Being illiterate was like being blind. Now I feel like I have come out of the darkness and into the light!
Being able to read and write is something many of us take for granted. But the joy expressed by this 56-year-old woman who learnt to read through a Pakistan Bible Society literacy class says it all: for someone who has never had the opportunity of an education, literacy opens the door to a whole new world. It’s about dignity, independence and wholeness. And yet so many people – one fifth of humanity – are deprived of the basic human right of literacy (see the infographic below.)
We believe that everyone should have the chance to learn to read and write and to enjoy ‘life in all its fulness’, which Jesus offers. And we know that reading the Bible can transform lives. That’s why we are running hundreds of literacy classes for hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
Our work has been officially recognised by UNESCO, with whom we are in consultative partnership. And we are expanding our plans: by 2015, we hope to carry out literacy projects in 50 languages spoken by more than one million people. Around half a million people will directly benefit from these projects. Please pray for our literacy work.
As public debate rages about how to deal with the thousands of refugees trying to enter Europe each year, many of them drowning in the attempt, the Austrian Bible Society and its partners have been working for years to help care for those who end up in Austria.
“The situation of these people saddens me deeply,” says Father Albert Pongo, who regularly visits refugees in detention centres and prisons. He is originally from Ghana and gives the refugees Bibles in their own languages, supplied by the Bible Society.
“I know from personal experience how hard it is to leave your own country, how much energy and effort it takes. Those who do manage to arrive often have to go back to their home country and face the stigma of failure.
“If I could, I would give them the necessary documents, so that they can stay here in Austria. But I can’t. What I can do is to listen to them and to talk to them about their lives and their problems. We read and discuss the Bible together.”
Father Pongo helps the refugees, some of whom aren’t familiar with the Bible, read passages that comfort and strengthen them.
The story of Job, for instance, who lost all his wealth but kept his faith. When the detainees read about him, they see that everything will end well.
“Often we read the psalms together,” he comments. “Psalm 121, for instance, encourages many people. Some people read the whole Bible by themselves, but for others I recommend passages I find very helpful myself. The story of Job, for instance, who lost all his wealth but kept his faith. When the detainees read about him, they see that everything will end well.”
Father Pongo says that the refugees greatly value the Bibles they are given.
“I can see how excited they are when they get their Bible,” he smiles. “They immediately start to flip through and read. I am very happy that the Bible Society provides these Bibles.
“I’d like to ask all supporters of Bible work to pray for all refugees. We all need to do what we can to raise awareness of their situation and to offer as much support as we can.”
The Austrian Bible Society provides thousands of Scriptures in many different languages for free distribution among refugees each year. Please pray for funding for this vital work.
Solomon Islands is a country of great linguistic diversity but with little or no literature available in many of its 70 living languages. That’s why adults and children alike are delighted at the arrival of the first Bible Comics in 14 languages.The comics, which tell the story of Abraham, are available in the lingua franca, Pijin, spoken by around 332,000 Solomon Islanders, as well as in Arosi, Bilua, Bughotu, Cheke Holo, Gela, Gao, Kwaio, Lengo, Roviana, Sa’a, Simbo, Ulawa and Zabana.
“It has been wonderful to see children of different languages enjoying the comics,” notes Ledua Turaganivalu of the Bible Society in the South Pacific. “They told our team that although they thought their language was important, they couldn’t read it very well because they’ve had nothing to practise with. These comics will help them get familiar with the written form of their own languages.
Not just children
“And it’s not just children who are happy with the comics – the adults in the villages are also enjoying them. It is helping them to realise that God loves them and that their language is important.”
The comics are being distributed on various different islands by churches and other partners. SIL has been actively involved in distributing the comics alongside relief materials in the wake ofthe worst flooding in the country’s history in April. Twenty-two people died, and the homes and livelihoods of around 50,000 were destroyed. Thousands of people are still in emergency shelters.
“Arosi was very badly affected, so we sent rice and supplies in the first week after the floods hit,” notes Debbie Conwell of SIL. “We included a batch of Bible Comics in the Arosi language. Many other areas, including Bilua and Gao have also been very badly affected and there is going to be a food shortage for some time.”
Please pray for the people of Solomon Islands as they recover from the flooding, and that these Bible Comics will bless them.
The Bible Comics were translated and published as a joint project by the Bible Society in the South Pacific, the Bible Translation and Literacy Partnership and the Solomon Island Translation Advisory Group.
Say the word ‘Caribbean’ and many people think of wide sandy beaches, palm trees and holidays – a kind of paradise. But for a growing number of women there, life is anything but paradise, blighted by the violence they experience at home. That’s why Bible Societies in the region are using the Bible to tackle this increasing scourge, with encouraging results.
*Mary had been trapped in a violent relationship for many years, with her partner’s attacks landing her in hospital several times. She was desperate for help but had no idea what to do. When the Bible Society began equipping churches to assist victims of domestic violence, Mary finally received the help she needed and is starting to turn her life around.
“If only this help had been available earlier, I wouldn’t have spent so many years of my life being victimised,” she says wistfully.
Mary lives in Jamaica but her story is chillingly common across the Caribbean. Although it’s hard to get accurate statistics for each country, the incidence of domestic violence in the region is significant and growing: around 33% of women in Jamaica and27% of women in Barbados, for instance, are victims of some form of domestic violence. It accounts for a large percentage of the region’s crime statistics, too – about 25% of all murders are committed in the home. Nearly all the victims are women.
