September 30, 2015
In the 1990’s, Steve Sims served as the Strategy Director for e3 Partners’ work in Ukraine. At the time, the Gospel was growing by leaps and bounds across the region, with the exception of one people group. In much of eastern Europe, the gypsies remain a cultural anomaly, often living in their own villages and staying safely within close-knit social circles. This made the people hard to reach and little was being done to engage them.
As Steve monitored the situation and realized that not even Ukrainian believers were ministering to them, he felt compelled to act. With each mission trip to the region, Steve led teams to share the Gospel with the gypsies. But something was still missing. Many of them failed to grasp the basic tenets of the faith and Ukrainian churches struggled to bridge the gap.
Steve looked deep into the issue and went back to the drawing board. He and his team realized they had been sharing the Gospel to a largely illiterate population by reading them Bible stories. Instead of teaching the gypsies out of the written text, his team began to share them verbally, utilizing a growing outreach method known as oral strategies.
PUTTING IT IN CULTURAL CONTEXT
Tom Steffen, Professor of Intercultural Studies at Biola University, encountered a similar transformation while working with the Ifugao people in the Philippines. Rather than sharing biblical truths in the typical abstract way, he also embraced the power of storytelling to get the message across.
“Not only did the evangelistic sessions come alive, the recipients became instant evangelists, telling the stories to friends enthusiastically and effectively.”
Over 70% of people today are oral learners, meaning they prefer to grasp concepts through verbal storytelling, drama, or song in place of traditional text-based methods. For some, this is due to a lack of education and an inability to read. But for the vast majority of oral learners, it is merely preference. As a result, stories have a powerful effect on people and cultures. They do more than communicate information. They grab our emotions and call us to action.
Steffan writes, “Effective communication touches not only the mind, it also reaches the seat of emotions – the heart. Unlike principles, precepts and propositions, stories take us on an open-ended journey that touches the whole person.”
e3 Orality takes the stories of the Bible and shares them with cultures based on their own customs and norms. From South Asia to Africa, Latin America, Indochina, and the Middle East, the team carefully crafts their presentations to ensure they are biblically accurate and culturally relevant. As they specifically target unreached people groups, this becomes vitally important. By sharing the stories within a specific cultural context, they make Christianity feel less foreign and unknown. It presents the Gospel as something they can more naturally grasp and accept.
But the e3 Orality team goes beyond just telling stories. As individuals receive Christ, they train locals to share the narratives with the same accuracy and relevance. In languages where the Bible has yet to be translated, this becomes the primary means for spreading the Gospel. In other words, the people may not have access to the written Bible, but they still carry God’s story in their hearts and possess the ability to share it with others.
JOINING THE ORAL MOVEMENT
Oral storytelling is a growing and robust movement among missions organizations who are targeting the unreached today. e3 Orality is considered a leading pioneer in the field and you can join them. Throughout the year, Steve Sims and the team offer in-depth, hands-on training for anyone who wishes to learn these methods. Each week-long workshop teaches you the intricacies of the process and how to pass them along to others. You can learn more or financially support oral projects around the world by visiting www.e3partners.org/orality.