lives, opens doors for evangelism
By Ashli O’Connell
Thello Jackson didn’t
pay attention much in school. He says he didn’t find it
interesting and teachers didn’t seem to care as long as
he attended and didn’t cause trouble. His good attendance
record helped earn him a high school diploma in 1971 —
even though he could barely read.
on minimal reading skills and help from friends to get by as
a janitor and as a worker in a warehouse. It wasn’t until
he found a job as a telemarketer that his poor reading skills
almost cost him a job. Fortunately for Jackson, an understanding
boss gave him time to improve his reading. He attended classes
at a library and kept that job for five years.
But Jackson wasn’t
satisfied. He still couldn’t understand much of the Bible,
and he comprehended little of what he could read elsewhere.
Seven years ago he went to Tulsa, Okla.-based Literacy and Evangelism
International where he met Ralph Hord, a retired engineer who
volunteers as a literacy tutor. Jackson and Hord worked on reading
and comprehension skills and began tackling the Bible one chapter
at a time. Today they are almost finished with Ezekiel.
Working with Hord
gave Jackson, now 51, the knowledge and confidence he needed
to pass a commercial driver’s license exam. He now drives
a school bus in Tulsa.
“If it weren’t
for literacy volunteers helping me, I wouldn’t have been
able to read my driver’s manual to get my commercial driver’s
license and get the job I now have,” Jackson says. “Most
of all, I wouldn’t know how to read God’s Word.”
More than 90 million
adult Americans share Jackson’s reading problem in one
form or another. Nearly one out of two adults are classified
as illiterate or functionally illiterate, lacking the minimum
reading and writing skills to function successfully in modern
society. The numbers include immigrants just learning to speak
English, those who never completed high school, those with physical
or mental conditions that impair their ability to read, and
those with vision problems that affect reading.
of people with the lowest literacy skills live below the government’s
official poverty line, and 70 percent have no job or only a
part-time job, according to the National Institute for Literacy.
The practical effect for millions of Americans is a lower quality
of life with limited opportunities for employment.
Assemblies of God
U.S. missionary Mike Ferguson often witnessed the repercussions
of illiteracy while ministering with his wife, Nancy, among
impoverished people in New York City.
of not being able to read and write are dramatic,” Ferguson
says. “Reading is at the core of all we do in life. People
who can’t read find it extremely difficult to learn. They
can’t get a job or participate in their children’s
There can be spiritual
consequences as well.
are available for more than 95 percent of the world’s
population, according to Cathy Sandidge, director of development
for Literacy and Evangelism International, the organization
that helped Jackson. LEI provides Bible-based reading primers
and training for volunteers who teach basic literacy in the
United States and 50 other countries. “If the Bible cannot
be read, it is a locked book of truth,” Sandidge says.
The best hope for
Americans who can’t read their Bibles is one-on-one tutors
who build relationships, break through the barriers of denial,
and empower the illiterate with the tools they need to read
the church can step in, Ferguson says.
“When a church
opens its doors to provide literacy programs, it realigns itself
as a hub for the community,” he says. “In this era
of faith-based favor, our churches need to find new ways to
provide service for those who are in need of holistic help.”
require little funding and only a small group of trained workers,
according to Ferguson. But the dividends can be enormous. “Literacy
programs give churches access to people they would otherwise
not have access to — to reach them and love them into
a right relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a win-win program
for the church and community.”
passion for literacy training led them to start an after-school
mentoring program that is now a national Assemblies of God ministry.
KidCare America started as a form of prevention — rather
than treatment — for illiteracy, among other things. “We
wanted to get ahead of the problem, work at the front of a person’s
life rather than working at the back end,” Ferguson says.
KidCare has partnered
with Saxon Publishers, one of the leading educational textbook
companies, to develop a reading intervention program for children,
youth and adults. They provide curriculum and training to churches
and organizations interested in implementing a literacy-training
ministry. Organizations such as LEI and local literacy councils
also can provide training.
“Lives of both
the student and the tutor can be changed,” Hord says.
“All you have to do is be able to read yourself.”