Learning ABC: Henan’s Scripture Literacy Classes

The oldest man in Zhang's class
The oldest man in Zhang’s class is 80. Photo:UBSCP

For some of us, we take the skills of reading and writing for granted – being able to read is akin to being able to walk.  We read signboards for directions, manuals for instructions, and the Bible for spiritual food. Literacy to us is a basic skill, yet to many poor people throughout the world, it is a rare opportunity.

In remote parts of China, many poor villagers with ages ranging from the very young to the 90 year-olds are illiterate. When these rural folks became Christians later in their lives, many of them cannot access God’s Word on their own. How sad is it if it is a question of ability and not of a lack of desire on the part of rural Christians to read the Word of God?

The Henan CC/TSPM, in recognizing the need to nurture believers’ growth in reading the Word of God, launched Scripture literacy classes in the rural churches across Henan, with the support of the United Bible Societies (UBS). Since 2006, seven rounds of Scripture literacy classes have been conducted with funding from UBS, training an estimated 25,000 villagers to read the Chinese Bible.  “The response for these classes was overwhelming,” recalls one of the Scripture literary teachers, Zhang. She added that, “the majority of these students were women and older folks who have had little of no formal education at all. As we progressed, their attentiveness in class, diligence and hunger for learning touched my heart so much that they spurred me on towards giving my best in teaching. ”

Teacher Zhang pointing at a difficult Chinese word from Matthew 11
Teacher Zhang pointing at a difficult Chinese word from Matthew 11. Photo: UBSCP

Another teacher, Wei, recounted her experience of teaching a young lady who had never attended a single day of school since her mother died prematurely and she had to support her family and look after her younger siblings: “When I bent down close to her to take a look at her writings, she covered them up with her hands as she felt she wrote badly and was too shy to show her teacher. Tears were swelling up her eyes and she wanted to give up learning to read and write. I paused to counsel, comfort and gently teach her, hand-over-hand, going over some of the more difficult words. Gradually, she became more at ease and was even able to write “以马内利“(i.e. Emmanuel).”

To some of these Scripture literacy teachers, teaching these students have become a pleasure. “It wasn’t how many Chinese characters they have learnt that mattered, it was the fact that they have a better understanding of the Bible that encouraged me,” says Teacher Zhang.  Teacher Wei also says that “as I tried my best to teach them they in turn, put in their best effort to learn as much as possible. Rain or shine, we (teachers and students alike) braved harsh weather conditions to come for the classes. I’m so happy that there is now a great rapport between me and my students.”

While a special rapport was established between teachers and students in the literacy classes, a closer bonding was also forged amongst family members who attended these classes together.

Mdm Chen (UBSCP/Hwee Hong)
Mdm Chen beaming. Photo:UBSCP

Madam Chen, 59, who has three grown-up children, attends one of these classes with her husband. She shares: “I am thankful that my husband attends the class with me. After class, we will revise our lesson and do our homework together. Each day, we will read the Bible (aloud) together for about one hour and will highlight the difficult words so that we can ask our teachers the next time.  Everyday we will revise the same chapter taught until we can read every character before moving on to the next chapter.”

69 year-old Madam Xing says: “I feel really good that my daughter attends the literacy class with me. We were too poor to see her through school so she had to discontinue her schooling at Primary 5 (or Grade 5). We had a good mother-daughter bonding time when we discuss the lesson together after class. Reading the Bible together spurs us on in our walk with God. Praise the Lord!”

Mdm Xing (UBSCP/Hwee Hong)
Mdm Xing. Photo:UBSCP

Another student, by the name of Li Fenglian had to stop school when she was 8 years old. Now at 69, she recounts her experience with holding a pen in her Scripture literacy class: “In this class I held a pen for the very first time in my life. I trembled initially, but now I hold the pen with greater confidence. I am overjoyed that I am able to read and write now after attending the class since April 2009. My class teacher is very caring and approachable; she patiently explains the difficult characters to us. Thank God for this Scripture Literacy Class!”

“The teacher just provides the tools,” says Teacher Zhang, “Ultimately, it is the students who must be determined to overcome all their initial reserve to use these tools to learn more about God so that they themselves are able to draw closer to Him. More importantly, it is God’s Grace that this Scripture literacy class can be set up.  We are also thankful to the pastoral leadership and to UBS donors for giving towards our ministry and for making such classes possible.”

Written by Ms. Pamela Choo
Testimonies translation provided by Ms. Ng Hwee Hong
for United Bible Societies, China Partnership

This story relates to Project No: 71201