Reading the Words of Life

Many participants in the literacy program are children who have no other way to learn to read or experience Scripture. Photo Credit: Grace Smith

When 9-year-old Eark Kong began attending a Scripture-based literacy class, she just wanted to learn how to read. But soon she would learn that through reading God’s Word she would gain more than literacy. Eark would read words of life.

She had tried local school, but in Cambodia, schools are often inaccessible for children in the poor, rural area where Eark lives.

“I studied very slowly because I had to work in the fields, and sometimes it was just too far to walk to school when instead I could spend time working,” explains Eark, who helps her mother and grandmother each day.

So when a local pastor visited Eark’s home and invited her to a Scripture literacy class supported by the Bible Society in Cambodia (BSC) in the nearby village, Eark’s mother encouraged her to attend. Soon, Eark began to read fluently.

But learning to read was not the only change in Eark’s life. At the invitation of the same pastor who invited her to literacy class, she also began to attend church with her mother. After reading the Bible in class and learning more about the Gospel in church, both Eark and her mother became Christians. “I learned about how I am a sinner, but that Jesus loves me, my mother and all the people on Earth,” Eark says.

And for BSC, sharing that good news with young Cambodians like Eark is a mission of utmost importance. In Cambodia, where more than 50 percent of the population is under 24, the infrastructure for education and social change has been devastated by years of genocide and conflict. Many young people have never heard the message of God’s love contained in Scripture.

Through programs like the literacy classes and Bible distribution efforts throughout the country, BSC is helping to shape the next generation of Christians in Cambodia. In 2012, BSC, with support from American Bible Society, distributed more than 10,000 Bibles, New Testaments and Scripture Portions to children and youth. Many of the versions they distributed were designed specifically for young readers.

Even more young people accessed electronic versions of the Bible through the BSC website.

An unprecedented opportunity exists to reach the next generation of Cambodians, explains Rhoda Gathoga, research director with Global Scripture Impact, the research arm of ABS. “The country is opening up a lot now … so there’s a curiosity and yearning to know more,” Gathoga says. “We need to be sure we are there to meet that thirst, to ensure that it’s Christ they come to know and not just what the world has to offer.”

In the literacy classes, many children attend alongside their parents, who have never learned to read. Together, the family members learn to appreciate the Bible more and gain confidence of who they are in God’s eyes. In addition, reading allows participants to gain practical skills, such as reading job advertisements and using public transportation.

Ptum Seng, a 37-year-old mother of three, sent her children to the local Scripture literacy class, because the local school was too far for her children to walk to on a regular basis. Now, she sees her children’s reading skills improving, and they set aside time each day to read the Bible.

“[God] is so good to my family, even though I cannot read,” Ptum explains. “He allowed me to read the Bible through my children. For me, it is a blessing. It makes me happy every time I listen to the Word of God.”

Jennica Stevens is managing editor of Record.

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