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Monday, May 28, 2012

Orality: Changing the face of missions around the world.
The Transforming Power of Relational Narrative Communication

By Jerry Wiles,
Special to ASSIST News Service

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- The Word of God has great power to transform lives. Romans 10:17 says, "...faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." So often we think of the Word of God as the Bible. And, it's true that the Bible is God's Word written. However, throughout the Bible, when reference is made to the Word of God or the Word of the Lord, in most cases it's not referring to a written document. The written Word of God, when mentioned in the Bible, is usually referred to as "the Scriptures".

Actually, the Word of God was around in oral form long before it was ever in written form. So, when we think of the importance of hearing the Word of God, orality often takes on a whole new meaning for many.

Throughout history most people have come to faith in Jesus by hearing the Word of God and the stories of Jesus.

All Ages Love Stories
(Courtesy LWI)

What we are learning in our orality training experiences is that people come alive with new excitement and enthusiasm as they hear, retell and discuss the stories of Jesus.

Story telling and orality methods seem to level the playing field, so that everyone can participate in God's redemptive activity. We find that, regardless of socio-economic or educational levels, almost everyone can learn and retell stories.

In many countries, women and children are not involved in church life. However, in the orality training workshops, they become fully engaged and excited to learn and retell the stories and participate in the discussions. Children as young as age six have learned and told the stories.

In the countries where Living Water International works, it's estimated that 80% or more are oral learners, by necessity or by preference.

Every Water Project -
A Story-Telling Opportunity
(Courtesy LWI)

After only one day of training we often hear reports of how people are telling the stories and others want to receive Jesus and follow Him.

One man shared on the second day of an orality training workshop that he told the stories in a Muslim community and three people expressed their faith in Jesus and their desire to follow Him.

With the appropriate repetition and discussion about the stories, whole communities have come to faith in Jesus. In the Western world we often think of just individuals receiving the gospel and trusting
Christ. We don't think so much about whole families, communities or social networks coming to the Lord.

There are examples in Scriptures about the many different ways that people have encountered the Lord and been transformed. Certainly God is unlimited in the ways He can touch hearts and change lives.

Hygiene training and storytelling time 
(Courtesy LWI)

In the Orality Movement people are discovering that almost anyone can share their faith, about any time and any place. When people are
equipped with appropriate oral communication skills, they just go with what's in their heads and hearts, that can be reproduced in other people's heads and hearts.

While there is an important place for the use of literature and technological resources, it is a great benefit not to be dependent upon them. By using a totally oral approach, one can take the Good News of Jesus to any place and any people on the planet. And, of course, Jesus and the early church are our best examples of that.

Everywhere we conduct our orality training, we emphasize that it's not intended to take the place of any other methods or strategies that are effective and producing the desired results. Orality is intended to be an addition to one's mission/ministry resource toolbox. However, in so many places, pastors and church/mission leaders, after experiencing the training and observing the results, tell us that oral methods are more effective than anything else they have been using.

Clean Water and the Word - A Great Combination: LWI Trip to Laye, Burkino Faso
(Courtesy LWI)

One pastor in Africa said, "This (orality training) is just what we need. This will bring revival to our country." Another pastor in Central
America realized that with orality methods, he can equip, train and mobilize story telling evangelists at every level, with all those in his congregation.

The Apostle Peter said, "...to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us" (I Peter 3:15).)

Opportunities to share our faith and make disciples come to us in many different ways. We often refer to divine appointments. With the appropriate orality-based skills, one can be prepared to share with family, neighbors, co-workers, classmates and friends. There are those short term encounters at the mall, the airport, hotel lobby and so many other places where we connect with people.

God is so creative in the ways He can use us to impact people's lives for His Kingdom purposes.

Story-telling - Orality Training
can happen anywhere
(Courtesy LWI)

I was recently seated next to a lady from India on an airplane who was reading a small booklet. As we chatted briefly, I inquired about what she was reading. She showed me the picture on the cover of the book and said, "This is my god." I asked her how many gods she had. She said, "Just one."

