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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stories of the Thirsty
Orality Strategies Growing the Kingdom

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

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- The wind blows wherever it pleases, we hear the sound of it, but we don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Consider the power of water and wind, both of which are symbols of the Holy Spirit. They are pictures of the power of God that comes into our lives when we are born of the Spirit. Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

Children in Central Africa excited to have clean water and hear about the Living Water of Jesus

What is commonly called the Great Commission applies to all Christ followers. It is to communicate the Good News of Jesus to every person, in all places, and make disciples among all people groups. The more we understand the Living Water that Jesus talked about, as recorded in John’s gospel, chapters 4 and 7, the more we will understand how that can happen. Rivers of Living Water will flow and cut their own courses. You don’t have to direct the course of a river; it will flow and determine its own course. The important thing for each of us is being in the flow of His plans, purpose and power.

There are many streams in the movements of God in our world today. Because those of us who have been engaged in the Orality Movement for a number of years talk and write about it a great deal, some may think it is over emphasized. Some people have gotten the impression that we deemphasize the Written Word, which is not the case at all. I suppose it is a natural tendency for us to think that whatever we are interested in and involved with should be important to others as well. However, when it comes to the Orality Movement, there are increasing numbers of pastors, missionaries, mission executives, disciple-makers and global church leaders coming to the a similar conclusion. This movement is significant and is having great impact.

Storytelling at a water project, making the message of Jesus simple, understandable and reproducible

While on an Orality Training mission trip in West Africa, one of our missionary leaders in the country shared a vision the Lord had given him and his team about how the message of Jesus and disciple making can spread everywhere. They were given a vision of a tree with two branches. One branch represented the literate people of the world and the other branch symbolized the oral learners/communicators of the world. The larger branch represented the 70% of the people who are oral learners (by necessity or by preference) and the smaller branch represented the 30%, or so, who are literate learners. The roots of the tree represent the foundation of the Word of God, that is Christ Himself, the eternal and Living Word of God.

When we arrived in the village to conduct the Orality Training Workshop, we found that the local pastors had arranged for the training to take place under a big tree with two branches that perfectly illustrated the vision they had received and which our country director had described to me the day before. The concept and strategy became a significant topic of conversation the rest of the week. The pastors, missionaries and church leaders were greatly encouraged, and they more fully understood how each of them could be more effective in their work as ambassadors of Christ and completing the Great Commission.

A symbol of the vision of how the Good News of Jesus can spread to the ends of the earth

The more we understand the Scriptures and the history of communication and learning, the more we can recognize the unlimited and creative ways the Lord has worked and is working today to bring people to Himself. A major lesson for us is realizing that ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who communicates spiritual truth to the human spirit. He can still use signs and wonders, and dreams and visions, as well as revealing Himself through creation and a variety of art forms, including oral, written, and visual. Praying and trusting God are also foundational to the effective ways and means of advancing the kingdom of God.

Why Orality is so important and effective:

* There is a great need for people everywhere to be able to hear, understand and receive the Good News of Jesus.

* People need to be able to respond to and reproduce the message in ways that can spread within their culture and people group.

* There are still numerous people groups around the world who will only be reached with oral-culture-friendly approaches.

* While literature, literacy programs and technology are important, there are limitations to all of them.

* It was through oral methods that the Gospel spread throughout the entire populated world in the First Century, and it hasn’t happened since.

* Orality methods are universal; we all start out in life as oral learners and communicators.

* It integrates engaging, interactive and participatory methods that enhance relationships and community.

* Oral methods and strategies are simple, reproducible and generally inexpensive.

Engaging, interactive and participatory learning are key factors in Orality Training

Another important feature that makes orality methods so powerful is repetition. There is an old saying that, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.” Some may think that repetition is redundant or boring. However, it is one of the cornerstones for maximizing our impact in spreading the gospel and growing the Kingdom of God. We can also go anywhere with just what is in our heads and hearts, that can be reproduced in the heads and hearts of others. Oral methods really can cross all barriers, boundaries and borders.

A friend and missiologist recently pointed out that every three-year-old is an oral learner and oral communicator. Orality methods are the most natural, and the most effective, ways that people have learned and communicated for thousands of years. However, for the past 500 years, since the time of Gutenberg, the Church has become more dependent upon literacy or print-based means of learning and communicating. Consequently, there has been a lack of emphasis on the most effective ways and means of communicating and learning. Now there is a great need to rediscover these most ancient ways in our culture today.

Many people think of orality as methods only for remote, far-a-way and primitive cultures. Some may think of storytelling as being for children at bedtime. However, the more one explores and learns of the depth and breadth, and the multi-faceted aspects of the Orality Movement, the greater the appreciation and recognition of its significance in the world of missions and Church life. Conventional, Western and literate styles of preaching and teaching can be effective in certain contexts, but often do not connect with people in the more relational, communal and oral cultures of the world. Just making our message audible does not necessarily mean it is appropriate and understandable among oral learners.

Churches in the West are increasingly realizing the value of Orality methods and the power of the Story(s)

Another important discovery many of us are making is that a large percentage of those in the West and the more developed cultures are still oral preference learners and communicators. They can read, but don’t or won’t read. They learn best by oral means. Now, we know that behavior change happens better and faster by oral, rather that literate or print-based ways and means.

As awareness and understanding of the Orality Movement continues to grow, increasing numbers of kingdom-minded followers of Jesus in the business and professional world, as well as church and mission leaders, are beginning to embrace it as a foundational method and strategy. In the areas of leadership training, team building and organizational development, orality can greatly enhance effectiveness. It is especially important for those working in cross-cultural and international settings, and for those who value reproducibility and transferable concepts.

The integration of orality into any form of training, communication and disciple making is becoming more effective with the increasing amount of resources now available. Documents, articles and journals that are available through the International Orality Network are creating more visibility and credibility to the movement. Many of those can be accessed online at The various forums and consultations that bring together world-class scholars, researchers, and practitioners from related disciplines are also adding to the momentum of the movement.

For information about the Orality Movement and training opportunities, visit –

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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.
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 experience in ministry and international mission work. He can be contacted at

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