Can the Christian Church ignore illiteracy? Frank C. Laubach has shown us that the illiterate masses will take the hand of anyone who reaches down to help them. This turbulent world is finding that the educated elite of the major powers can no longer hold the lid down. The pot of restless, rising expectations is boiling over. The masses are coming up, either the way of the pagan materialist or the way of the compassionate Christian. They are coming up literate and capable of relating and communicating, or illiterate, unstable, and volatile. This is the century of their rising.

The plight of the desperate billion is a great opportunity for Christianity. It is our chance to be our brothers’ keepers as never before. This can be the century of compassion. And in it we have the opportunity of communicating the Gospel as we help the unlettered climb the steps of literacy to a more abundant life. The printed word in the hand of the new reader can either build up or break him down. It is the map he will follow as he begins the journey of a new life. Language is the key to culture. With it we learn, think, and interpret all that comes through our senses. With language we express our thoughts and feelings. And with language we persuade others.

Missionaries, ministers, teachers, and lay volunteers who have had experience with literacy education as a missionary tool talk about it in such terms as these: “unparalleled opportunity,” “very effective,” “essential,” “the most helpful thing you can do,” “has the first place,” “cannot justify not doing it,” “powerful instrument,” “without it … efforts useless among primitives,” “our biggest opportunity,” “most imperative,” “top priority,” and “indispensable.” A. M. Chirgwin, in The Bible in ...

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