We briefly talked about how there are many gods in the Hindu belief system. Then I asked her if she knew about The Most High God, and if she would like to know about Him. Well, that opened the door to a conversation for the rest of our flight.

It is amazing how much one can share in a story about the creator God of the universe, about His power and love expressed through Jesus of Nazareth. We just never know when the seed of His Word, through a short conversation, will be planted in a fertile heart and produce much fruit.

The late Dr. Adrian Rogers, a former pastor of mine, used to say that the Christian life should be supernaturally natural and naturally supernatural. It seems to me that we should think of sharing our faith and making disciples in that way. I am discovering that orality skills give us so many more opportunities in that area.

Under a tree is a great place for Orality Training
(Courtesy LWI)

It's in those routine encounters with people in our everyday lives that we can engage in conversations that can lead to life-changing experiences. Having conversations, asking a few questions and telling some stories can be a natural part of all our lives. If we are intentional and plan, it can happen with all of us on a regular basis.

As we communicate and have relationships with people who have responded to the Lord and are seeking to follow Him, we have the opportunity to encourage them, formally or informally, to get to know the person and power of Christ living in us by means of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who makes our lives supernatural.

It is a wonderful thing to have God's Word in written form and in a language we can understand. However, it is the life-style demonstration and spoken Word (Story) that is universal, reproducible and transferable to any people and place on earth.

Orality is, in part, just getting back to how Jesus lived, related, lead, communicated and made disciples. There is a great need to recognize that it is the reproducing life of Jesus Christ in and through each of His children, His followers. That makes sharing Him and advancing His Kingdom an exciting adventure. That realization should put joy, passion and motivation in each of us to want others to have a relationship with the Most High God.

It has often been said that our life in Christ is more easily caught that taught.

Many of those who have attended Living Water's orality training workshops go away, not only with new skills, but new passion, joy and desire to be contagious and share His life and stories with others.

In a recent conversation about orality with a lady who is a mission trip leader in Central America, I asked her what had been the highlight of leading mission trips. She said, "The last 20 minutes that have changed my life and the way I'll do missions from now on."

This lady's experience and background gave her a frame of reference and the ability to immediately grasp the significance of oral communications in the context of evangelism and disciple making.

To gain a broader perspective of what orality really is, just consider all the ways that people have learned and communicated for thousands of years. Consider all the methods that do not depend on print-based media or written instructions. Many people, when hearing about orality, still think that it refers just to those who can't read or write.

The depth and breadth of Orality is amazing and includes a wide variety of expressions. In addition to the many different streams of storying, there is the use of drama, song, dance, poems, proverbs and parables to name a few. There are also the many technological resources such as radio, TV, the internet, cell phones, recording devices and other audio and visual resources and strategies.

The scope and magnitude of orality is surprising and amazing to most people when they are just being introduced to the movement. When we reflect upon the greatness of God and His heart and desir to redeem His creation, we should not be surprised or amazed at the mighty works of God around the world.

We know from His Word in Hab. 2:14 that a day is coming when, "...the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea."

We shouldn't be amazed or surprised at what God is doing through His people, the Church, around the world. Ordinary people have always been used by the Lord to do extraordinary things. It seems that simple things are a part of God's strategies, and with the outpouring of His Spirit, little things can have a big impact. He often uses the most unlikely people and places to do His most significant work.

When it comes to the Great Commission, sharing our faith and making disciples, many people find it more comfortable to have a formula, some steps or a pattern to follow. It's sometimes challenging to walk by faith, to be spontaneous and creative, but that is often what it takes to recognize and respond to the opportunities that God brings our way.

Contextualization in missions is an important aspect in the Orality Movement. In its simplest form, it is being aware and using the most appropriate methods and strategies in a particular situation.

Culture, worldview and learning styles are all areas of consideration. That being said, flexibility and openness to the moving of the Spirit of God in our lives is critical, if we are going to be fruitful in His vineyard. He is the Lord of the harvest.

God is willing and able to give each of us His wisdom and discernment, if we only ask and trust Him.


Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International (http://www.water.cc ) 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 JerryWiles@water.cc


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