A few years ago I visited a region in East Africa where the people had experienced a severe drought for several years; most of the water wells in that region were dry. Living Water International had drilled a deep well there about eight years earlier, and it was one of the few productive water wells in the entire region.
I was told that 30,000 people were getting water from that one well, and in addition to the people, the livestock and wild animals also got water there. The local people called it “The Miracle Well.” A missionary who was serving in that area told us that if it were not for that one well, there would probably be 30,000 dead people in the region.
The Transforming Power of Water and the Word
The water committee for the well was made up primarily of Masai pastors, who managed it and took turns going to get fuel for the generator. They had worked out a system so the people could come to the well every other day. Many would walk several hours to get water. We were told that 80% of the people in the region had come to Christ since the well was put in. Being there with those dear people caused me to think in a new way about one of LWI’s tag lines, “Saving Lives and Changing Destinies.” That experience was a great demonstration and reinforcement of the transforming power of water and the Word.
At a reception of government, business and ministry leaders in Africa, I was approached by a young man who said to me, “I am alive today because of you.” When I asked what he meant, he told me a story of how Living Water International had drilled a well in his village when he was a little boy. He shared how the well had transformed the entire community. Access to clean water was used to improve the health, the educational opportunities, the economic development and the spiritual and social life in the community.
Encountering the Storms of Life
When we hear people’s stories of the problems, difficulties, pressures and crises in life, one of the stories we use in our Orality Training Workshops takes on great meaning. Learning the story of “Jesus Calming the Storm,” from Mark chapter 4, helps people relate to the storms of life, which we all experience in one form or another. Storms of life might be financial crisis, living in a war-torn country, experiencing genocide, extreme poverty, persecution or some other difficulty.
The Power of Asking Good Questions
Not only is this story a great teaching tool, it’s a great story to introduce the Good News of Jesus. We ask people, “How would you like to hear a story that will help you know how to deal with the problems, pressures and difficulties in life?” That question, followed by telling the story and some post-story discussion, can lead to sharing the gospel in a very relevant and effective way. A man who attended one of Living Water International’s Orality Training Workshops, and learned this story, told about his experience traveling to an East Asian country and how he used it in sharing Christ. Since that experience, he has continued to use the story of “Jesus Calming the Storm” to introduce the gospel and share Christ in various settings.
Words with Grace — Seasoned with Salt
The man who told this story in East Asia was amazed at how it captured the attention of the people there. A lady who heard the story began to ask questions. She asked how she could get to know Jesus and have a relationship with Him. When our speech is with grace, seasoned with salt, it will create a thirst for people to want to know more. God’s Word has always had power to change things and change people. This is a great lesson we can build upon from the story of “Jesus Calming the Storm.” Furthermore, when we consider the application of that principle, we can have confidence that the words we speak can have power to change things and change lives.
Conversations can Change Lives
Years ago, as I was reflecting on the words of Jesus when He said, “The words I speak are spirit and life,” the Lord seemed to impress upon me that this is true of us, as followers of Jesus, as well. When we are indwelt by the Spirit of the living God, we can speak words, derived from the Spirit; that can produce life in others. Many times over the years, I have seen people transformed by the Holy Spirit when I’ve shared God’s truth, His Word — the stories of Jesus. Even in the natural realm, we can all probably think of conversations we have had that have changed the course of our lives.
Reproducing Followers of Jesus
Early in the modern Orality Movement, mission and ministry leaders explored many important questions and issues related to reaching and teaching people with the Word of God. One of the issues addressed how much and what a person needs to know in order to enter a relationship with the Lord. Another area of discussion in those days was, “How much and what does a person need to know in order to become a reproducing follower of Jesus?” Related to those questions are the issues of the most effective delivery system or communication methods. If one is to have methods and strategies that can reach to any place and every people group, they must be reproducible and transferable to all places and every people group.
Lessons from Jesus and the Early Church
People are often amazed and surprised to hear that five simple stories can have such significant impact. With only five stories from the Gospels, with the appropriate pre- and post-story dialogue and discussion, we can give a simple, systematic, narrative theology of the most important things people need to know to enter a relationship with the Lord, and become reproducing followers of Jesus. That idea must lead us to consider how much and what a person needs to know. Not from some church traditions, but from what we learn from the teachings of Jesus and the Early Church from the Scriptures.
Importance of Understanding the Receptor Culture
In many regions of the world where Living Water International works, there are many barriers and often much opposition to the gospel. Frequently, the use of literature and technology creates greater barriers, and even persecution. An evangelist recently told us that in one region where he works, there is a longstanding belief that if an outsider comes with a black book, they should avoid him or run him out of their community. In another location, a national evangelist told that they used to go into communities, pass out literature and share their testimonies or preach. The people were often resistant, wanted to argue and then chase them out of the community. “Now,” he said, “we go and make friends, ask questions and tell stories; and the people then want to receive Jesus and follow Him.” Literature and technology certainly have their place. However, it must be in the appropriate cultural context. We must not assume that we can take the same approach everywhere. We should seek to understand the cultural value systems, worldview and local customs of those we are seeking to reach.
Lessons from the Bush to the Boardroom
When the truth of Galatians 2:20 and Colossians 1:27 grips our hearts, and we act on His Word, we’ll see a demonstration of the Spirit and power that truly transforms. It’s great to know that God is looking for those whose hearts are in tune with Him in such a way that He can show Himself strong on our behalf. Often it’s the small steps of faith that can lead to a walk of faith, which releases God’s power and provision allowing us to be agents of change, physically and spiritually, for time and eternity. It is a joy to know that each of us can be part of the transforming power of sharing water and the Word.
Jerry Wiles is President Emeritus of Living Water International and serves on the advisory council and leadership team of the International Orality Network. He can be reached at: [email protected].