Good news travels fast

If you heard a great story, how long would it be before you shared it with someone else? Probably not long. You’d be even quicker to share it if you were from one of the world’s oral cultures.

Oral cultures place a high value on storytelling, and communicate differently to Western cultures – important ideas, knowledge, art, etc are shared verbally rather than in writing. Bible storying is an aspect of Bible translation tailor-made for oral cultures – short passages of Scripture are translated orally and don’t need much of a push to start circulating.

The idea is not just to provide Scripture in a format people will engage with, but also to allow a people group to engage with the Bible in their language from the beginning of a Bible translation project, and prepare people groups for the rest of the Bible. Bible sto­ry­ing gives oral cultures the word of God in an authentic local format and as a result, stories spread quickly.

Ethno-com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant Durk Mei­jer re­calls a man he met at a Bible sto­ry­ing work­shop from the Himba com­mu­nity in north­west­ern Namibia. ‘He was ed­u­cated, spoke Eng­lish and uses Face­book – he’s a mod­ern guy. He learned four Bible sto­ries im­me­di­ately to retell.’

Durk has tried another, slightly dif­fer­ent ap­proach – of teach­ing prin­ci­ples rather than sto­ries – and has found that oral learners struggle with this. Somehow, the key is not just in the fact that it’s verbal rather than written, but in the story format.

‘We’re help­ing people…engage with God’s word in their own way,’ ex­plains Durk.

Though storytelling is an age-old tradition, modern tech­nol­ogy only serves to support this way of engaging with Scripture. South­ern Africans liv­ing in re­mote ar­eas, in­clud­ing many San peo­ple, have em­braced the mo­bile phone as a per­fect method for do­ing what oral cul­tures love: shar­ing stories.

Se­bas­t­ian Floor, di­rec­tor of Wycliffe South Africa’s Re­gional Trans­la­tion Services, re­ports that even with­out wide­spread ac­cess to elec­tric­ity, peo­ple find a way to charge their phones. They also climb moun­tains or travel long dis­tances to get a net­work sig­nal. Such ob­sta­cles are no match for a de­sire to com­mu­ni­cate.

‘It’s amaz­ing!’ ex­claims Se­bas­t­ian. ‘We are find­ing that sto­ries done orally spread very quickly.’

While oral sto­ry­ing is a startup strat­egy for Wycliffe South Africa’s Re­gional Trans­la­tion Services, it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a sub­sti­tute for writ­ten trans­la­tion. It of­ten pre­pares a com­mu­nity for a full Bible trans­la­tion project.

‘But the main ad­van­tage,’ says Se­bas­t­ian, ‘is that it gets God’s word out to com­mu­ni­ties very quickly.’

 

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