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How illiterate women in India can teach advanced topics

Indian woman

A few posts ago, I alluded to the fact that some good friends of ours in India, who see many tens of thousands of new believers in their network each year, have illiterate women who are able to teach others, including Bible references. Several people have asked me to expand on this.

The fact that someone is an oral learner doens't make them ignorant or incapable of understanding. They just have a different way of learning. Much as today, in our culture, many young people learn by watching rather than by reading.

Each of the 50 or so topics that our friends expect their leaders to be able to teach on to others is divided down into 9 or 10 main points. Training is given several times per year. There are different levels at which a person is able to understand and impart any given topic. So a house church leader will have a very basic understanding. He/she may know several strategic points about any given topic. A local area trainer will have more understanding, probably with some references. By the time you have a master trainer who is responsible for training on a regional or national basis, they will know the topic fully, including all relevent references.

This happens because of the way a topic is taught. The trainer may speak on the topic, but by using questions and answers and making others repeat what is taught, people remember the subject matter. They are also expected to apply it or put it into practice. When they in turn pass it on to others, it becomes even more firmly fixed in their minds.

Here are a few of the topics that are taught:

The Great Commission

What is church?

God's will and purposes


Tenfold functions of the church


The role of women

Prayer walking: ten steps

Spiritual warfare

If people in our churches had the same grasp of these subjects at a practical as well as a theoretical level as some of these illiterate village women, we would be far more effective within the Kingdom. Now obviously, we are able to read the Bible–there is no shortage of Bibles in the West.  But there is a difference between learning with the purpose of extending the Kingdom and studying for personal blessing. Maybe we should reconsider strategic training.

5 replies on “How illiterate women in India can teach advanced topics”

Very interesting and challenging. Can they teach us how to do this in a suburban American context? I still believe God is not done with America. Maybe he has just moved us toward the back of the line spiritually so we who truly want to follow and serve Christ could become learners again at the feet of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ in places closer to the front of the line of God’s working.

This is an excellent article! Once more I can see how the illiterate people can explain simply and without intromission what our relationship with the Lord is all about.
Now, regarding “ken stoneking” post and his affirmation “I still believe God is not done in America”, I can say that America is the most challenging mission field…

It is interesting that, according to New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham (“Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”), the gospel was handed on for a generation before the gospels as we know them were written down, using oral teaching techniques not all that different to what you have described here. So these women are in good company!

The same things are happening in Sub-Saharan Africa nations among oral learning communities. A key is passing on what they are learning immediately after they first learn it. By teaching it so early they are allowing the Spirit to write it on their hearts. By obeying it they are also taking it into their lives. Jesus promises such fruitfulness in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:1-15).

Thanks for the comments everyone.
John, you are exactly right. If we encourage people to pass on what they have learned immediately, it not only cements it in their own lives, it changes the lives of others too. I believe this is one of the key reasons we don’t see more in the West. Another is that so much of our teaching tickles our intellects rather than challenges our lifestyle. The training that happens in India is intensely practical and intended to be lived out in their daily lives.
John, I’m excited about the changes you are making too.

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