International Ministries

Literacy : a quest for dignity among the Batwa

October 8, 2009 Journal
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Many of you remember the report of Rosa Mayala and a small literacy team's trip to Inongo, in northern Bandundu Province, last year. The Twa people that live in central DR Congo invited the literacy team to assess needs and opportunities for a literacy program among the Twa. That they found a high rate of illiteracy was not a surprise. The Twa people live a seasonal life oscillating between traditional forays deep into the equatorial forest and settled life alongside Bantu peoples in towns at the edge of the forest. Reading is not necessarily a priority survival skill for hunting and gathering in the forest.

What did surprise the team was the depth of feeling when people began to tell their stories. Many of the Bantu people do not consider the Twa to be human. They are enslaved by long traditions of oppression. The Bantu often say that if a Twa pygmy eats from a plate, the plate is unclean and can't be used again. Local church people will not baptize Twa pygmies in the same pool with Bantu people because the water becomes unclean. The Twa are discriminated against, exploited and marginalized in both the settlements where they live part of the year and in the churches where they want to worship.

At the end of the 2008 trip, Twa representatives asked the literacy team for two things: teach our people to read so that we can understand our changing world and preserve our dignity as a people; and help to plant a church among us where we are welcome as brothers and sisters in Christ. Rose promised that the Baptist Convention's literacy team would be back.

Honoring that promise has burdened the literacy team for a year. Travel is expensive and not everyone considers the Twa important enough to support a work among them. We have finally overcome the hurdles. Two days ago, October 7, Miriam talked with Jacques Mayala, Rose's husband. Rose and the team had just arrived in Inongo. This week they are finally preparing for the long promised teachers' workshop.

Pray that the literacy workshop will be a life-giving opportunity for community of believers among the Twa. For many of their friends, learning to read can give them the first opportunity to hear the Gospel without the distorting filters of those with an interest in keeping them ignorant. God says you are created in His image; you are inestimably precious in His sight. He buys you out of slavery at great cost to Himself and destines you for a life of dignity and honor. May the Kingdom grow among the Twa, giving new life to those who embrace it.

For a better sense of the life of central African pygmy people, consider Mauro Luis Devin Campagnoli's Baka Pygmies site: While distinct from the Batwa of northern Bandundu, Campagnoli's observations of the Baka give in beautiful detail a flavor of their life.