As Christians we must stand up and let every man, woman and child know that God condemns violence.
“The rise in violence against women seems unstoppable, despite the efforts of many women’s organisations,” comments Erny Van Axel of the Suriname Bible Society. “As Christians we must stand up and let every man, woman and child know that God condemns violence. We need to help them know what the Bible says – that all people are made in God’s image and have the right to be treated with love, respect and dignity.”
This is what Bible Societies across the Caribbean have started doing in recent years, with a particular focus on equipping churches to do this work.
“Quite often the church is the first port of call for women suffering domestic violence,” comments Rev Courtney Stewart of the Bible Society in the West Indies. “But our church leaders aren’t taught about domestic violence at seminary, so they don’t really know how to deal with it. That’s why so many pastors, Sunday School teachers and community leaders are now requesting the training we and our partners are carrying out.”
Hundreds of people across the Caribbean have already been trained in how to spot the signs of domestic violence and offer sensitive and effective counselling and advice, using two Bible-based booklets – ‘Stop the Violence’ for adults and ‘I love my body’ for children.
13-year-old Gabbie* in Haiti who was sexually abused while living in a tent city after the 2010 earthquake says that the counselling she received from a church leader who had received domestic violence training has really helped her.
“It has helped me to understand that if I keep quiet about what happened there is no way to stop the violence,” she said. “I’ve also learned that I don’t have to be ashamed.”
Haiti has a staggeringly high rate of violence against women – around 80% of women are thought to suffer some kind of abuse – but that figure has increased since the earthquake.
“The earthquake brought about so much anger and frustration,” explains Magda Victor of the Haitian Bible Society. “It destroyed people’s homes and livelihoods and led to greater promiscuity. All this has resulted in even more domestic violence.”
Since 2012, the Haitian Bible Society has been tackling this issue by running domestic violence workshops and airing a radio program to help raise awareness about the issue. The Suriname Bible Society has also been using the radio to spread its message about domestic violence. Listening to the program changed Kleia Emanuels-Mijnsen’s life.
“I was sitting with friends listening to a Gospel radio program when a counselling session on domestic abuse started. As I listened, I knew I had to call the number for help because what they were describing had happened to me. I had been raped and abused by a family friend and had never told anyone or dealt with the pain. It had completely destroyed my relationship with my mother and I mistrusted all men.
“It took months of counselling before I could let go of the bitterness I felt. But I’m now happily married with two sons and am counselling other women.”
The Bible Society of the West Indies is planning to start running the program in the Bahamas in the next few months, where domestic violence is growing, too.
“Please pray as we seek to reap a harvest of rescuing women and children, and the men, too, who are usually the perpetrators of domestic violence,” says Mr Stewart.
Author: Grace Smith, 12 May 2015 (Last updated: 14 May 2015)
A second major earthquake recently struck Nepal, killing dozens of people and injuring more than 1,000, though these numbers are likely to rise.
The earthquake, which was 7.3 on the Richter scale, hit the town of Namche Bazaar, near Mount Everest.
It comes just two weeks after a previous earthquake hit the country, killing more than 8,000 people.
With widespread damage to homes and buildings, tremors continue to be felt both in Kathmandu and around the country.
Many temporary shelters have now been cut off and with most communication channels still down, it is hard to evaluate the full scale of destruction.
An early start to the monsoon is hampering relief efforts. The first earthquake destroyed sewers and pipes leaving water supplies contaminated. Whole communities are now homeless and in desperate need of basic supplies.
So far, some £80,000 has been pledged from Bible Societies around the world, including £20,000 from the UK.
The local team has started to put together aid packs that include mosquito nets, medicine, food, blankets and scripture portions.
David Smith, Head of Bible Society’s International Programme, said, ‘When we learned of the first massive earthquake in Nepal a couple of weeks ago, we knew that our Bible Society colleagues in Kathmandu would be looking to help their country, and so that we had to do something to support them.
‘Bible Society is responding to provide physical and spiritual nourishment to the people of Nepal. Now that the second earthquake has hit, we’re waiting to see what we can do to stand in solidarity with them. In the meantime, please pray.’
Nobody in the Bible Society team has been killed in the two earthquakes, but the building is badly damaged and there are fears of a third quake.
General Secretary of the Nepal Bible Society, Tej Jirel, said, ‘Many thanks for your continued efforts to help us and for your prayers. There has been lots of damage.’
Arun Sok Nhep, United Bible Society spokesman for South East Asia added, ‘Following the first earthquake, many International agencies on the ground are bringing emergency relief to Kathmandu and the worst affected locations. However, smaller remote communities remain out of reach.
‘Our response is one of solidarity and compassion. The initial quake hit with such impact, it is impossible to bring help to all affected. However, we aim to supplement and help where we can. Through a big network of churches throughout cities, towns and villages, we aim to reach those unattainable by emergency relief.’
for the safety of the Bible Society team in Nepal
that the relief effort would meet the needs of the people
that the Bible would play a part in restoring the nation
Please join us in praying for the people of Nepal at this time of national tragedy. Nepal’s Prime Minister says that the death toll from the earthquake on 25 April could be as high as 10,000. Our Bible Society there, which works closely with local churches across the country, is planning to assist the relief effort and provide replacement Bibles and New Testaments for Christians who have lost everything. They are also hoping to distribute Scripture leaflets containing Bible verses that can help people affected by trauma.