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Monday, December 10, 2012

The Transforming Power of Water and the Word
The Creativity and Unlimited Power of the Holy Spirit

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

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- To bring in the decade of the 1990s, a small team of individuals conducted a Bible Reading Marathon on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The team included my friend, Dan Wooding. It was a very interesting group of people, and we had no idea of the impact that taking three and half days for a public reading of the entire Bible would have.

The Bible Reading Marathon on the Mount of Olives
(Photo: Dan Wooding)

Little did we know that the idea would spread and that it would turn out to be a spring-board for Bible Reading Marathons and Prayer Vigils to be conducted around the world. In May of 1990, the first Bible Reading Marathon was conducted on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the National Day of Prayer. That became a tradition that has continued every year since.

While working with Bible Pathway Ministries in the 1980s, some of our staff and ministry partners came up with the idea of creating the International Bible Reading Association for the purpose of initiating an effort to have 1990 declared the International Year of Bible Reading. The idea was to follow up Ronald Reagan’s Presidential proclamation for 1983 Year of the Bible, to expand the initiative worldwide and to encourage people to actually read through the entire Bible. (However, with better understanding of oral cultures, we now know that the effort would have been effective for only about 20 to 30% of the world's population.)

Due to the hard work of a few committed individuals, 1990 was, in fact, proclaimed by President George H. W. Bush to be the International Year of Bible Reading. As a result, a few presidents and heads of state from other countries also issued proclamations. A Congressional Resolution was issued declaring 1990 International Year of Bible Reading. Several governors, many mayors, other government officials and some denominations also issued proclamations or resolutions. The Bible Reading Marathons (a public reading of the entire Bible) provided an amazing platform for individuals to engage observers in spiritual conversations and share their faith. Only the Lord knows how many people have come to faith in Christ as a result of these efforts.

A typical water source for many

During these events people heard a passage of Scripture being read and thought, “That sounds interesting. Where does that come from?” Seeds were planted that would cause people to want to know more. It was amazing to hear all the stories of how the attention of so many people was captured by hearing the Scriptures being read in public. In many places it was almost like a revival or evangelistic campaign, except there was no single evangelist, just the spoken Word of God and the Spirit of God touching people’s hearts and lives.

While the written Word of God has great power to change lives, we now know that the majority of the people of the world are oral learners, by necessity or by preference. They can understand and respond to orality-based communication better than literate means. Also, in most places, it’s a demonstration of the love of God, meeting some felt need, that opens people's hearts to want to hear the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus.

Reaching the World with Water and the Word was adopted as a vision statement by Living Water International several years ago. In the regions around the world where LWI has operations (Africa, Asia and Latin America) there are some of the neediest people on earth, both physically and spiritually. It really is an amazing thing to be involved in helping to meet the most basic physical and spiritual needs of the neediest people on earth.

A community celebrates a new well

Dr. Dick Eastman, International President of Every Home for Christ, noted author, prayer mobilizer and president of America's National Prayer Committee, has said, “I believe that the last of the unreached people of the world will only be reached by meeting some felt need, water being the most basic need.” There are still more than 783 million people in the world today who do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. More that two billion (2,000,000,000) are without basic sanitation services. Roughly half of the hospital beds in the world are occupied by someone with some kind of water-related disease. Every year 1.8 million children die as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation.

These numbers represent huge needs, but are also great opportunities to be a part of saving lives and changing destinies, both physically and spiritually, for time and eternity. When Living Water International, in partnership with local churches or other mission organizations, is able to provide access to Water, for Life, in Jesus’ Name, it often brings transformation to families and communities. Many times, we hear local people say, “We have been praying for water.” It is always a delight to recognize the hand of God when we are part of the answer to people’s prayers.

In many places where LWI works, there are significant spiritual movements. Rapidly reproducing church planting (disciple-making) movements are taking place along with water solutions. Assisting communities with clean water solutions, sanitation services, hygiene education and conducting orality training, in partnership with churches or other mission organizations, is a powerful combination. These are the kinds of holistic, integral mission efforts that truly bring community transformation.

