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Too good to keep to themselves


Tuesday 12 May 2015

Forty-five-year-old Katnon believes the Bible can change her village. But to really have an impact, she knows people need to be able to read it for themselves.

A year ago, Katnon couldn’t recognise any letter in the Khmer alphabet. “It felt hard even to know the right words to speak, because I couldn’t read,” she says.

Katnon lives in a remote village called Tomnup in Kampong Leaeng, about an hour by boat from the nearest city province and another half an hour by tuk tuk (an auto-rickshaw) down dusty, broken tracks. The village church in the area is growing and the pastor has encouraged people to learn to read, working with Bible Society, which provides audio-based literacy classes.

The classes don’t require a teacher. Rather, a facilitator is trained to use an MP3 player that has recorded lessons across three levels of literacy. This way, facilitators don’t have to know how to read themselves to be able to run the classes. Trained teachers are hard to find and volunteers even harder. This is a gatherer community; villagers eat what they grow, and hope to grow enough to be able to sell their produce to others. To supplement their income, families send their older children to work in factories and in the rice and corn fields. Knowledge and reading has traditionally not been a priority.


Katnon is thrilled to be able to help others in her village learn to read, so that they too can read the Bible.

But Katnon signed up to one of the Bible Society classes. Six months later, she was well on her way to literacy. She could read her Bible slowly, but surely.

She was so excited at the changes she could see in her own life, and the confidence she had, that she felt she had to volunteer to help others learn to read too. She’s now a facilitator of Bible Society’s literacy programme. Katnon has 80 people in her class, across four villages. She runs eight hour-long classes every week.

Running the classes is helping Katnon cement her own learning. She completed two of the three levels of the literacy programme herself before becoming a facilitator. But running the classes each week means she too can get better with her reading and writing.

“I hope even the old people can read here,” she says. “It will make them happy. They’ll be able to learn what is right and wrong in their lives by reading the Bible. And they’ll have a hope for the future.”

Katnon is one of thousands of people in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos who’ve benefited from the generosity of Australian Christians in funding literacy classes throughout the South East Asian region. And many, like Katnon, have turned around and passed on that blessing to others in their communities. To them, what they’ve acquired is just too good to keep to themselves.

Xengxaivang is 20 years old and from the Hmong minority people group in the mountains of Vietnam. He was born into a Christian family but had yet to accept Jesus as his saviour as there was no reading culture in his family. However, four years ago, a pastor shared the gospel with him and he accepted Jesus from that time. He had a strong desire to know more and this pushed him to study theology so that he could teach others. Now his passion is to reach the lost so he is always ready to share the gospel of Jesus. He takes his Bible with him wherever he goes.

Xengxaivang is one of the lucky ones to actually have a Bible. Twenty per cent of people living in Vietnam live below the poverty line (about US$2 a day) and millions more live only slightly above it. The price of a Bible is out of reach for most of them.
In response to the growing church in South East Asia, Bible Society is also working to distribute Bibles. Last year, 90,000 Bibles, 150,000 New Testaments and 100,000 Bible portions were distributed. Those who receive them share the Scriptures with others in their family and in their community, and it’s estimated that in this manner more than 400,000 lives are impacted by the Bible.

Translation is another major part of ongoing Bible Society work in South East Asia. Bible Society is reaching out to eight of the main minority language groups in Vietnam by offering them the Bible in their own language. Some of these languages are also spoken in Cambodia and Laos. These translations not only engage people with God’s word, they are also helping to preserve their language in written form.

Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are among Australia’s closest neighbours and the need for Scripture is great. Can you help?

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