Gospel literacy: 'Coming out of darkness into marvelous light'

"Coming out of darkness into the marvelous light" is the way a student of one of my former literacy classes described her experience. She was also enthused that she was not only learning English, but also, gospel principles, newly embraced, were reaffirmed to her growing testimony of the gospel.

I had previously served a mission in the Canada Halifax Mission where I used a community literacy program to help a young woman learn to read. I had watched how she literally "blossomed like a rose" and came each week with eager anticipation as she honed her new language skills. Because of this experience, I was keenly interested in the Church's Gospel Literacy Effort.When my husband, Phares, and I received a mission call in December 1993 to serve in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa, I hoped I'd be able to be a literacy teacher again.

My wish came true.

After arriving in the mission field, I found that all of my literacy students could both read and write French. However, in the Ivory Coast, if one is literate in both French and English, their chances of employment are greater. Ironically, in French, I was the only one not literate. That didn't stop me. I struggled with my high school French vocabulary, and when I failed to "get through," my French-speaking husband translated for me. I also resorted to charades and other antics to help me.

I remember well that initial gathering of students for the English class I taught. I had spent a great deal of time in study and prayer preparing to speak with them in their language. I especially wanted them to know that the Lord would help them in their learning.

As the number coming to classes grew each week, it became necessary to divide the class and find a second teacher. A Liberian refugee and new member, Wade Appleton, an attorney, was eager to help. When he left the city a few months later, he introduced me to another Liberian, Sam Kamara, an elementary school teacher. As Sam taught with us, he studied the gospel, gained a testimony of its truthfulness and joined the Church. Today, as a literacy teacher, he is sharing what he learned with others.

Every class we taught was a teacher's payday as class members, individually and collectively, read scriptures and sang hymns and other songs. Often I brought items from my apartment for students to identify. Cultural and age differences disappeared as everyone learned together.

Can you imagine the thrill I received recently when I heard from one of my former students now serving in the London England South Mission? He wrote: "I knew you before I was a missionary. In fact I attended first English class you taught. I remember you saying we would be blessed if we learned English, and that it would be a blessing throughout our lives. I already know this to be true. As a missionary in England I know I am better able to teach because you taught me."

Part of the miracle is that all of what he quoted I said in French that first day, and he not only understood me but remembered what I said. I felt as if I were also a literacy student and felt the same joy in improving my French as my students did in learning English.

The literacy classes are still on-going in Abidjan. According to Brother Mandy Gueu, the Church Educational System coordinator in the area, classes are being held in seven of the 11 branches in that city. He said: "All of Heavenly Father's children must be given an opportunity to learn His word. You can feel the need and see it on the eager faces of those who attend classes."

My fervent hope is that this inspired literacy effort will continue to bring more and more of our brothers and sisters "out of darkness and into His marvelous light."

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