An elderly woman learns how to read through the Partners in Mission literacy program in Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Partners in Mission

Yader José Garcia Cruz is from Paraná in the La Unión Department of El Salvador. He was declared deceased when he was born, but by God’s miracle, he came back to life. However, he suffered brain damage that impeded his development, which eventually affected his ability to learn how to read and write, even through his teenage years.

Cruz’s teachers stigmatized him and told his mother that it was impossible for him to learn to read and write. The school recommended that he see a psychologist for further assessment. The psychologist confirmed what everyone had already believed. This led Cruz to abandon school altogether. He gave up hope.

His mother never gave up. She learned of an opportunity through a literacy program offered in her community by the local Adventist church. His mother was particularly impressed with the personalized lessons it provided. She decided to enroll her son.

In March 2019, Partners in Mission held an alumni reunion for those who completed the literacy program successfully. The woman pictured (right), with the help of David Poloche, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) director for the Inter-American Division, shows diplomas of her elementary and secondary school degrees that she earned after completing the Partners in Mission program. Photo: courtesy of Partners in Mission

Now, at 36 years old, Cruz knows how to sign his name, write many words, and read.

“I thank God for this miracle, my mother’s initiative, the literacy promoter of the area, and everyone who had a direct and indirect part to play to help me get to this point,” Cruz said. “Today, I can read and write.”

People of the Word

According to a recent estimate, about 750 million people worldwide are illiterate. For nearly two decades, the North American Division (NAD) has sponsored adult literacy initiatives through its Partners in Mission program with sister divisions and mission fields. The partnerships have given more than 180,000 adults the gift of literacy.

This is an initiative of the NAD supported by Hope for Humanity funds in which NAD partners with sister divisions around the world on mutually agreed-upon mission initiatives—primarily adult literacy. Today there are Partners in Mission programs operating in 11 countries. Some of these are India, Egypt, Lebanon, and, of course, El Salvador.

Adventists say that we are people of the Word, but how can you be a person of the Word if you can’t read the Word? As a result of these partnerships, thousands of Adventist members have been engaged in life-changing ministry. Many churches have been planted, and several thousand have become members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Eyes on Expansion

Church leaders are seeing how this program helps to fulfill the church’s mission and are interested in expanding it to other areas of their territory. But the current program is not entirely financially sustainable.

In El Salvador, for example, among the approximately 200 literacy circles, the cost for the stipends for volunteers alone amounts to $5,000 a month, which is shared between the local union conferences, local conferences, the Inter-American Division (IAD), and NAD. Local church leaders want to grow the program to more than 900 literacy circles, which would bring the stipend cost to $22,000 a month.

The NAD would not be able to partner financially in this expansion, and the union conference and local conferences would find it very difficult to do it on their own. The same situation is true in all other fields as well.

In El Salvador, a church member learns to read through the North American Division’s collaborative Partners in Mission literacy program. Photo: courtesy of Partners in Mission

One solution is to have the teachers, or “facilitators,” work as volunteers and in a less intensive capacity. Another is that literacy circles could be local church-based rather than conference- or mission-based, as is currently the practice in most fields.

This change would have several benefits. The financial benefit is that a literacy circle would not start until a local church agrees to take responsibility for supervising and supporting the circle, including the cost of the facilitators’ stipend — if that territory decides to give one. If a church cannot afford to pay the stipend, then fund-raising cards would be provided so they could contact local businesses to raise the funds needed. This approach has worked successfully in conjunction with the literacy program in the Dominican Republic.

Rosalina’s Story

Rosalina Rivas Pineda is one of seven Salvadoran women who have pursued literacy through the Partners in Mission program at the El Riel Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Central El Salvador Conference. The small group decided to persevere “despite the difficulties that arise in their life from not knowing how to read or write, and bring their families forward and achieve their dream of reading the Word of God by themselves,” said David Poloche, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) director for IAD, in a recent literacy report. ADRA El Salvador helps manage the program on behalf of the church.

At 42, Pineda had never attended a school and was completely illiterate. As an introvert, she spoke very few words when she began classes in the literacy circle. “In her testimony she thanked God and her facilitators for the opportunity to allow her to learn to read and write,” Poloche reported. That was all she said.

Now she is more confident and sociable with members of the church because of her involvement in the literacy class. “Pineda and the other women in the group serve as examples to their families, community, and church,” Poloche said. “This isn’t easy at their age, and as members of the church, they have provided a good example of perseverance.”

In El Salvador, adults learn to read through the Partners in Mission literacy program, while their children stay close to them during study time. Photo: courtesy of Partners in Mission

The promise shown in Pineda, and around the globe with Partners in Mission and the new REFLECT methodology, centers on working collaboratively. The Adventist Church is a family, and we are united in mission to reach the world with the distinctive Seventh-day Adventist message of hope and wholeness. We have particular interest in helping to expand the adult literacy initiative that the NAD has helped support for years in a number of countries.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the North American Division news site.

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