From illiterate teen to champion of Bible literacy
Meet Al Watson, the Aussie pensioner who is passionate about sharing the big picture
At 14 years of age, Al Watson was expelled from school and functionally illiterate. Now, as a retiree on a pension, he travels the world training children and adults in biblical literacy as president of Walk Thru the Bible Australia.
“You take the opportunities, you look at the world as your parish, and you provide a vehicle for people to interact with God’s word and let God’s Spirit take it to their hearts,” he says summarising his work.
“People need to at least understand that framework. We give people that big picture overview.” – Al Watson
It’s a perfect job for a man who passionately believes that biblical literacy is the greatest need in society today.
“There’s no sense of God in our thinking,” he says broadly about mainstream society before referring to Romans 10:17 – “‘Faith comes by hearing – hearing the word of God’.”
“You need a conscious knowledge of the Bible story, and out of that can grow a revelation of the discovery of who Jesus is and where we came from, what went wrong and how to fix it.”
“So, how do you engage people, teach people, the story of the Bible?” Watson says the work that Walk Thru the Bible does is “a bit like building a house”.
“You start off with a frame. If you don’t have a frame, it’s very hard to build a house. People need to at least understand that framework. We give people that big picture overview.”
Walk Thru the Bible is a teaching method that uses hand signs and memory cards as triggers to aid in learning, retention and recall of key Bible events. This interactive method is based on the premise that knowing the framework of the Bible and its major events helps to understand God’s grand story. Walk Thru the Bible has DIY resources, such as videos, and also runs events.
A natural teacher, Watson often turns to analogies to explain the need for Walk Thru the Bible’s resources.
“It [the Bible] is not put together in a chronological order, it’s put in a topical structure. So you’ve got the first 17 books of the history and the whole of the Old Testament fits into those 17 books. It’s a bit like your skeleton and your backbone and the rest of the ribs sit in there. So it’s knowing those first 17 books that help you understand the whole story of the Old Testament.
“And all the way through those historical books, it’s a bit like God peeling an onion. You peel one layer and there’s another, and another, and another.
“Or it’s like those Russian dolls. You need to pull one out as a revelation, and then another one and another until finally you get to the whole single, real person.”
“He was rapt, as a father. He was gobsmacked.” – Al Watson
A lot Watson’s work involves teaching school students and training teachers to use Walk Thru’s resources.
“Just because they are teachers doesn’t mean they know the Bible,” shares Watson about some educators he has taught. “They cherry-pick little stories rather than understanding the whole picture.”
It’s rewarding work, with parents and teachers reporting back the impact that the resources have had on students.
“Out of the blue I got a call from a father who wanted to thank me for blessing his son,” he tells me, explaining how a Grade 7 student he trained in the Old Testament resources had gone home and gone through the whole storyline with his dad.
“He was rapt, as a father. He was gobsmacked.”
Another story, this one from Japan, is of a 12-year-old girl who was one of the students Watson taught at a small school with just 14 students in the class.
Attending a local church in the area on the Sunday, Watson was approached by a woman who explained to his interpreter that her husband and father were not believers. Previously, they would never listen to her telling them anything about the gospel. However, when her 12-year-old daughter had come home after being trained by Watson, it was a different story.
“They sat and listened to her tell the whole story of the Old Testament. She really had it down well and here was this mother in tears, you know, just relaying this story of her daughter being able to tell her husband and her father … really the story of the gospel – ‘God loves the world and sent his Son. Look at how he’s done it through history, working toward Jesus’ birth.’”
“I didn’t see any angels, I didn’t necessarily feel anything, but something incredibly happened.” – Al Watson
Watson became a Christian when, at 16 years, he began looking at the people around him and thinking about the deeper issues of life.
“I was weighing up all their lives… they were like Coca-Cola, you know? Take the top off and it’s lovely, but it soon goes flat, sweet and sickly. But [there was] this guy who was a follower of Jesus … there was something unique about him.”
Watson went along to a little Open Brethren country town church in Victoria’s Gippsland region. He attended a gospel service “because they had great sponge cakes for super afterwards” – and his life was changed forever.
“I heard a man share the message of who Jesus was, what he did, and how he wants to have an eternal relationship with me. And God’s Spirit came into my life,” recalls Watson.
“I didn’t even go into the supper room,” he laughs.
Instead, he left and went straight to his bedroom and got down on his knees and said, “God, would you do in my heart, in my life what that man was talking about tonight?”
“I didn’t see any angels, I didn’t necessarily feel anything, but something incredibly happened,” he says. “I discovered what that was later on, that God’s Spirit came into my life. My sins were forgiven.”
“God’s work done in God’s way never lacks God’s resources.” – Al Watson
Functionally illiterate, Watson then learned to read by reading the Bible.
“I was a farm boy and I wanted to know this Jesus in the Bible, I wanted to know him better,” he explains. “I went on and educated myself after that – nothing wrong with my brain, only no one had ever captured it.
“I ended up going to a Bible School – Emmaus Bible College, then in Epping in Sydney.”
Watson met Sydney girl Judy, who he has been married to for 49 years. They have three kids, all adults and all “passionate followers of Jesus.”
When asked about funding, Watson laughs and jokes, “Well, we’re pensioners and we want to make sure our kids don’t get any money when we die.
“People come behind us and we’ve got a great board,” he reveals. “I’m a pensioner, so I just live off my pension.
“You can do a lot from my office in my home.”
Watson’s got no lack of vision for what he could do with more finance, though. It costs Walk Thru the Bible about $15,000 to do a print run of a set of memory cards in a new language, but he’s got the French and Japanese translations done for when such funding comes in. He’s also got partners on the ground in French-speaking West African countries such as the Ivory Coast who are ready to use the resources as soon as they become available.
“God’s work done in God’s way never lacks God’s resources,” he says with confidence.