Few of us who have read all our lives understand the nearly miraculous potential of being able to read and write when illiteracy has been the dominant disabler to flourishing. Illiteracy is more dominant than poverty, more dominant than a chronic physical disability, and more dominant than even an oppressive social system. We readers have long lost the joy of discovering that the squiggly marks on a page of paper can be interpreted or that the same kinds of marks can be learned and replicated with chalk, ink, pen or pencil.We don’t understand because we read and write and often take for granted the treacherous limitations illiteracy places on the human spirit as well as on human potential. Perhaps one story from Gospel for Asia will help us again remember the wonder of our own unrecognized reading and writing capacities. This is about Mandeepa. Due to the early death of her father, Mandeepa and her five other siblings were raised by a struggling mother. None of these six children were able to attend school, and at the age of 13, Mandeepa started to work as a household maid to support her single parent. Eventually, as is frequently the case, a marriage was arranged for Mandeepa, who quickly produced a son and a daughter. At the age of 16, Mandeepa started attending a local church where the young woman received a Bible of her own—but having never learned to read and write, she, of course, only saw strange markings on the page. Her heart was filled with a longing to read the words and to learn more about the Heavenly Father the book taught about, but this was impossible, and the young woman was disconsolate. Mandeepa’s husband was also illiterate. Their daughter was fortunate to attend school, but her growing ability to read only pointed out the lack in her mother’s education. How Mandeepa wished she could help her daughter with her schoolwork. This parental lack only increased the woman’s desire to read and write like her children. Then the GFA-supported Women’s Fellowship at her church-initiated literacy learning classes.
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