Bible Societies worldwide are wholly committed to literacy work, firmly convinced that reaching the 750 million non-literate adults (as well as children) around the world with the gift of literacy is central to God’s plan and purpose.
“We believe that literacy is about dignity, independence and wholeness,” says Julian Sundersingh, the Global Literacy Co-ordinator for the United Bible Societies (UBS). “Being able to read and write gives people access to essential information, empowering them to make well-informed decisions about their lives. It opens up opportunities for employment, further education and helps people get themselves out of poverty. In short, people who are literate have far better prospects than those who cannot read.”
Furthermore, Julian adds,
“The driving force behind UBS’ literacy programs are firstly, the enormous need and secondly, the enormous potential it offers for Scripture engagement.”
In fact, the work of literacy is so important for Bible Society, that specialists are employed to ensure it happens effectively.
When thinking about literacy work, and how it can liberate non-literate communities, Julian recalls an experience in Myanmar. At a workshop he was conducting, he asked the group, “What are the needs of your people, and how can we meet those needs?”
They responded, “We want to focus on the story of Moses because he came as a liberator in a context where the people of Israel were suffering for 400 years, and God was still listening to their prayers.” Julian relates this to the importance of literacy work. “I think in many contexts people who are not able to read, feel oppressed in that sense, they are not equally important with other people, or able to socially engage. The example of Moses liberating the oppressed, enslaved Israelites is very relevant to them, and relevant to us in the work of literacy education.”
Mansueto Casquite serves as UBS’ literacy advisor to the Asia Pacific. A gentle, quietly spoken man who introduces himself as ‘Cito’, he lives in the Philippines and loves his work, encouraging and helping Bible Societies create and run literacy projects for their communities. Cito loves languages (he speaks four!) and working for Bible Society has given him the opportunity, he says,
“to expand my reach in helping people, and giving them the gift of reading and writing.”
Cito is encouraged in his work by the life and person of Jesus. “I remember this passage of the Bible when it says Jesus wrote on the ground, and that’s usually the story I would share in my workshops,” Cito explains. “Even Jesus himself wrote. Even Jesus himself was a literate person. He wrote on the ground.
“That is an encouraging story to me, and not just to me, but to other people as well, that even the Lord of Lords writes. And of course, Jesus reads because he read the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. The story of Jesus is a great motivation for me, because people who are not literate would like to emulate Jesus, to follow Jesus, not just the literacy aspect of Jesus, but the way Jesus lived on earth.”
Dr Kimmo Kosonen is the Head of Literacy and Education for the United Bible Societies. Born in Europe, he has lived for more than two decades in South East Asia, which he loves. Kimmo is clearly passionate about literacy, and speaks with great enthusiasm about the work he is involved in.
He has been an international consultant in multilingual education and literacy for many years, training Bible translators and literacy workers for South East Asia as well as providing consultancy services, and technical assistance on literacy and education. New to UBS in January 2022, Kimmo brings his wide-ranging experience and passion for literacy work and education with him.
When asked if he draws encouragement from a particular part of Scripture, Kimmo offers the following reflection. “I am not a theologian. But when I read how Jesus operated, he just didn’t go and preach that ‘I’m the Saviour…’. Actually, he didn’t preach much at all. He was doing things with common people, non-dominant language communities, women, children, men, sick, ill, you know, the downtrodden, marginalized.
And that is a common trend. Jesus preached by his actions…”.
Kimmo goes on to add, thinking of marginalised non-literate communities, “I think literacy is one kind of service that we can provide. And so, we could, you know, copy Jesus in that way. We have something we know that might help people, so they can know more about God through Scripture… they don’t have the tools yet, so we can help them take one step or two steps towards that goal, so that they can actually independently use the Bible.”
“This is a good thing to do so that the word of God will be available, and people can understand it, so that they can transform their lives and their communities.”