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BIBLE STORYTELLING MINISTRY AND GLOBALIZATION IN MISSION

Yon Soo Kim

Since the beginning the gospel of Christianity has been aiming for globalization. The phrase “Making disciples of all nations”[1] (µαθητευσατεπανταταεθνη) in Jesus’ Great Commission shows that the commission is not only for all nations, tribes and language groups in the world, and the promise and commandment of the Pentecost, but includes also in its realm as extended to “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”[2] (Ιερουσαληµ καιενπασητηΙουδαιακαιΣαµαρειακαιεωςεσχατουτηςγης). And also the people who were gathered in the Pentecostal Advent were those who came from more than 15 different areas[3] in those days.

We cannot help think about localization in considering the globalization of the gospel. Our Mission should aim for the globalization of all places and all peoples in the world. Thinking and planning more widely, preaching the gospel in international and national languages is like globalization while the appropriate translation of the gospel into local languages, is like localization.

Ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural, geographical, and socio-hierarchical factors can be considered as hindrances in the globalization of the gospel. Those factors have hindered the spread of the gospel in all places, all peoples, and all language groups for two thousand years. In one sense, the Christian mission has accomplished the commission throughout by overcoming the hindrances one by one. We have succeeded in some parts, but not in other portions.

In this moment the author would like to suggest a solution for accomplishing the globalization of the gospel for all nations through the Bible storytelling ministry as a method of both globalization and localization.

We can recognize that it is very important to overcome the hindrances mentioned previously one by one for the globalization of the gospel. It is important that simultaneously we recognize the necessity of selecting a method of communication in preaching the gospel efficiently. This has been overlooked for a long time by many cross-cultural Christian ministers.

Seventy five percent of the unreached people are those who are accustomed to communicate with each other orally, that is, they are oral people. The people who live in oral culture use mainly storytelling method for their communication and learning. We have overlooked the fact that they are very unfamiliar to the letter-printing communication method and they need a revolutionary change for their entry to the literary world. However, 90% of cross-cultural Christian ministers have no concern about it or do not consider it seriously.

Not long into the Bible storytelling ministry, I came across a certain missionary in Central Asia whose remarks left a lasting impression on me. After attending the workshop that I had put together, he found himself marvelling over an epiphany of questions that had long beset him. Flushed with enthusiasm, he confessed to me that he had finally found the answer to them. A little over a decade now he had taught Bible classes to local people and trained them as disciples of Christ in groups. All those years he couldn’t shake off doubts about himself and the people he taught. He kept asking himself, ‘Why is it that they seem to learn the Word at the last minute? Why does it take so long for them to get it? Are they naturally slow in their ability to understand? Or is it because they are not as dedicated as others?’ But no, that was not it. He shook his head at the thought of local Christians, many of whom were well advanced in scholarship and social rank, all very dedicated. He could easily name professionals who made a living out of law, medicine and teaching, and yet wholeheartedly committed to Christ. But then he attended the workshop and came to face them for who they really were: descendants of nomads with a strong tradition of orality. Those who were somewhat successful at nurturing trainees followed this tradition; they learned the Bible text by heart before they told it as a story, further explaining what puzzled them. This was a whole new revelation to him.

Clearly it wasn’t about the sluggish rate at which they pounded at the Scriptures. Nor was it due to their lack of zeal. It all boiled down to a method. Whether to study or to communicate the Word, people with predominantly oral heritage will fare better without the printed pages always.

A certain evangelical mission organization carried out a survey on 580 missionaries in Muslim countries. Among them, 280 in 37 countries sat for an in-depth interview. The outcome of both queries showed some 94 ways to evangelize Muslims. Again, a requirement for missionary ministry came down to three that was deemed crucial to planting a church in Muslim countries: use of the local language, method of communication tailored to the local needs, and minister’s fluency in the local tongue. According to the study, the odds of planting a church with the above requirements are 9 to 1. In the case of missionaries equipped with none of the required three, a scant 7 percent succeeded at planting a church. By contrast, those with the requirements almost always planted a church, showing 82 percent success rate. It shows and proves the importance of the method of communication plays in church planting.

