The Church is pilot testing a program designed to help participants improve reading and writing skills while learning how to study the gospel and teach it to their families and others.
The Gospel Literacy project—which is currently in pilot testing with the Africa West Area and not yet widely available—can dramatically change lives, according to Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President. She recently traveled to the West African country of Sierra Leone to see firsthand how the program is locally administered and supported. The adult literacy rate in Sierra Leone is less than 50 percent.
“I think the Gospel Literacy program is going to help families and individuals learn how to teach the gospel,” Sister Bingham said. “And the more they learn, the more they’ll understand their purpose here on the earth, and eternally.”
Sister Bingham met with people in the cities of Freetown, Kenema, and Bo.
“Relief Society has a mandate for literacy, and I have personally been very concerned about literacy,” she said. “There are so many women around the world who do not have the opportunity to go to school, and I wanted to see how we could harness the power of the Relief Society to help our sisters who do not have the blessing of literacy in their lives.”
In Sierra Leone, as is the case in much of the Africa West Area, the majority of Church members are first generation—meaning they are not accustomed to learning and sharing the gospel at home or at church. If members can’t read and follow the scriptures or keep up with what is being discussed in Sunday School, Relief Society, or elders quorum, they may have a hard time feeling they are progressing in their gospel learning.
As a first step in the literacy program, wards and branches meet together to assess the needs of their congregations and to identify potential teachers for the program. Learners are then often paired with ministering partners who can help meet their learning needs though the program, and, using the workbook materials of the program that match their level of understanding, teachers and learners work together to improve gospel and language understanding.
“In some ways, it is like ‘Come, Follow Me,’” said Melissa Hawkley, Gospel Literacy project manager. Members are learning key tools, words, and principles through the program and then taking those and sharing them in their ward or branch units and with their families so that their knowledge is disbursed.