Hygiene Training, women Learn about Clean Hands and Clean Hearts

One of the exciting things taking place with the expansion of the mission force in recent times is how God is raising up individuals, organizations and movements that are being sent from everywhere to everywhere. There are actually unreached people all around us. I was recently at a major airport in a southern U.S. city. Two ladies were sitting at a table next to me at a coffee shop. They were visiting the United States from a Central Asian country. As a result of my offer to take their picture, we engaged in a conversation about where they had been traveling in the States. I asked a couple of questions about the spiritual climate in their home country. In that conversation, I discovered that they had never heard the name of Jesus and had never seen or heard about the New Testament, Old Testament or the Holy Bible. The ladies were interested, and I was able to tell them a brief story from Creation to Christ before they had to leave to catch a plane. I referred them to a website where they could learn more about Jesus and the Bible. The younger lady had her lap top with her and was already taking a look at some websites as we talked.

It is important to realize that we all live in a mission field, made up of our families, neighbors, co-workers and friends. And, there is another category we might call “all others,” those short encounters with people we meet wherever we go.

The prophet Joel spoke of a time to “Swing the sickle because the harvest is ripe.” Earlier, God promises, “I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity.” We can have confidence that the Holy Spirit is actively involved in drawing people to Christ.

Every follower of Jesus can participate in the redemptive activity of God’s Spirit, locally and/or globally. Wherever I go, I find people who are interested in spiritual things, and many are open and receptive to respond to the Good News of Jesus when it is shared in an appropriate manner.

In a recent visit with leaders in a partner organization in an African country, LWI leaders discovered the reproducing impact of Water and the Word. Orality training was conducted in a region where severe persecution had taken place a year and a half earlier. It was amazing and encouraging to hear reports of how those people are using the stories and oral methods with great results. In their words, “Numerous people are coming to Christ.” There were also many reports that those who had been trained were conducting their own training, and new churches were being planted.

Making friends, asking questions and telling stories may seem like a very simple strategy for advancing the Kingdom of God, but we are seeing how powerful those simple things can be in bringing transformation to individuals, families and communities.

In LWI’s Orality Training Workshops, the story of the “Samaritan woman a the well,” recorded in John chapter 4, is having an incredible impact in many ways. By using the appropriate pre- and post-story questions and discussion, many lessons about salvation, the character of God, worship and reconciliation, and sharing our faith can be illustrated. One of the questions we ask is, “What do we learn from the fact that the woman left her water pot in order to go back to her town and tell about her encounter with Jesus?”

A new water well changes communities

The types of questions we ask are from three categories—observation, meaning, and application. The Holy Spirit is faithful to give people amazing insights and understanding. The transformation that the woman at the well experienced is something we can all experience when we have a life-changing encounter with Jesus. An example of an application question is, “What have we left behind in order to tell others about Him?”

A man recently learned the story of the “Demon-possessed Garazene” from Mark chapter 5 in an Orality Training Workshop. After telling the story to his neighbor, the neighbor told him he had felt tormented by evil spirits and couldn’t sleep at night. He said he had conflict with and argued with his wife and children. After hearing the story, he asked if Jesus could help him deal with the evil spirits. The man said, “Yes,” and offered to pray with him. The neighbor trusted and received Christ. Early the next morning the neighbor called the man who told the story and said that he had slept well for the first time in years. It was clearly a demonstration of the power of the story and the work of the Spirit to deliver and change the man’s life.

These two stories demonstrate how Jesus was a cross-cultural person and how we should reach out and relate to people who are different than we are. These stories also show us how God can use one person to bring transformation to an entire community or region.

On a recent trip to an African country we learned more about how our orality (disciple-making) training is being reproduced and multiplied. Amazing stories are told by those who are using orality and training others. Orality is capturing the attention of church and mission leaders worldwide. More than 15,000 people have been trained in LWI’s basic Orality Training Workshops in the past three and half years. Based on sampling reports and feedback, it’s estimated that an additional 50,000 have received some kind of orality training by those who have been trained.

When making follow-up visits in the regions where orality training has been conducted, we ask questions like these: Are you using the stories and methods? Are people coming to Christ? Are you training others? The majority of those respond with, “Yes.” When asked about the numbers, the common answer is, “Numerous.”

Only the Lord really knows how many lives are being impacted, how many are becoming reproducing followers of Jesus through the Orality movement, and the far-reaching impact for the Kingdom of God. An internationally known ministry leader recently said, “The best argument for orality is that it works better than anything else.” Recent research has shown that behavior change and character transformation happen more effectively by orality-based methods than by literate means.


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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