A man lives not only for pleasure but also for the meaning of his existence from the belief in something greater than himself: often work or ministry. But once his belief takes hold of his entire person, he is easily caught up in the cycle of underestimating or dismissing the creeds of other men.

I had long cherished the work of Bible translation and still feel strongly about its importance in missions. I do not have an iota of regret for dedicating a larger part of my work to translating the Holy Word into the local tongue. However, upon leaving the field of mission, I came to realize there was something missing; something bigger than my paltry belief in my work of mission. I was so consumed by it. I was unconsciously (and consciously at times) indifferent to what occupied the ministries of other men. What is true is timeless and held in the highest esteem, I do not dispute that. But the method to achieve a goal can vary in numbers as much as the crayons in a box. The question is then to find one’s own method and be the brightest.

During the whole time on the mission field and even after returning, I carried a big burden in my heart which beleaguered all my translating work. I was quite distraught at the reality of the local people of Kwerba, a native tribe on the remote jungle area in Indonesia. They hardly read any of my translation of the scriptures, they just couldn’t. I was in bad need of a needle to get the prick out of my heart. I kept asking, ‘What is it that stops them from reading my translation of the Bible?’ As all my work and ministry hinged upon it, I felt even more guilty when I thought of all the support from brothers and sisters at church back home. Couldn’t they or wouldn’t they? The more I brooded over the question, the worse I got my anxiety. I could only hope that they will one day see the beauty of it and finally learn to cherish it. But even I doubted it.

I made a few more visits to the mission field after my departure. To my despair, I found them still uninterested; unwilling and unable to read the translated God’s Word to their native tongue. The saddest part is that those who used to read it with me no longer did. They simply couldn’t.

Had I not set foot in that storytelling workshop,[4] I would have had to live with the prick in my heart all this time. Just like that, it solved all my problems at one go. There, I learned that the tribal people I served come from an orally-oriented background. Centuries of oral tradition defined their way of communicating with one another, radically different from the way we communicate through written words.

Accuracy is guaranteed when information is preserved in hard-set words on paper/pad. Perhaps the best of human achievements, it aids our memory in quantity and quality to store or to transmit knowledge in a written form. Sad but true though, such a fine (intangible) artifact is fading out into history as two thirds of literate men and women prefer spoken words as a mode of communication.

By 1980, Walter Ong, an American scholar, came forth with an idea that there existed two kinds of people: one from an oral background and another from the written. He suggested that the latter tends to prefer an oral mode of communication in an overwhelming number of occasions.

What does it exactly mean for Christians who are committed to the mission, as well as for missionaries who carry out diverse ministries on the field?

Storytelling is an important method of oral communication and has two distinct features.

Firstly, it should be noted that approximately 75 percent of the Bible are stories. For the divine providence of our salvation and adoption as His children, was it necessary for God to tell so many stories to reveal the truth and manifest His glory? It was imperative to use stories as over 90 percent of men at that time came from cultures whose lingua franca was predominantly in an oral form. And those aware of the excellence of story as a means of communication will no doubt guess at the reason behind His choice to talk to us and teach us through stories.

Secondly, most of our target audience for the gospel truth is the people in oral culture. They are most likely to feel at ease around messages spoken to them as they come from a background of strong orality. At present, 75 percent of those beyond the reach of missionary zeal are nestled in an orally-oriented environment. The remaining few also prefer an oral communication to the written, in acquiring knowledge or passing on information. Thus, a task that attracts urgency to reach out to the native tribes and so complete our mission work seems to lie in the storytelling ministry. You cannot dispute that the storytelling is by far the best method there is to deliver the Bible message (75 percent of which are in story form) to the often illiterate peoples of the darkest regions of the world.

Ever since I was first introduced that day to the storytelling ministry, I visited a number of organizations pioneered by Western missionaries, and was initiated by good trainers there. I also read their books. On top of that, I started studying storytelling in general with secondary materials. Thankfully, though frustrating it had been at times, my years of translating the Bible and studying linguistics paid off. My experience with the native people from an oral background helped, too. Writing my dissertation on Jesus’ parables came a long way in getting an edge on the hands-on training I got from them.

After finishing the training, I tried to sum up in 5 areas what matters the most for an effective storytelling ministry. So I set to work those 5 areas into programs, along with textbooks.

