Sally Lennon, a former long-time member of Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., spent more than 40 years teaching Adult Reading and Writing (ARW) and English as a Second Language (ESL) throughout North Carolina, more than 20 other states and four countries. Lennon celebrated her 100th birthday Jan. 12.
Sally Lennon, known as a literacy pioneer, recently celebrated her 100th birthday.
When she started teaching adults how to read and write and training new literacy tutors in 1968, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) did not have organized literacy missions yet.
“She was a true pioneer,” said Barbara Martin, BSC literacy missions consultant.
According to Marsha Cook, a retired North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary, Lennon was one of the first to participate in a Laubach Literacy workshop and become certified as a tutor through what was then the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, later renamed NAMB.
In 1970, Lennon volunteered with the Wilmington Literacy Group, a mission project of the Wilmington Baptist Association. The group eventually helped found the Cape Fear Literacy Council in 1984, the council’s website states.
Lennon’s focus shifted to ESL in 1972, when she met employees of a Japanese business who were new to Wilmington and sought help in improving their English proficiency.
“She helped churches and other volunteer groups begin these ministries also and even went overseas to teach missionaries how to minister and reach people for Christ using these two literacy missions ministries, ESL and ARW,” Martin said. “She says her greatest joy was helping people learn how to read the Bible for the first time in their lives.”
Lennon’s friend Clara Huff met her in 2004 when she moved to Wilmington and inquired about teaching ESL. Huff volunteered as a tutor under Lennon’s leadership.
“There were at least 10 of us volunteer teachers … we were all younger than her, but we had to hurry to keep up with her.
“She was never appointed by any missionary sending agency, but she has been a missionary to the world,” Huff said, recalling the relationships Lennon built with the Japanese community in Wilmington.
Huff told the Biblical Recorder about a young artist from Japan named Tatsuro, who Lennon hosted in her home for three weeks. Lennon instructed him to visit an international church upon returning to Japan, so he could learn English and come back to the United States to live with relatives.
He went, became a follower of Jesus and later led his family to faith. Back home in Japan, he began offering art lessons for children every Saturday, teaching them Bible stories through drawings.
Tatsuro wrote in a letter to Lennon, “I want to express my joy that God has not only given me the opportunity to know you, but also led me to His salvation. Such great joy I never imagined in my life. … It’s more important that I learned about Jesus than to come to the United States to live with my family.”
Cook and Huff said throughout Lennon’s work in literacy missions, she trained more than 2,000 ESL tutors who, in turn, taught English to thousands. She trained more than 1,000 literacy tutors who helped adults earn GED diplomas, college degrees and jobs. Her devotion to literacy missions led to the growth of Chinese, Korean and Spanish-speaking churches.
Lennon said she gives credit to Caraway Conference Center and Camp for helping expand the ministry by hosting literacy workshops.
Lennon and her husband, Woodrow, also volunteered together at the International Seamen’s Center at the Port of Wilmington for 25 years. She continued serving there after Woodrow died in 1994. The port saw about 8,000 seamen arrive every year from 35 countries. For decades, Lennon told them about Jesus, praying they would go back home and tell others.
In a video posted online by her son, Lennon said she doesn’t know how God answered all of her prayers, but she committed to being faithful in sharing His word to the nations.
“You can’t stop God when He’s working. You just have to be faithful to share His story in any way He leads you to,” she said.
“Even now at 100, Sally is still reading the prayer calendar every day and praying for missionaries on their birthdays,” said Huff. “Early in her life she decided there were certain ideals she wanted for her life: to love God and serve Him, to love people and do mission work, and to take care of her health and always be ready to fulfill the Great Commission.”
Sally and Woodrow were married for 54 years and have three children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. She now lives near her son in Winston-Salem, N.C.