Adventist Review features editor Sandra Blackmer is currently in India with North America Division's Hope for Humanity director Maitland DiPinto, Southern Asia Division (SUD) leaders in Women's Ministries, and others to participate in graduation ceremonies for women in southern provinces who have completed church-sponsored literacy courses. Blackmer wrote a cover story [Changing Lives One Word at a Time] about the literacy initiative in the January 15, 2009, issue of the Review. Also included was an appeal to readers to help purchase Bibles and carrying cases to present to women who completed the yearlong course. The fund-raising goal was $20,000--enough to purchase Bibles and cases for the approximately 4,000 women who would graduate from the 200 literacy classes throughout southern India the following year--but the generosity of Review subscribers greatly surpassed all expectations. Within just a few months of printing the article, readers had sacrificially donated more than $80,000 to the program. At $5.00 for a Bible and its case, it was enough to provide this gift to graduates for several years. Blackmer now has the privilege of presenting some of these Bibles to literacy course graduates.--The editors.
My fingers grasped the side of the car seat and I told myself to start breathing again. That one was really close! I thought. I tried again to buckle my seatbelt, but it was no use. It was broken, and my numerous attempts to latch it didn't change that fact. I again put myself into God's hands, trusting Him--and our very skilled driver--to return us to our motel safely.
Nothing prepared me for driving in India. It compares to a video game--the one where you're steering a car and dozens of obstacles jump into your path and you must quickly swerve to avoid them or lose points. Only in this case, if you were to hit one of the countless obstacles on this "path," more than points would be lost. The roads in India are congested not only with cars and motorcycles but with bicycles, rickshaws, pedestrians, dogs--and even occasional cows. Horns honk continuously. No traffic laws seem to exist. Vehicles swerve from one side of the road to the other weaving their way through and around everything in their path, often missing each other by inches--no, millimeters. Drivers reduce speed or jolt to a stop only when absolutely necessary. Even intersections rarely slow them down. The congestion doesn't ease after leaving the large city of Kolkata; it continues with no break village after village. Again I'm struck by the mass of people here--each one in need of the Savior, just as I am.
To distract my thoughts I muse on a literacy graduation ceremony our group attended. A few of the students had enacted a skit. They depicted an illiterate young woman who was being cheated by an unscrupulous person at the market. The scores of women watching the skit became unusually quiet as they observed this make-believe version of their personal realities. This was real, everyday life for them. The woman in the play learned to read, write, and count, and the next time the dishonest person tried to cheat her, she was able to stand her ground and was paid a fair price for her wares. Those watching responded with joy and excitement, reveling in the victory as if it were their own.
It hit me then that this program is about more than just learning to read. It's about being able to "hold your head up" in local communities, preventing others from taking advantage, feeling that you have something valuable to offer to others. These women had developed a level of confidence and self-respect that I was told hadn't been there before. They had grown, both in their own eyes and in the estimation of others. They'd been transformed.
Since 2000, when Hepzi launched the literacy program with just 10 classes, more than 50,000 women have taken the opportunity to learn and are now making even more significant contributions to their families and communities. All have learned about Jesus, and many have accepted Him as their Lord and Savior.
"We're not building big churches; we're not holding huge evangelistic meetings, but there are 50,000 women who are now able to read and have learned about Jesus and they take this knowledge out into the community," says Ray Tetz, creative director and owner of Mind Over Media and who has partnered with HFH and SUD since 2005 to raise awareness of the literacy program. "I would say that's a good investment."