org.

Join us . . .

At one time, the measure of a class in English (or French or Spanish) as a second language was, “What do I know that I didn’t know before?” A better way to evaluate the experience is, “What can I do that I couldn’t do before?” For example, one ESL lesson might equip a student to make an appointment with a doctor. Another lesson might lead to parent-teacher conference participation at a local school. Using the pragmatic approach, effective ESL teachers impart both information and real life skills.

Similarly, effective websites offer information and application. As such, the new Literacy Connexus website provides information to help churches help people with literacy needs, and, at the same time, is a tool for accomplishing the task. Take a tour and learn how to:

  • Build a bookcase
  • Find local literacy resources
  • Start a church-based literacy ministry
  • Identify local and national legislators
  • Impact your community 50 ways through literacy
  • Advocate for persons with low literacy
  • Pursue English as a Second Language training
  • Donate
  • Organize a family reading fair
  • Connect with others involved in literacy ministry

Join Literacy Connexus in making a difference. Visit us often and get involved!