Firstly, it can be used as an effective tool in evangelism. Logic fails and sophistication only complicates things for people these days. Post-modern kids grew up watching TV, habitually interpreting the world as stories and boasting dominant emotional quotient. Recently, a traditional program for an evangelist shed old customs, starting with small talk and finishing with a Bible story, and is doing pretty well. An evangelist would first approach with small talk, digging into their interests and problems in life, further counseling on their desperate needs. Next, he will introduce the gospel by telling an appropriate story from the Bible. I cannot stress enough the importance of picking a good story that not only testifies the gospel but relates to himself as well. As a believer, he also has stories of his life to tell which testifies to His grace and glorifies His name. His personal life is closely connected to the Bible story as the two intertwine in His grace and truth. They, in turn, will have the holy impact on his audience now. As testimonies of God at work, they continue to witness and impact mere acquaintances, frequenters to his favorite haunts, and even skeptics or pessimists.

Secondly, it can be used as a good way to assist Bible-study classes or discipleship courses. To accompany the Bible study, the storytelling can be broken down into the actual telling a story and the Q&A afterwards. The storyteller must learn the story by heart in advance. In class, he tells the story to his audience, and then asks for a volunteer to retell it. Afterwards, he asks a bunch of simple questions for observation and understanding, and then he can lead the Bible study with deep questions he prepared for. Overall, the audience gets to hear the story three times and aided by deep questions for further thoughts. If all the participants prepare well in advance, there is no need to open a book, whether the Bible or a textbook. If only they can learn the story by heart, they will feel as though they were right in the middle of the scene of the story. Studying a textbook by chapter and volume is not the only way to do it. The storytelling method is just as systematic and organized. The Bible is constructed in a way that any random story connects to another in a mysterious way to converge upon a common point of divine message. Know the stories by heart and you’ll gain the full knowledge, in breadth and depth, of a qualified theologian as organized and systematic as can be.

Thirdly, it can be used for teaching kids in Sunday school. Filling out questions is monotonous and in disrepute. It is not only mind-bogglingly boring, it is ineffective through and through. If kids can enjoy the storytelling method, it will be a lifesaver for the future of church all over the country. Teachers must prepare by rewriting the Bible text into a story and think up a bunch of questions for observation. Should it feel burdensome to memorize it in every week, they can just rewrite the story and simply read it out to students several times, encouraging them to retell it afterwards. When students have understood it well enough, questions are popped for further observation and interpretation. A competition of kind or posting their performance on Youtube might be suggested as a way to attract their interests.

Fourthly, it can be used for good theological education. Young generations these days are more and more prone to use an oral mode of communication. The storytelling method attracts uninterested people and keeps them hooked. It has all the essentials of a lesson both academically fulfilling and entertaining at the same time. Not only kids but adults and teens can benefit greatly from this. The Bible is a treasure trove of 500 stories. Select a set of stories under a theme and you have a curriculum of Bible study/storytelling courses. You will come to have a detailed yet comprehensive grasp of the holy text, as organized and systematic as any theological course can offer.

Fifthly, it can be used for preaching. As mentioned above, over 75 percent of the Holy Scriptures consist of stories, which means three out of four Lord’s day a preacher lashes out a story. An effective preacher is also a good storyteller as he delivers the Word and encourages its application to the real life of his audience. It takes the preacher a lot of skill and technique as he tells a Bible story as a narrative. At least in 6 different ways a preacher might tell his story. The simplest way would be to tell it straight off the contents of the Bible, leaving the structure and the sequence of events unaltered. Further interpretation, meditation and application can be added thereunto. Or, in case the audience is quite familiar with the story, he might start off with another episode to bring up the subject, putting back the main story at the later stage of his sermon. Or, he might consider not mentioning the story at all, if it is more than well-known, and instead start afresh with new story under a common theme. Or, he can try knitting several stories together that intertwine nicely into one big story. Or, he can deliver his sermon by running the story style, but adding a zest to a finale with a set of lesson points for applications. Or, he can lay out an expository sermon at first, and then re-arrange the expository sermon as a story type sermon.

