Oral Storytelling ‘Breakthrough’ in Evangelizing Unreached

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CAPE TOWN (Oct. 22, 2010) Oral telling of Bible stories is at the vanguard of a new push to evangelize previously unreached people groups.

In six years, 200 people groups in 40 different countries have heard the Gospel message for the first time in their language and cultural learning style, but 350 million still wait to hear about Christ in their own tongue.

“The majority of the unreached people of our world are primarily oral learners who learn very differently from those who are literate,” Ron Green of Campus Crusade for Christ International told The Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town.

“This is a critical moment to review all of our methods and strategies of ministry so we're prepared to face this challenge with creativity and God's heart of compassion for the lost.

Green, who is head of the JESUS Film Project, has been involved in what he called a “breakthrough strategy” for engaging with those whose language is among the 2,250 still waiting for any Scripture to be translated.

Teams of two or three, often from a nearby culture, live among an unreached group for several years, developing a set of Bible stories spanning the overarching story of Scripture. As they tell the stories and interact with “listening groups,” they are able to continue to refine the story so that it is accurate and easily told orally, and add more stories until they have a set of around 20.

These are then recorded as an “oral text” of Scripture, which both protects the stories' accuracy until written Scripture arrives, and can be distributed and used widely as part of a church-planting strategy. They may even be broadcast on radio.

This multi-ministry project has seen hundreds of small story groups starting, and thousands of new believers in Christ who now have access to His Word, Green told one of the four Multiplex sessions on Friday afternoon. 

“We dream of the day when every language, tribe and people group will have access to the Gospel, and we dream of it happening in our generation!” he said.

“Could we dream and plan and pray and work together so that every language hears in this decade? Could we commit ourselves afresh to starting the Great Commission effort in every language group?”

Reaching unreached people groups has been at the heart of The Lausanne Movement since the first Congress in 1974. At Billy Graham’s Amsterdam 2000 event, a group of ministries that included Campus Crusade for Christ, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the International Missions Board and Youth With A Mission covenanted together to reach all remaining unreached people groups, out of which grew the initiative Green was sharing with participants today.

Art Santos, Strategic Partnership Facilitator for Wycliffe International in Manila, Philippines, said the ministry historically has focused on providing a “product” – Bible translations – but now emphasis is shifting toward “imparting truth and transforming lives.

Santos says oral forms of “ethne art” can include story telling, drama, poetry, dance, chants and artwork.  He developed an “ethne arts/orality community of practice” among artists in the Philippines, which developed additional resources and training for other cultures. 

Santos facilitated training for a group in Latin America at the Ethne’09 gathering.  He is in the process of connecting them with the International Council of Ethnodoxologists so they might have access to wider networks, resources and training.

“Our strategy is not just translating the Scriptures,” said Santos, “but also communicating the Word of God.”

Santos said those exposed to orality-based evangelism are 30 percent more likely to be interested in the written word translated into their own language than those with no orality communications exposure. 

Carl Laferton 

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