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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Orality: Changing the Face of Missions around the World
Discovering Best Practices

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

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- I am often asked where to find the best practices and resources for Orality strategies for evangelism and disciple making. Increasing numbers of churches, ministries and mission organizations are becoming interested and involved with orality. You can now find many stories, reports and accounts of the amazing results from those who have made the change (or transition) from highly literate, western style communication and instruction, to more oral-learner-friendly approaches. This is true for mission work in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but it is also very effective with churches in North America, Europe and Western countries.

Orality Training session in Central America

It is amazing how much more one can find on websites and in mission newsletters and other reports about storying and orality now, than just a few years ago. There are now several hundred organizations that are part of the International Orality Network. The Cape Town 2010 Lausanne Congress in South Africa gave considerable attention to Orality and Oral Cultures and included a section in the document, The Cape Town Commitment. (See

Just a short time ago, when “Orality” was mentioned, one had to define and explain the term. And, in some circles, that is still the case today.

In a recent Orality Training Workshop at Living Water International in Houston, one attendee recognized that oral methods would work well in his prison ministry. Someone else had the revelation that they can use storying and orality working with the homeless and street ministry. Another person asked, “Will this work with children?” The answer is, “Yes. It is universal in its application.”

Many people come to Orality training events to prepare for mission trips and work in developing countries. In the process of going through the training, they discover that the skills and methods they are learning will be effective in their own churches and with their own families, neighbors, co-workers and friends. One attendee was excited about starting to use storying with his children over meal times.

There seems to be recognition among many, perhaps an awakening, to the numerous opportunities of sharing our faith and making disciples using oral, relational narrative methods, rather than the more highly literate, literacy-based and western styles of communication.

A former missionary participated in an LWI Orality training and commented that this is the best training for evangelism and disciple making that he had experienced. He saw such amazing results that he brought 40 people from his church to the next training workshop. He shared about a friend who was unable to attend the workshop, so he trained the friend from what he had learned. That friend used it to lead several people to Christ on a mission trip.

Young Asian boys learning and retelling stories

We continue to hear reports of individuals using the stories and questions and seeing people come to faith in Christ. Some of those say that orality has revolutionized the way they share their faith. One trainee, who had never led another person to the Lord, immediately used the methods and was so excited when someone received Christ. We have even heard testimonies of individuals telling the stories and people coming to Christ on the very day of the training.

In LWI’s two-day training workshops, we give trainees an assignment or challenge at the end of the first day. We tell them we want them to tell at least one story to at least one person before they go to bed that night. The morning of the second day, we give some time to report what happened. We ask, “How many told a story? Which story did you tell? How did the people respond?” They are so excited to discover how people love to hear stories and that many want to receive Jesus and follow Him.

Back to the question of the best practices and resources. There is an amazing amount of material available now on various websites, like  and and the many links and resources you’ll find on those websites. (Detailed information about the International Orality Network’s Annual Conference, scheduled for September 17-20, 2012, is also available at There is no single method that is the best for all people and every place. It is important to consider the receptor culture, the worldview and the context of your ministry or mission.

One of the things I suggest to people who want to get started in Orality strategies is to learn all you can about the life, spirit and teachings of Jesus. That may sound simplistic, but He really is our best model and example of how to communicate, lead, teach and make disciples.

Most of the people in Jesus’ time here on earth were oral learners. Scholars tell us that only between 3% to 12% of the people of that time would have had access to the Scriptures and could have read them with comprehension. So, we can understand why Jesus used stories and parables, He asked questions, He modeled a lifestyle, He created relationships and community, and it has been reproduced through His followers for 2,000 years.

We in Living Water are observing that when people learn more and use oral methods, they become more positive, passionate and excited about sharing their faith and making disciples.

Orality Training for cross-cultural evangelists and church planters in Africa

Some key components in the success of the Orality Movement are repetition and engagement. Also, “learning a little, practicing a lot and implementing immediately,” seems to be striking a responsive cord with participants.

Orality skills enable followers of Jesus to cross over any and all borders and barriers with God’s Story. Someone has observed that the Orality Movement is the essence of the Jesus Movement. This new movement is really the same old movement of God through His Church over the past 2,000 years.

Years ago I heard someone say. “The light that shines the brightest, shines the farthest.” I suppose the reverse is also true. People who are transformed and have a passion for reaching the world will also have a greater passion for reaching their neighbors.

Our prayer is that increasing numbers will discover the love, truth and Spirit of Jesus and become reproducing followers of Christ, and experience His wisdom, power and anointing to make Him known in the most relevant manner to the ends of the earth.

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 and can be contacted at 


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