Former Bibles International (BI) Director, Fred Carlson, relates that in the 1980s, as he was yet in the process of learning the full significance of literacy as a legitimate part of translation work, Clarissa Barton and her literacy ministry winsomely and patiently convinced him how necessary it was. Although Clarissa did not begin her missionary service in literacy, the impact of that aspect of her ministry is still evident in many lives, even though she recently entered heaven. Only the Lord can measure the true impact of the service He gives us to do in this life, but we can see the legacy of literacy that Clarissa left behind.
In 1978, the school for missionary children in the Central African Republic (CAR) where Clarissa had been teaching was no longer needed. God redirected Clarissa to continue teaching in a new context. She began teaching the Africans to read Sango – the national language of the CAR. Armed with a series of three primers, Clarissa taught literacy (the ability to read) and trained others to teach. Missionary teammate, Cheryl Elmer, remembers the impact on the local Bible schools, especially the pastors’ wives. "They came to the Bible school not knowing how to read, and they left being able to read God’s Word." Soon second-year students were teaching first-year students. As the Bible school graduates settled in their places of ministry, the Sango literacy ministry spread out to local churches. The revised Sango Bible, printed this year, is following these early literacy efforts and the fruit that God gave. God led Clarissa to teach and train in literacy in order to bless His church! Eventually, in the 1980s, He directed her to serve with BI.
We at BI do not have to look far to see the fruits of Clarissa's 40-plus years of literacy ministry. She helped at least five different language groups in the country of Chad by training teachers to use literacy primers long before they had their own Bible translations. Three of those languages – Sara Madjingay, Sara Kaba Naa, and Sara Kaba Dem – are anticipating the printing of a complete Bible in the next three years. The gift of a mother-tongue Bible translation is a tool of much greater use if people are prepared to read it! After Clarissa's retirement, her legacy was observed in a specific Sara Madjingay church in Sarh. Claire, a BI volunteer, observed the unusual sight of women throughout the church opening their Bibles to follow along with the passage for the sermon. A woman in that church had been teaching a 7 a.m. literacy class that resulted from Clarissa's training in years past.
In addition to training literacy teachers, Clarissa helped national teams develop literacy books. Much of this work was done in Chad, Africa. When a revised primer was drafted for the Rito people of Chad in 2016, a Rito man who had worked with Clarissa on their first literacy primer in 1996 participated in the workshop once again. He and the newer teammates continued to build on the strong foundation forged through hard work 20 years earlier. Also, at least five other Chadian language groups worked with Clarissa in developing Old Testament Storybooks. These books not only help new readers progress in their reading ability; the books also acquaint the new readers with Old Testament accounts that give background to what they will read in their New Testaments. Tosgatna is a Chadian pastor who serves as literacy coordinator for Chad. During his 4-year tenure, Old Testament Storybooks have been published for six language groups! Truly, Clarissa's legacy is alive in Africa.
Clarissa has also impacted projects in Asia. Recently BI's chief literacy coordinator, Bethany B, held in her hands the newly printed Rvwang Old Testament Storybook 4 for Myanmar. She recalled that Clarissa was the one who met with that team in 1991 to create their very first literacy primer. The Rvwang are the first of BI's language groups to publish this fourth OT Storybook.
Clarissa's character can also be seen in her consulting and mentoring. She was well known for her precision and patience in keeping organized notes and checking every literacy book carefully. Bethany B regularly pulls out Clarissa's handwritten notes to facilitate BI's effectiveness in working with national partners in Bible translation, literacy, and linguistics. Clarissa was a humble, life-long learner, which created a platform for teamwork and mentoring. Her godly spirit has been an example to new missionaries, resulting in the mentoring of new generations of literacy workers. Both BI consultants and nationals were respected and enabled by Clarissa's ways of working with them.
Clarissa Barton left a legacy of faithful, obedient service to God's call to missionary service. Though she is no longer here on earth, the God-given fruit of her ministry is clearly seen. As we see newly translated Bibles nearing publication, the investment Clarissa made in training literacy teachers is a frequent source of encouragement. The dividends continue to compound from her investments in ministry. Her legacy includes nationals on two continents who are now serving their churches in literacy. But what about all the literacy needs that remain? Who will God call, equip, and send today to bless other brothers and sisters in Christ? Indeed, there are many who still need this kind of support in literacy alongside Bible translation.