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Monday, April 16, 2012

Orality: Changing the face of missions around the world
There’s More Than Meets the Eye

By Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus, Living Water International
Special to ASSIST News Service

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- Some may think of orality as just a method of communication, just transferring information from one person's mind to another. But it's much more, it's also about relationships and community, about the impartation of the Spirit and sharing life.

Orality training in the bush

When we think of all the great needs in the world today, we naturally think of physical poverty, the people without adequate clean water, food, clothing or shelter. However, many of the wealthiest people and nations in the world today are living in relational and spiritual poverty.

Let's consider what we can learn from oral cultures, oral traditions and orality that address the relational poverty issues that are so prevalent in the so called “developed nations of the world”.

There is a growing recognition that orality-based communications and teaching methods have many benefits beyond just the transfer of knowledge and information. There is so much we in the Western World can learn from the rest of the world.

For decades missionaries from Western nations have been taking highly literate styles of communication, teaching, evangelism and disciple making methods to the primarily oral cultures of the world. It has been estimated that 90% of the time, the Gospel is presented in a highly literate style of communication and teaching. Even though it may be in an audio or visual form, in many cases it is still not compatible with oral cultures or oral preference learners.

Thankfully, the Lord seems to be using the Orality Movement in changing that trend. There is a growing awareness that the majority of the world (some estimate 4.35 billion) are oral learners, by necessity or by preference.

A vehicle breakdown provides an opportunity for Storying and Orality training

Those missionaries, evangelists, church planters and ministries who have made the transition to a more oral suitable approach among oral cultures are seeing and experiencing a significant increase in response and amazing results.

Great Commission focused followers of Jesus are beginning to ask important questions:

1. How much and what does one need to know in order to have a relationship with and become a follower of Jesus?

2. How much and what does one need to know to be a reproducing disciple of Jesus and bring others into a relationship with Him?

3. Also, what are the best and most appropriate delivery systems and methods to accomplish questions 1 and 2?

A 10 year old retells a story at an
Orality Training Workshop

It's time for all serious followers of Jesus to ask these fog cutting questions about the Great Commission, which is to communicate the Good News of God to everyone, everywhere and to make disciples of all people groups. What a fantastic opportunity!

We are certainly living in some of the most paradigm shifting times in relation to advancing the Kingdom of God. There is great power and value in asking the right questions. These are a few others we should be asking:

1. How did Jesus teach, communicate and make disciples?

2. What do we learn from how He did these things that we can do today?

3. How would Jesus be making disciple if He were alive on earth today?

The truth of the matter is that He is alive on planet earth today, and living in each of us who has been born of the Spirit of God.

One of the temptations we face in the orality movement, as well as in most other areas of life, is to focus more than we should on our methods, strategies, skills, abilities and techniques. In doing so, we often neglect to recognize the spiritual, supernatural and miraculous activities of the Holy Spirit working through us.

In our experience in conducting Orality Training Workshops in various parts of the world where Living Water International is working, questions such as these often arise:

1. Does Jesus still have power over nature and the spiritual world today?

2. Can He still perform miracles today?

3. Is there a problem with demon-possession today?

4. Can and does Jesus still deliver people from evil spirits today?

Of course the answer to all these questions is yes, and people are always amazed and encouraged when they see and experience the Lord at work in these ways.

We often have people share testimonies in our workshops of how the Lord has performed the same kinds of miracles that we hear about in the stories of Jesus from the Bible.

Many today have a head knowledge that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, but admit that they are not experiencing His divine activity and intervention.

Orality Training in the bush in West Africa

Faith seems to grow in people's hearts when they hear the stories from the Word of God, and embrace them for themselves. The power of God's Word (His story), the power of simplicity and the power of questions seem to be universal and transferable to any people and any place.

What many of us, who are on this orality journey, are learning is that the methods that are effective in oral cultures are actually more transferable to Western, literate cultures than the reverse. Also, the added benefit of creating and enhancing relationships and community is important in our disciple making efforts.

An orality training participant recently said, “This is liberating to realize we don't have to wait until Sunday and we don't have to be in a church building to share our faith and make disciples.” It is true that anywhere and at all times we can join God in His redemptive activities.

One of the big challenges we all face in ministry and missions is to continually recognize and acknowledge the Lord's presence and His willingness to show Himself strong on our behalf. The work of the Kingdom is not our own; it's His.

A dear friend I have known for many years has often said, “We should be careful to keep our finger prints off what God is doing.” If we are successful in that, God can continue to bless, multiply and reproduce His work through us.

As God intensifies and pours out His Spirit, not only on the Orality Movement, but all His kingdom endeavors, let us not become too enamored with our plans, methods and strategies, or our skills, abilities and performance. It is great to develop and implement all these things, but apart from the Lord's hand on our lives and His work, it will count for nothing. (See Psalm 127 & John 15:5.)

Let us press on with all that is within us, bathing everything in prayer with a deep recognition of our dependence upon and trust in Almighty God.

In all our training workshops we emphasize that it is not our activity on His behalf, but His activity on our behalf that produces lasting fruit.

We don't have to be great story tellers, because we have great stories to tell. It is the Holy Spirit that touches hearts and changes lives as we simply tell the stories and ask the questions.

The Orality Movement is certainly gaining momentum and increasing numbers of leaders are recognizing its importance. Dr. David J. Hesselgrave, Founding Executive Director of the Evangelical Missiological Society, said, “…one of the most significant and praiseworthy aspects of modern mission strategy has to do with the re-discovery of the importance of storying the Story of the great redemptive plan of God. No better way of communicating the gospel and discipling the nations has ever been, or ever will be found.”

Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International. Living Water is one of the world’s leading faith-based water solutions organizations with operations in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Having gotten involved in orality-based evangelism and disciple making strategies in the 1980s, he has been a paradigm pioneer in the orality movement and presently serves on the advisory council of the International Orality Network. Wiles has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and international mission work, and can be contacted by e-mail at:


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