A Faith-Based Literacy Leader’s Tutoring Experience
Perhaps the word “literacy” on the check had caught her eye. After I explained to the clerk that my work is to help churches help persons with literacy needs, she said, “My husband can’t read.” Immediately, I offered to help, and thus, began a two-and-a-half year journey through the Laubach Way to Reading.
I had been a promoter, a trainer, a minister encouraging churches to help people with literacy needs. Now, I was challenged with the opportunity to slow down my travel and invest more personally in the process. My “territory” was the whole state of Texas. Could I commit to meeting with an adult student once or twice a week? Could I trade breadth for depth?
My student was a disabled sixty-two year old veteran who often took phone messages at home for his wife. However, take them was all he did. He couldn’t write them. He couldn’t read his Bible or the newspaper, but he was willing to try to learn.
“This is a bird with a long tail and a round body. Say bird. This looks like a bird with a long tail and a round body. Say bird.” Slowly we progressed through the consonants, then the vowels. I was amazed that an adult would really be interested in the stories in the little green, yellow, and blue readers. My student read them carefully and deliberately. Next, he moved to verses and chapters in his Bible and then on to newspaper articles. Along the way, he learned to write those messages for his wife, too.
He wasn’t the only one who was learning. He was forty years older than I was. He had raised a family, fought in a war, and worked on an assembly line. His experiences were rich though not written. He became my teacher, too.
My calling as a minister is not the traditional one. As Executive Director of Literacy ConneXus, a nonprofit organization, I continue to promote literacy and train trainers. I still travel as a minister, encouraging churches to help people with literacy needs. I’m also teaching another adult to read better and teaching in my church’s ESL program. Through my work with both churches and state literacy initiatives, I have discovered that we need each other. Together, we can accomplish more than we can separately. (See this article for a letter to Windcrest United Methodist Church regarding the impact of faith-based programs of English language learners,)
It’s estimated that 3.8 million adults in Texas lack sufficient literacy skills. Texas LEARNS estimates that 108,000 plus are currently served through state-funded adult education in Texas. No one knows how many are served through other programs (including faith-based). Probably, all told, fewer than 200,000 adults in Texas receive the assistance they require.
Sunday school. Perhaps you’ve participated. Did you know that Sunday school began in London in the eighteenth century as a response to child laborers who roamed the streets on their day off? Churches began to provide basic education to these children on Sunday. The idea spread to the United States. Now Sunday school has a different look. Times change.
I’m convinced that churches and other faith groups are greatly underutilized in helping persons with literacy needs across Texas. I’m confident that there are dozens of ways churches can help people with literacy needs, in addition to teaching basic literacy and ESL. Providing books to children in support of family literacy could transform the next generation of learners. Mentoring in schools changes lives, too. I also believe it is urgent that we advocate on behalf of education at the federal, state, and local levels.
A recent survey conducted by the Baylor Center for Literacy (Dr. Rob Rogers, Director) identified 158 literacy programs facilitated by churches in Texas. These were surveyed following more than 3,500 contacts with faith groups throughout the state. It’s good to know that these programs help approximately 4,800 persons monthly. It’s also obvious that more could be done. Just imagine: if 158 churches can help 4,800 persons, what could 1,000 do? 5,000? 10,000?
About the Author
Lester Meriwether is Executive Director of Literacy ConneXus – a faith-based organization tasked to help churches help persons with literacy needs. Lester is a graduate of the University of North Texas (M.Ed. in Adult Education) and was on the writing team for the recent Content Standards project. He enjoys reading to his granddaughter, Olivia.
BAYLOR CENTER FOR LITERACY
You can still respond to the survey of religiously-affiliated literacy programs mentioned in the above article. You will find a link to the survey on the Website of The Center for Literacy at Baylor University. The Center’s Website also includes free resources on building capacity for literacy ministry in churches, how to start a church literacy program, and more.
Baylor Center for Literacy Website: