Tips for Teaching: Overcoming the Obstacle of Illiteracy

One of the most humbling parts of missionary work is the opportunity to study and prepare lessons for individual people. You will pray, assemble lessons each morning, and occasionally fast so that you are prepared to teach with the Spirit. Even though everyone shares burdens and hardships, each person will have their own needs and questions. One need that I found particularly challenging on my mission was teaching illiterate investigators. Here are a couple ideas to help you teach those who can't read effectively in the home and help them feel at ease in church.

Let's start with reading The Book of Mormon. Being the cornerstone of our religion, it is a basic component of a testimony for the restoration of the gospel. There are a couple ways you can still help illiterate investigators find Christ in these pages. First, you can enlist help from their family members. Often, although the parents can't read, a child or teenager can. Depending on their age, you can invite them to read passages out loud to their family member.

A second option would be to find a church member who lives nearby. Bring him or her to each lesson so that a friendship can be built between the investigator and member. When appropriate, invite the member to visit the investigator’s home to read with them. 

Your third option is to find an audio copy of The Book of Mormon. Keep in mind that this may not be a viable option depending on the area and language you are teaching in. During each lesson, use visual aids such as pictures and charts to help the investigator gain a better understanding of your message. If a television is available, the church has videos that are wonderful additions to any message.

Attending church is not as simple as you might assume when a person struggles to read. Just imagine all of the reading you typically do in the three-hour block between reading words to the hymns, scriptures in Sunday School, and words on the board in Relief Society. Your job is to make your investigator feel at ease, supported, and welcomed. It can be a stressful situation for some people who are more conscientious about their lack of education, so be mindful of how each class feels to them. 

Start by asking teachers before meetings to not ask your investigator to read in order to avoid potentially subjecting them to embarrassment. Help them learn the hymns by singing in their home and giving them an audio version. While all of these ideas are good, the best long-term solution is to give your investigator the skills they need to succeed. That may be by teaching them in their home. If there are several people interested in learning to read, you could create a weekly class at church.

Missionary work is about serving others, so it's really about helping people in any way possible. If in part because of your service, someone decides to join the church, that's great! If not, that's great too; no service is ever wasted. Remember that you are doing your part to build up the kingdom of God on earth, like the Savior did, one soul at a time.