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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Transforming Power of Water and the Word
True Stories, Wise Sayings, Repetition and Reproducibility

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

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- The way that important knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation is a fascinating phenomenon. And, the speed at which information (true or false) can spread around the world is equally fascinating.


There are some interesting studies about how false stories, or what are known as urban legends, have spread around the world. The news media and social networks can report and repeat something that causes behavior change in many people. Then later, it may be proven to be a fake story or false information.

Having an understanding of this phenomenon can be a great asset in communicating and spreading the gospel and the truth of the Word of God. In relation to sharing the gospel and making disciples in the oral context, it is valuable to keep in mind the power of parables, proverbs (wise sayings) and repetition. While we use stories and questions to train people, there are many other methods that can be used to reinforce the message.

The vast majority of the unreached people in the world are oral learners

Wise sayings that are repeated often can be instrumental in sharing life-changing messages. Consider the well-known adage, “Two heads are better than one.” That simple, short saying can be used to talk about teamwork, cooperation, collaboration and the power of agreement. People remember the short saying, and with reflection, discussion and application, it sticks in the mind and can influence attitudes, actions and behavior.

Consider the Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” It can have a profound impact on people’s lives, decisions and actions. Think about wise sayings that have been passed down for hundreds of years, like: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” or, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” or, “Be kind one to another.” All of these are examples of orality. Many have been around for hundreds of years, and yet, their applications are timeless, universal and powerful.

For parents, teachers and leaders, short stories and wise sayings can be effective methods to instill truths from the Word of God into the lives of children, young people, and, in fact, all ages. Using short, simple sayings and having regular conversations around meal times, casual gatherings or as we go about our daily activities can help shape the attitudes, actions and behavior of others. These same principles can be very effective in training and making disciples and in training disciple makers. Reproducibility is a key factor.

When our conversations, stories, questions and sayings are rooted in the Word of God, we can count on the fact that the Holy Spirit will bear witness to the truth and bring those things to remembrance at the right time.

A friend of mine tells how knowing a proverb literally saved his life. He was with friends who were planning some criminal activity. He was being pressured to participate, but the Lord brought to mind a proverb he had learned as a little boy. As a result, he declined to go along with his friends. It turned out that his friends committed a serious crime, were caught and went to prison.

True worshipers worship God in Spirit and in Truth; these are the kind of worshipers that the Father seeks

In our work with Living Water International, we have the opportunity to learn about local or village proverbs in various parts of the world. Some examples are: “Wisdom is wealth”- Swahili proverb, “The fool speaks, the wise man listens” – Ethiopian proverb, “Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand” – Guinean proverb, “When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful” – Ashanti proverb and “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Asian proverb.

These are just a few examples of the many local proverbs that every nation and culture around the world has. If we take the time to learn about local cultures, sayings, customs and proverbs, it can give us some common ground for conversations and opportunities to share biblical proverbs and spiritual truths from Scripture. These are great connecting points to communicate, build relationships, share our stories and share God’s Story.

Because water is necessary for life, all over the world there are stories, parables, poems and songs about water. There are many stories and references to water in the Bible; it is mentioned in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, the last chapter of the book of Revelation, and several hundred times in between. Water is a great connecting point for sharing about the life of God, the Holy Spirit and His redemptive activity in the world.

Speaking words about, or to, people can be a powerful influence in their lives. I can remember words people spoke to, or about, me when I was about 10 years old -- both negative and positive words. I remember an aunt of mine, as a result of my doing some work on my grandparents’ farm, saying, “That Jerry is a hard worker; I don’t believe he has a lazy bone in his body.” That comment stuck in my mind and encouraged me to live up to her affirmation. It is amazing that a statement or comment can have such a long-term impact and shape a person’s life, even after more than 50 years. That should make us think about what we say to people, realizing that our words have the power to change and shape lives.

It is as a result of the filling and overflow of Christ’s life in us that makes us useful in His Kingdom work. Jesus promised that all who come to Him and believe in Him, out of their hearts (inner being) will flow rivers of Living Water. Revelation 22:1 says, “Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb…” He is the Source of the water of life, and we have the privilege of being channels of that life. We can speak words of life that change the eternal destinies of others.

All ages participate in gathering water in many parts of the world

Most of us have memories of things people have said to, or about, us on a school playground, in family discussions or in the workplace. Thinking before we speak and considering the impact our words can have is an important practice. The more we understand the way life change happens, the more effective we can be in sharing the Living Water of Jesus with others. Jesus is our best example. He made truth stick in people’s hearts and minds. When Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” we have a picture in mind. When He said, “Out of your hearts (inner being) will flow rivers of Living Water,” we can picture that. These are simple principles, but are very significant if we are going to be effective in sharing our life in Christ and making disciples who are reproducing disciple makers.

All of these are examples of using concrete, rather than abstract, concepts of communication. Other important concepts in Orality are simplicity, repetition and reproducibility. Asking thought-provoking questions and providing time to listen, reflect, discuss and interact around the content of the conversation is important.

Consider how much we can learn about the Creator by just observing His Creation. Of course, the ultimate expression of our Creator God is through the Person of Jesus the Christ. He is the perfect physical and visible expression of the character of the God of the Universe. God’s Written Word testifies to the Living Word (the Lord Jesus Himself) and it is the Holy Spirit Who bears witness to people’s hearts when they are exposed to either or both.

While the glory of God can be seen in all of creation, it is the demonstration of the life of Jesus, through His New Body, the Church, that He desires. It is a lifelong challenge to be able to see God in all of our circumstances, to hear God in our hearts and be in tune with Him. Then we can more effectively communicate His life to those around us.

The interest in Orality Training is continuing to gain momentum in the USA

While many people today have the Written Word of God available and the ability to read it in their heart language, or mother tongue, still most of the population of the world are oral learners. These are people who can’t, don’t or won’t read. They prefer to learn and communicate by means other than written instruction or print-based media. It is extremely important that we communicate God’s truth to people in ways that they can understand, respond to and reproduce, rather than the ways we learned in our Western Culture.

In a recent Orality Training Workshop in the United States, an elderly gentleman who has been a believer and an active church leader for many years said, “I have known and studied these stories for many years, but this training has opened my eyes to new insights and understanding of deeper spiritual truths.”

Orality really does cross over all barriers, has impact everywhere and is universal in its application. However, the important thing we must keep in mind is that it is the Holy Spirit Who ultimately touches hearts and transforms lives as the stories of Jesus are shared and understood.

For more information on Living Water International’s Orality 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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