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How I Learned to Read

by Hipolito Alvarez, with Fran Olson
From “In Other Words,” October/November 1985

When I was a young man, I used to take trips to trade goods between my home and Apolo, which was about four or five days’ travel over the mountains. One time I went with a friend and we stopped to listen to a man preach. The man was Abdon Mendoza, who was translating the New Testament into our language.

Abdon said Jesus made blind people see, lame people walk, and sick people well. He said Jesus could still do those things today. He told us we needed to ask Jesus to forgive our sins and save us. My friend and I were impressed. We both accepted Christ that day.

I’d never learned to read because when I was a boy only the rich could go to school. But after I accepted Christ, I wanted badly to learn so I could read my Bible.

Sometimes I herded sheep and llamas for a rich man, and spent my days spinning wool. One day I remembered what Abdon said about God making blind eyes see. So I prayed, “God, you made blind eyes see. Surely you can open my eyes so I can read.”

That night, when I was sleeping all alone out in the little shelter on the hillside, I had a dream. I dreamed that an old, old man with a long white beard and a cane came walking by. He spoke to me but I was too scared to answer his questions, so he left.

Then a small boy in a long white robe came down the path. He asked if I’d seen an old man go by, but I was so scared I said no, even though I had. The boy took something white in his hand and wrote on the ground. He told me to read it.

“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t know how to read.”

“That says your name,” he told me, “Look at it carefully. Now you write it.”

I was still very scared and trembling because I thought the boy was the spirit of a dead man. When I tried to copy the letters on the ground, my fingers shook so much I couldn’t.

“I’ll help you.” he said and reached out to take hold of my hand. I thought his hand would be cold like a dead man’s, but it was warm just like mine. He held my hand and helped me copy the letters. “Keep practicing them,” he said. Then he left.

Just then the dogs started barking outside and woke me up. I got up and lit a candle, and with a piece of charcoal I wrote the same letters on the side of a can. In the morning I wrote them again, over and over. I’d write them on the ground with a stick, or scratch them on stones with a knife. Instead of spinning wool, I spent all my time writing those letters.

A few days later the owner of the llamas came. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“A boy told me these letters spell my name,” I said. “Is it true?”

“Yes,” he said, “but one ‘o’ is missing.” He showed me where to put it in.

After that I wanted to spend all my time looking at books or papers or anything that had writing. I had memorized some verses and marked them in my Spanish Bible. Now I studied them and started to figure out some of the letters. All along I kept asking God to open my eyes and help me learn to read. I wanted to read so badly I was almost like a crazy person. I promised God that if He taught me, I would teach others, too.

In three months I learned to read. God alone helped me. But I haven’t yet kept my promise to God and taught anyone else to read. Please pray for me that I’ll be able to do that.

Hipolito Alvarez is a Quechua from Pelechuco, Bolivia. He helped revise the Northern Bolivia Quechua translation of the New Testament, and now is a pastor among his people.

Believers from the church that Hipolito pastors gather around the candle as Ron Olson checks the Scriptures in their language.

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Copyright © 2002 • Lorna Priest • Page last updated 26 October 2002