Literacy (Campaigns)

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As Mennonite involvement in the cause of Christian mission steadily expanded in the 20th century, there was growing encounter with and concern about the pervasive human problem of illiteracy. Basic reasons contributing to this situation worldwide may be summarized as follows: rapid population growth, which frequently outpaced a government's capacity to educate the people it governed; poverty and the inequitable distribution of resources and opportunity; geographical isolation of segments of the population; indifference on the part of the government or perhaps, in some cases, even a deliberate political strategy to keep literacy rates low as a means of avoiding pressures for improvement and change from a better informed populace.

Modern Christian missions historically have devoted very significant amounts of resources and personnel to the cause of literacy and this basically for two reasons. First, since knowledge is power, literacy is seen as an effective means of validating human beings and enabling them to take charge of their own lives in a more effective manner. Furthermore it has been the conviction of modern missionaries that for believers of whatever race or culture to endure and thrive in the Christian faith, they must have direct access to the Scriptures.

Sharing these convictions, Mennonite and Brethren in Christ missions have across the years engaged in language analysis and the translation of Scripture and associated Christian literature in many areas around the world. At the same time, much effort was devoted to teaching people how to read. During an earlier pioneering era in Africa, India, and China, full-blown educational systems were launched with the conviction that education, evangelism, church planting, leadership training, and spiritual nurture could all be integrated parts of the same process. The great impact of mission schools as Christian training centers for both church and community leaders has been richly documented.

Later, as national governments began to take over school systems and to launch their own literacy campaigns, Mennonite missions and churches have frequently offered personnel, services, and resources to help promote such campaigns in their areas. Whatever the involvement, the underlying rationale has always remained the same, namely, to equip individuals to lead better informed and more productive lives within their society and to enable Christians to nurture their faith and blossom within their community of believers because of their ability to draw spiritual strength and guidance from the printed page. 

See also Brethren in Christ Society of India; Egypt; Iglesia Evangélica Unida: Hermanos Menonitas, Panama; Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania; Mbungano Yabunyina Muli Kristo.


Malagar, P J.  Mennonite Church India. [Nagpur?] : National Council of Churches in India, [1981]: 40-52.

Shouse, Bill. The Blind Mule and Other Stories. Compiler Melanie Zuercher. Akron, PA: MCC, 1988: 28. Stories told to a literacy worker in Kentucky.

Author(s) James E Bertsche
Date Published 1987

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MLA style

Bertsche, James E. "Literacy (Campaigns)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 16 Jul 2024.

APA style

Bertsche, James E. (1987). Literacy (Campaigns). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 July 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 522-523. All rights reserved.

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