Literacy opened 'whole new world' for her

The Relief Society recently announced a gospel literacy effort to cap off the organization's sesquicentennial celebration. The following account illustrates how one Relief Society sister was able to help another learn to read and write. The article was written by Sister Luree Schmutz who is serving with her husband, Elder Eldon Schmutz, in the Papua New Guinea Port Moresby Mission.

The first time I met Doreen Huena was Sept. 13, 1992, the day my husband and I arrived in Popondetta to begin an 18-month mission in Papua New Guinea. She was among the group of Relief Society sisters who had come to welcome us to the home that would be "ours" for the next six months.As we drove through the gate, which had been carefully decorated with palm leaves and flowers, we heard shouts of "Oro, Oro," which, in the native language, is "welcome." After the traditional lei welcome, we were led to the concrete area that is used as the branch meeting place, where tropical fruit and other refreshments were waiting for us.

I felt the genuine love these sister Saints had for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for each other, and for me, a total stranger. As I studied each one, I wondered if I would ever be able to call them by name. But it didn't take long before the names and faces became familiar to me.

I had no trouble becoming well acquainted with Doreen because she came to the mission home each week to do laundry. Each time she came she brought along her two small daughters who liked to sing Primary songs as they entertained themselves.

I learned that Doreen was born in Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea, but moved to Popondetta, an isolated area on the east side of the island, soon after the death of her father.

In order to provide for her young children, Doreen's mother worked in her garden leaving a 15-year-old daughter, Ethel, to care for the little ones. When Ethel died unexpectedly, 9-year-old Doreen took her sister's place caring for the children while her mother continued to work in her garden growing food to feed her eight children. With this new responsibility, it was impossible for Doreen to attend school. She had completed just one year of formal education.

I soon learned that Doreen's greatest wish was to be able to read the scriptures. Together, we decided that her dream would come true and we began to gather teaching materials. My daughter sent materials used in school by her first grade son. We were given materials used by the Church Educational System in teaching students to read the scriptures. We purchased several books for the beginning reader at a local store and began our studies.

Doreen studied diligently every day, and when she would come for her lesson she was excited and eager to begin. Before and after each lesson we had prayer together asking our Heavenly Father to help each of us. I loved to listen to Doreen pray. It was as if she was speaking face to face with the Lord. She would tell Him that she wanted to be able "to read your words" and would then humbly ask Him to help her learn and to remember.

After several months, Doreen was reading simple scriptures and the Book of Mormon Stories. A whole new world was opening to her. She began reading the words in the hymnbook. She copied scriptures on paper and hung them on her walls so that she could see the words as she worked about her home. She read the words she learned to her family during weekly family home evenings.

I shall always remember one particular fast and testimony meeting when Doreen stood before the congregation with her scriptures in her hands. She expressed her love to her Heavenly Father for giving her the opportunity to read His words and for sending someone to teach her to read. She closed her testimony by opening her scriptures to John 13:34-35 and read: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." She lost her place when tears blurred the page, but soon continued: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

Doreen was asked to be a visiting teacher and together we studied the message, simplifying it so that she could read and present it. One of her favorite scriptures was part of her first visiting teaching message and after studying it, she understood its meaning in a very personal way.

She read D&C 130:18-19. "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

"And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."

After our transfer to Port Moresby, I received a printed letter from Doreen telling me that her husband, Winceslas, is her teacher now and when she finds a word she doesn't know, "he helps me."

I will always have a special kind of love for my friend, Doreen, and will continue to pray for her as she studies the words of our Savior and His prophets and becomes more comfortable and proficient in her newly acquired skill.

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