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A pilot program designed to improve literacy while teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ has been launched in Sierra Leone. 

“Reading opens up a world of ideas that [a nonreader] can’t even imagine,” said Sister Jean B. Bingham, general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sister Bingham and her husband, Bruce, traveled to the West African country of Sierra Leone in early June to help implement the Church’s pilot Gospel Literacy program. The Binghams visited the communities of Freetown, Kenema, Bo and several other towns in Sierra Leone, June 5–16.

The Church is creating the pilot program to teach reading and writing skills while teaching gospel principles in countries where literacy rates are low. In Sierra Leone many Church members lack the literacy tools they need to be able to fully participate in the gospel.

How it works

“Gospel literacy is about learning to read and write so you can understand … the principles of the gospel so that you can teach your own children or your neighbors,” said Project Manager Melissa Hawkley.

Learners meet with gospel literacy teachers on Sundays and begin learning to read letters, numbers and single words while studying gospel principles. They’re also encouraged to practice their reading and writing skills throughout the week and to teach their families what they are learning.

“The first part of a gospel literacy lesson is a picture discussion,” said Project Manager Cason Curriden. “Now that picture is centered around a gospel principle or a gospel story from the Bible or the Book of Mormon.”

He continued, “After that picture discussion, they’re then able to transition into learning letters and forming words.”

Hawkley said the training not only helps Latter-day Saints serve in their congregations, but it also helps provide them with the skills they need to work outside the home.

“For some years, I taught English as a second language,” said Sister Bingham, the worldwide leader of the Church’s women’s organization. “Some of the students that I worked with were not particularly literate. They really struggled with reading and writing, and it was such a joy to help them open that door to [new] possibilities.”

One of the main goals of the pilot Gospel Literacy program is to strengthen families. “In Relief Society, we are a worldwide sisterhood,” she said. “I would love to see the power of the Relief Society harnessed in the Gospel Literacy program to help each one of our sisters reach their full potential.”

She added, “One of the things I love about the Gospel Literacy program is that learners become leaders, and you know leaders influence an entire community.”

Sister Bingham also participated in training for local Church leaders and ministered to several Latter-day Saints in their homes during her stay.

In Kenema, she met Juliet Numa, a Relief Society president and single mother in a local congregation, who is participating in the Gospel Literacy program.

“She did not know how to read or write, and she was very unsure whether she could serve in this calling,” said Sister Bingham. “As a matter of fact, some of the sisters in her branch also mentioned that they were concerned about her ability to lead. … Juliet was invited to join a Gospel Literacy class. That learning increased her confidence to fulfill her calling. Wonderful to see her progress.”

“The Gospel Literacy program can be life changing,” expressed Sister Bingham. “I’ve seen how women that I’ve observed here have become leaders, and I’ve learned how they fortify their communities with faith, and they can really truly change the world.”