February 18, 2009

Buy a Bible, Change a Life

2009 1505 page6 capANADIAN JOURNALIST STEPHANIE NOLEN, THE GLOBE AND MAIL’S Africa correspondent for the past five years, reflected on her experiences in a December 13, 2008, article1—including one I particularly remember reading about. A front-page story in The Globe, written by Nolen, had captivated my attention. The headline read: “A $2 Mosquito Net, a 5¢ Vitamin, a $10 Vaccination. Simple as That, Child Mortality Is at a Record Low.”2
Announcing that the number of worldwide child deaths had fallen below the 10-million mark—down to 9.7 million—for the first time since the United Nations began to keep records in 1960, the article then focused on Malawi. It seems that a local village health worker there, Alfred Malunga, was seeing dramatic drops in the child death rate by using just simple preventive measures in his 16-village territory:
• Pregnant women were given free insecticide-treated mosquito nets to sleep under.
• Every child was given a vitamin A capsule at least once, sometimes twice, a year to boost their immune system.
• Every child was given disease-preventive vaccinations.
2009 1505 page6These simple measures, the article reports, had “cut malaria deaths by about a third,” a case of measles—once a “big killer” there—hadn’t been seen in seven years, and polio has been nonexistent since 1990. UNICEF’s chief of health, Peter Salama, summed up the results: “People are always looking for silver bullets—a new technology, a new intervention, a new discovery,” he said. “What we’ve learned is that the focus in child health needs to be less on finding a new silver bullet, particularly a technological one, and much more on delivering at scale these things that we know work.”
The Adventist Review has recently launched a fund-raising effort founded on these same basic principles. In its January 15 cover story—“Changing Lives One Word at a Time”—the Review describes how Hope for Humanity and the Southern Asia Division’s (SUD) Women’s Ministries Department are partnering to reduce the high rate of illiteracy among India’s women. Using simple methods such as small slates, pieces of chalk, and Bible-based materials, SUD’s Women’s Ministries director, Hepzibah Kore, spearheaded a project in 2001 to teach women in India how to read. So far, more than 10,000 people—mostly women but also some men—have learned to read through this program, and hundreds have come to know Jesus as their Savior.

Just the practical, day-by-day results of literacy are dramatic. Among other changes, when women learn to read and write they become aware of their social and legal rights, their income-generating skills improve, and they acquire a voice in the affairs of the family and the community. These abilities greatly enhance their status.
Every person who completes the literacy classes—held two hours a day, five days a week, for one year—receives a Bible and a carrying case. Now that they can read the words, these women are given the Word.
The cost for one Bible and its case is $5.00. The Adventist Review initiative is to raise the funds to pay for all the Bibles and carrying cases given to graduates in 2009. Literacy program leaders estimate 4,000 women will graduate this year, providing a goal of $20,000.
If you have not yet read “Changing Lives One Word at a Time,” go to the Review Web site. If you would like to donate, you can do so online at www.reviewandherald.com/bibles. Or you can mail your donation to Adventist Review/Hope for Humanity, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904. (Checks should be payable to Hope for Humanity.)
Buy a Bible and change a life. Can something so simple actually be effective? Just ask Malawi’s health worker Alfred Malunga. His answer, no doubt, would be “Yes!”
2The Globe and Mail, October 6, 2007.

Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.