I make it a rule to visit different fields of mission each month to provide the Bible storytelling workshop to Korean missionaries abroad. For three days, they learn all there is to know about storytelling and Bible storytelling, and the usage of Bible storytelling. They are also trained to use it for evangelism, Bible study/discipleship course, Lord’s day school class, theological education, and storytelling preaching. But signing up for 3 days workshop would not surely do it for a lot of people. To bring a storytelling process to real life and ministry, a graduate of the workshop is encouraged to follow up with 20 weeks homework program. With others in a group, he is assigned to deal with 20 stories from the Bible. After completion, he might go on to Workshop II where he spends a day learning how to make a story, a set of stories, and a set of questions. For a domestic ministry this is good enough. But for an international ministry where barriers of culture and language often present problems, he might consider joining Workshop III after completing another 20 weeks homework program. It is recommended that he attends them with his local partner. 1 day course trains on the principles of Bible translation, accommodating foreign languages and cultures with storytelling, and the way of bringing storytelling groups to home churches.

In Korea, the storytelling course is given each semester at the same place.[5] On Mondays, a lecture is given on storytelling. Each semester deals with new set of 8 different stories from the Bible. So far, a total of 6 sets of 8 stories were dealt with under such themes as the divine plan of salvation, evangelical stories, life of David, life of Jesus, Holy Spirit on Pentecost and March of the gospel, Missional church of Antioch and world mission. Extra workshops are given at the request of any group, division of church and the whole church, with different emphasis and scheduling according to the needs of the participants/audience.

On the actual field of mission overseas, the storytelling workshop is given to Korean missionaries to be followed up by a storytelling lecture at Korean theological seminary for locals. As the locals often are feebly versed in their Bible and poorly trained in theology, they find preaching quite challenging and even burdensome. But learning the few things about storytelling gives them much-needed boost which, building a momentum, helps with their ministry tremendously.

We are equal to the task equally challenging and at times burdensome. We have the mandate to preach the gospel to 5 billion souls, of which 2 billion is in total darkness where the Light cannot seem to reach. How can we shine in that region? How can we penetrate it with the gospel of Christ? We must find ways to most effectively deliver the message to peoples with different languages, religions and circumstances, but with discretion of the missional strategist. For mission to any culture or background, the storytelling method is not only effective, it is indispensable whether its people are inclined towards words spoken or written. I pray that Korean missionaries will take more interest in a variety of methods that are out there, and in storytelling for one.

The methodology of Bible Storytelling Ministry seems to be one of glocalization. For this methodology is aiming that it preaches the gospel throughout general and globalized storytelling in their languages and in their appropriate storytelling methodologies. Anyway, I expect that this methodology be used as a great tool for accomplishing Christian Mission for the remnant task of globalizing the gospel in the world.

ENDNOTES

[1] In general, globalization can be defined as the process of international integration arising from the interchange of products, ideas, values, worldviews and other aspects of culture, or as the breakdown of social and technological barriers across the earth toward the creation of a one-world grid of increasing connection, interdependency and homogeneity. Large-scale globalization began in the 19th century and in the late 19th and early 20th century, the connectivity of the world’s economies and cultures grew very fast. The concept of globalization seems to be a very recent term, only establishing its current meaning in the 1970s and became common currency in the early 1990s, generally speaking, which seemed to be emerged from the inter-minglement of four interrelated sets of communities of practice: academics, journalists, publishers, and librarians. Math. 28:19.
[2] Act. 1:8.
[3] Act. 2:9-11.
[4] OS Workshop (Orality and Storytelling Workshop) is held every May in Chiangmai, Thailand for two weeks. It is put together by the One Story Department of WBT (Wycliffe Bible Translators) where I served.
[5] At the second week of March and September, 10 weeks course is given at Nam Seoul Church (in classroom F of new education rooms of Sinbanpo Commercial Building, from 2 to 5 pm). Each semester, a new set of 8 stories are dealt with, alongside lectures and Bible study on storytelling methodology. The seventh Bible Storytelling School begins at 14th Monday, March, 2016

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 Dr. Yon Soo Kim was a Wycliffe Bible translator missionary in Irian Jaya,since 1990. He is now serving as KWMA Associate General Secretary for International Affairs, and ministering as Director of Storytelling Movement Institute.


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