In our religion we place high value on being able to read and understand the word of God. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). God’s word guides people and keeps them out of darkness. That’s why we think it’s important to include literacy classes in our member training. But until we had our first series of classes, we didn’t realize just how effective it would be at removing prejudice against our church and how many people would be impacted.
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Regardless of where this quote came from, the concept has been around a long time. On their way to the temple, Peter and John met a man begging for money. Instead of giving him money, they healed him through the power of God, enabling him to work and take care of himself, thus “feeding” him for a lifetime.
One of the challenges we face in bringing the gospel to a remote tribe is helping people learn to feed themselves spiritually. Traditionally an oral society, few Gogodala are strong readers. The children learn to read in school but with so few books available, they get very little reading practice. Therefore, their worldview gets shaped more by oral traditions than by written knowledge.
Some of our close friends in the village are illiterate, and we have a burden to help them read. Writings in the Gogodala language are scant and hard to find. Even the Bible is not available in its entirety in the Gogodala language. On the other hand, training our people to read English gives them access to so many more possibilities.
Hearing that Pacific Adventist University has a literacy instructor program, we put in a request to have students fly across the gulf to our location and teach our people as part of their practicum requirements. At the end of June, four young theology students climbed out of the mission plane at the Kawito airstrip equipped to do some teaching and preaching. We assigned them a week at each of our four churches. When they came to our Kewa church, they brought materials to train 20 people how to be literacy teachers. By the middle of the week, 30 people were attending the class, but they somehow managed to accommodate the extra students.
Throughout the week, the students studied three styles of learning—auditory, visual and kinesthetic. They received group assignments to help them understand each learning style. Working together to complete their projects, the students enjoyed playing little games to help them learn the principles. Judging by the smiles and laughter we heard throughout the week, it was clear that this was a meaningful experience for them and that they were also connecting well with their teachers.
Using the story of the Good Samaritan as the subject, the class prepared a presentation to be given at our church on Sabbath. All the students were invited to attend our church service and participate by sharing a couple of songs as a choir and the story of the Good Samaritan told in the three learning styles for the sermon message. After the sermon, the whole congregation moved outside and down the path leading to the creek where they assembled on the bank to witness the baptism of 21 dear souls. Some of those baptized had been students in our literacy training class. Pastor Wally Kapi, the minister doing the baptism, gave another appeal at the end of the baptism and still others made a decision to be baptized in the future.
It became apparent that this literacy training would be an evangelistic tool of its own. Some of the villagers who had been prejudiced against our church came and participated in the class. One of the students is the wife of the village school headmaster who, 28 years ago, threw Seventh-day Adventist students out of Kewa who had come down from the highlands to share the advent message.
Another student in our literacy training class was the headmaster’s niece. Her husband had made the decision to be baptized on Sabbath. But she was still apprehensive about her father and uncle’s reactions and remained indecisive. The following week she told Laurie that she had spoken to her father and her headmaster uncle, and both had given their permission for her to also join our church so she could be with her husband in worshiping God. Laurie was amazed as she listened to this testimony and grateful to God for how He was leading and working on the hearts of the Gogodala. The people here seem to be hungrier for God’s word than ever before.
As we move forward with our training center building project, we are excited to think that soon we will be constructing a pavilion where more training events can happen that will provide the means of feeding the people spiritually. And they will be learning how to feed themselves as well.