"RONG DOMRIEX, Cambodia — Tel Im, a barefoot 13-year-old, sat cross-legged on a bamboo bench, eager for her reading lesson.This story first appeared in the Washington Post, but I was unable to locate the original article.
“Please turn to Lesson 33,” said a woman’s voice rising from a Sony cassette player powered by two wires clipped to a car battery. The tape was the closest thing to a school in this village shaded by banana trees, where water buffaloes meander in from the lime-green rice paddies.
Im and her classmates flipped to Page 134 for a passage from the New Testament.
“The title of this story is: ‘Jesus Was Crucified,’“ said the teacher on the tape, slowly pronouncing the words in Khmer, the local language, as the children followed along with their fingertips.
Six months ago, Im couldn’t read a word and had never heard of Jesus. Now, through a literacy program run by the local chapter of an international Bible group, she has a book — the Bible — that she can read, and she says she wants to become a Christian."
The Bible has historically been a force for literacy in the world, and one of the first things that must happen is that the Scriptures need to be translated into the indigenous language. According to this article, there have been 600 new translations since the year 2000, resulting in potentially tens of millions more people being reached. An additional 1600 projects are underway.
Another aspect of this and similar initiatives is the diversity of ways in which the Scriptures are presented -- cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players ("Bible Stick"), as well as downloading to the current generation of cell phones. The electronic media make it possible to get the Scriptures into countries where shipping crates of printed Bibles would be inconvenient, if not illegal.
With regard to Cambodia, where the predominant religion is Buddhism, the director of the National Buddhist Institute had this to say:
“For centuries and centuries we have been Buddhists.”
But, he added, people have a right to choose their religion, and the government is grateful for the medicine, food and manpower that Christian groups are bringing. As for the Christian literacy program, he said, “If Buddhists worry about it, they should teach children to read, too.”
Working with people and meeting their needs sends a powerful message, and it seems that many have become Christians through those who come to serve.