JeDene Reeder has spent 26 years working as a literacy consultant in Africa.
She’s served with Wycliffe Bible Translators in six countries, conducting reading workshops and designing literacy materials for peoples all across Africa.
Today, she’s one of only two workers trying to bring literacy materials and training to the four countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Her work is changing lives, one person at a time.
Literacy training is a crucial component in the work of Bible translation.
It’s a big part of what Wycliffe Bible Translators does in their efforts to make the Bible available for every language and people in the world.
Wycliffe’s mission is to make the Scriptures accessible for every person in a language that speaks to their heart.
With over 6500 spoken languages in the world today (and hundreds more signed languages), the task is daunting.
But Wycliffe is making swift progress and the number of languages needing a translated Bible grows smaller every day.
People around the globe are able to study the Word of God and know Him as they haven’t before.
But some languages are purely oral — they’re only spoken, not written down. How can speakers of these languages access the Bible?
That’s where literacy work like JeDene’s comes into play.
JeDene is one of Wycliffe’s many skilled literacy consultants. Her job is to help make the translated Scriptures accessible to everyone in a language group.
Sometimes, this means an entire alphabet and writing system needs to be developed.
Alphabets can take many different forms.
Some languages, like Somali, use a Western alphabet of single letters to transcribe sounds and words. Other languages, most notably in Asia, depend on symbols that stand for syllables and sound combinations.
Still other languages use pictographic symbols to stand for entire words instead of individual letters.
Whatever the case, literacy workers need to work with the peoples in question to determine what kind of writing system is most desirable for the particular language.
Sometimes there is resistance to developing a writing system. Natives may fear that the integrity of a language or oral tradition will be corrupted by writing it down.
If that’s the case, workers like JeDene must work closely with their native colleagues to explain the advantages of written Scriptures.
“Literacy is crucial for discipleship,” says JeDene, who has seen the impact of literacy up close throughout her time with Wycliffe.
It’s a wonderful and necessary part of Christian growth to refer back to certain Biblical passages over and over, and it’s done most easily through reading and writing.
Once she has helped develop a writing system for a language, JeDene then has to conduct literacy workshops.
If the language in question has never been written down before, those who speak it need someone to help them understand the newly written process.
The Ifè people are one such example.
Wycliffe began conducting literacy workshops in the Ifè language of Togo and Benin when the Ifè New Testament translation was underway. Wycliffe’s workshops frequently use translated Scripture as reading material.
One religious leader testifies, “By the grace of the Lord and through the Ifè literacy program, I gave myself to Christ, and I serve Him today with all my heart.”
As he learned to read, he practiced by reading selections from the Ifè New Testament every morning. This consistent exposure to Scripture led him to accept Christ.
JeDene has led many such literacy programs and workshops throughout her career.
In addition to offering the translated Bible as reading material, workers like JeDene help local teachers and authorities create other books and resources in the local language.
Even in places where missions work is often frowned upon, literacy training offers an open door for the Gospel.
Many governments eagerly accept Wycliffe’s help in creating writing systems and teaching people to read and write.
“In a lot of countries, governments don’t care about Bible translation, but they will care about literacy,” JeDene says.
The statistics show that literacy also leads to productive community engagement. A literate population is more able to initiate economic growth and develop strong health and agricultural systems.
“We can serve them well by offering literacy,” JeDene emphasizes.
For more information on her work and how to support literacy work and Bible translation around the world, visit the Wycliffe Bible Translators website.
And please keep JeDene and her work of bringing literacy materials—and the written Gospel—to the countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in your prayers!