Transformed hearts, transformed lives

Information Poverty Kills!

Anée wept bit­terly as she held her baby close to her chest. She was filled with a con­fu­sion of anger, grief and guilt. She was sup­posed to have taken the med­i­cine her­self and the baby would have ben­e­fit­ted through her milk. But she didn’t un­der­stand the doc­tor’s in­struc­tions, and she can’t read, so she gave the med­i­cine di­rectly to her baby. Her new­born daugh­ter died from a tragic and avoid­able over­dose. In­for­ma­tion poverty kills.

Anée was the wife of our night guard, Bel­toise when we lived in Chad. Their an­gry grief made me an­gry too. The doc­tor should have known that 80% of Cha­dian women are non-lit­er­ate. He should have known that she prob­a­bly needed to be told what to do. Anée had been to pri­mary school, but since every­thing was in French she had un­der­stood so lit­tle that by the time she left she was still un­able to read. Chil­dren who learn to read and write in their mother tongue be­fore bridg­ing to the of­fi­cial lan­guage flour­ish and fly, while those who have to do it all in French of­ten floun­der and fail. It still trou­bles me that while in the UK only six chil­dren out of 1,000 live births die be­fore the age of five, in Chad it’s 200 chil­dren. So many of those deaths are avoid­able. There is a di­rect link be­tween moth­ers be­ing able to read and in­fant mor­tal­ity. Moth­ers who can read have chil­dren who live longer.

Hope for the future

But there is hope! The Cha­dian gov­ern­ment is start­ing to ex­plore teach­ing in the mother tongue in pri­mary school. They are also pro­mot­ing the use of Cha­dian lan­guages for adult lit­er­acy. But that can’t hap­pen with­out the right re­sources. For decades Wycliffe staff have been analysing lan­guages and pro­duc­ing guides to un­der­stand­ing gram­mar, dic­tio­nar­ies and lit­er­acy ma­te­ri­als. These are es­sen­tial to good Bible trans­la­tion, but they are in­valu­able for mul­ti­lin­gual schools too.

Our work in many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is not only en­abling peo­ple to find spir­i­tual heal­ing and nour­ish­ment, but phys­i­cal heal­ing and nour­ish­ment too. One of the book­lets our teams trans­lated into sev­eral lan­guages of Chad was a very sim­ple guide on how to treat a baby with di­ar­rhoea. It’s so sim­ple: ster­ile wa­ter, salt and sugar can save the life of a sick child. In the 15 years since it was trans­lated, that lit­tle book­let has prob­a­bly saved hun­dreds of lives. To quote No­bel Prize win­ner Sir William Lewis, “The fun­da­men­tal cure for poverty is not money but knowledge”.

The pendulum effect

I re­ally en­joyed watch­ing Al­ice in Won­der­land at the cin­ema with my wife and chil­dren this month. “Con­trari­wise” said Twee­dledee as he bick­ered with Twee­dle­dum.  Two peo­ple con­tra­dict­ing each other just for the sake of it makes for en­ter­tain­ing com­edy, but it’s a dis­as­trous way to de­velop the­ol­ogy.  Some­body over­states their case, so some­body else feels the need to counter that po­si­tion by over­stat­ing an op­pos­ing view. Be­fore long we have po­larised an ar­gu­ment into two un­bib­li­cal, but firmly-held po­si­tions. Parts of the church have done this with evan­ge­lism and so­cial ac­tion, pro­mot­ing one to the ex­clu­sion of the other. This was starkly il­lus­trated last month by an Amer­i­can TV show host who en­cour­aged Chris­tians to leave churches that worked for “so­cial jus­tice” be­cause he be­lieved it to be just a code for “com­mu­nism”! Any church that treats a per­son as ei­ther just-a-soul-that-needs-sav­ing, or just-a-body-that-needs-feed­ing has def­i­nitely lost the plot. Jesus both taught and fed the five thousand.

Wycliffe’s Integral Mission

Wycliffe In­ter­na­tional is a mem­ber of the Micah Network, a group of over 300 Chris­t­ian agen­cies com­mit­ted to In­te­gral Mis­sion. In­te­gral mis­sion is “the procla­ma­tion and demon­stra­tion of the gospel. It is not sim­ply that evan­ge­lism and so­cial in­volve­ment are to be done along­side each other. Rather, in in­te­gral mis­sion our procla­ma­tion has so­cial con­se­quences as we call peo­ple to love and re­pen­tance in all ar­eas of life. And our so­cial in­volve­ment has evan­ge­lis­tic con­se­quences as we bear wit­ness to the trans­form­ing grace of Jesus Christ. If we ig­nore the world we be­tray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ig­nore the word of God we have noth­ing to bring to the world. Jus­tice and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by faith, wor­ship and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion, the spir­i­tual and the ma­te­r­ial, per­sonal change and struc­tural change be­long together.”

Wycliffe’s lan­guage de­vel­op­ment work pro­duces trans­formed lives through the trans­lated Word and through trans­lated de­vel­op­ment in­for­ma­tion. Peo­ple grow bet­ter crops and live bet­ter lives. They care for their en­vi­ron­ment and they care for their neigh­bours. They learn about jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by faith, and oral re­hy­dra­tion so­lu­tion. Wycliffe’s work brings both spir­i­tual and ma­te­r­ial blessing.

De­vel­op­ment agen­cies such as World Vi­sion and Save the Chil­dren are in­creas­ingly pay­ing at­ten­tion to these is­sues. So is Wycliffe be­com­ing a de­vel­op­ment agency? No, our core pur­pose is still clearly in fo­cus, but we are not blind to the broader con­se­quences of our work. Lan­guage de­vel­op­ment is holis­tic min­istry, meet­ing the needs of peo­ple who still have both body and soul.

This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in Words for Life, the Wycliffe Bible Trans­la­tors UK mag­a­zine.

Dave Pear­son was Di­rec­tor of SIL Chad from 1991 to 1998. He cur­rently serves as the Di­rec­tor for Part­ner­ships and Pub­lic Re­la­tions for SIL International.

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