Frank C. Laubach: Man of Faith    

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Leader’s Edge: Missionary Biographies

Frank C. Laubach: Man of Faith*

By: J. Gregory Lawson

Baptist Literary Center at Baylor, 1991 

90 Pages 

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Who is this person?

Frank Charles Laubach, called “The Apostle to the Illiterates,” hailed from Benton, Pennsylvania. Educated at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York, he was appointed in 1915 to work in The Philippines Islands with the historic American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions as a Congregational missionary. He became known in liberal and evangelical circles as a missionary educator, literacy pioneer, and prolific author of forty plus books and many scholarly articles. As the developer and promoter of a novel literacy method, “Eash One Teach One,” he gained notoriety in missions circles and among developing national governments. 

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What stood out to you about this person’s story?

Being raised in an eclectic Christian home, his father from the Disciples of Christ and mother with Baptist roots, Laubach crossed denominational lines easily. As a boy, he lived across the street from a Methodist Church which strongly influenced him. An avid reader, Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ deeply influenced Laubach during his teen years. Dealing with prayer, meditation, and Christian disciplines, Imitation laid a strong foundation that bore the weight of life trials and the testing of his faith in later years.  

What were their significant contributions?

Frank Laubach impacted missions in two areas: literacy education and spiritual formation. The Laubach Literacy Method was developed while Frank sought to reach a Muslim Moro tribe in the southern Philippines. Given its almost immediate success and acceptance, he eventually served as a consultant and mentor for other missions working with pre-literate societies. The methodology was volunteer driven, hence “Each One Teach One” was its slogan. The method, phonics based, employed learning by association rather than rote memorization, use of pictures for teaching new words, and structuring the method to lead to evangelism. 

His second contribution to the spiritual formation of Christ followers came from his conviction regarding living “in the moment” with Jesus. This life discipline was remarkable given the intellectual bent of his “classically  liberal” seminary education. He purposed to think of God at least once every minute of the day. Like Brother Lawrence and Hannah Whitall Smith, he stressed the practice of the presence of God and even published a pamphlet, “A Game with Minutes,” explaining how to be mindful of the presence of God minute by minute during the waking hours. 

What does this person’s life teach us?

After almost fifteen years as a missionary to the Muslim Moro tribes of Mindanao, Laubach lived alone among hostile tribesmen who barely tolerated his presence. Frank’s wife and son lived in a larger town considered “safe” for missionaries. Lonely and frustrated at the lack of tangible results, Laubach sensed that his efforts to reach the Moros with the gospel had failed. Something had to change, and it came about through his evening ritual of climbing Signal Hill with only his dog, Tip, as companion. There, he talked to God, laying bare his feelings and failings. This encounter with God became the high point of his day and left Laubach with the desire to live in His presence.  

Two things came about as a result of his heightened pursuit of God: First, Laubach’s literacy work took a leap forward, transformed from an intellectual endeavor to a means of leading the Moros to know God. Secondly, he felt led to begin studying the Koran with the Christ-resistant Moros, spending time with the Muslim Imams to build relational bridges in order to lead them to Christ. As a result, the Muslim spiritual leaders told their people that Laubach was a “man who loved God” and could be trusted. This led to a spiritual breakthrough with the tribe and the introduction of the Laubach literacy method, which gave the Moros the Bible as the first written literature in their languages. 

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