Orality Missiology: The Memory Factor

By Jerry Wiles

The Power of Conversation and Scripture Engagement

Conversation, social interaction, storytelling and repetition are all important factors in memory enhancement.  In fact, research has shown that storytelling and engaging conversations are some of the best ways of activating the brain and improving memory.

In a Bible Storying – Orality Training Workshop in a West African country with more than 120 participants, about half of them had Bibles and note pads.  The other half were totally Oral Learners, with no Bible or note pads.  It was amazing to observe how the Oral participants learned the stories better and faster than the literate participants, with their Bibles and notes.

Relational, Communal, Oral Cultures

Over the past decade with Living Water International’s Orality Training programs, we’ve observed how those in the more relational, communal, Oral Cultures are able to receive, process, remember and pass on the information in rapid fashion.  Many times, they are able to do so more effectively than those who are more dependent on text-based resources.

The Art of Storytelling is Transforming Lives and Communities

While the written text is important for preserving knowledge, the majority of people of the world respond best by personally engaging with the Word of God.  While Bible reading is a valuable discipline, there is a growing awareness that Scripture Engagement is even more important.  In fact, it is more universal for learning and communicating, and is essential for the Bible-less people and Oral Learners of the world.  Learning in community enables individuals to benefit from the collective memory of the group.

Spreading the Gospel

Consider how the Good News of Jesus spread throughout the entire populated world in the First Century, before radio, television, the printing press or other modern technological resources were available.  Think about how the Lord Jesus communicated and instructed His followers.  He told stories and parables, He asked questions, created community and built relationships.  These are all things that we can do today.  They are timeless.

Repetition is another important factor for both learning and remembering.  As you read through the entire Bible, think of how much is repeated in different ways.  There are certain things God wants us to remember, and those important themes show up in many different places and ways.

How Much and What Do They Need to Know

Communal Methods from the Global South are also effective in the Global North

A number of years ago a group of ministry leaders discussed how much and what are the most important things one needs to know, in order to begin a relationship with the Lord, and to become a reproducing follower of Jesus. That, not based on 2,000 years of church history, but based on what we learn from Scripture, and especially from the life, the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.  It simplifies our task, as followers of Christ, when we focus more on Him, rather than so much on church tradition.

In our modern world, we have many wonderful church traditions.  However, so many of them are not relevant to the essence of the Gospel and disciple making. What we understand as our Lord’s Great Commission is not complicated.  It’s basically to communicate the Good News of Jesus to everyone, and make disciples of all people groups.  However, it should be done in ways that are cross-cultural, transferable and reproducible.

Learn a little, Practice a lot, Implement Immediately

A key factor we’ve learned over the years is the value of learning a little, practicing a lot, implementing immediately and telling the stories (and God’s Story) often. Of course, it’s better to know a little that we tell to a lot of people, than to know a lot that we keep to ourselves.  A good friend of mine often says, “Keep the faith, just don’t keep it to yourself.”  In our Orality Training strategies we emphasize the importance of making sure our methods and message are biblical, understandable and reproducible.

From the Bush to the Boardroom, Oral Methods Work Better

There is a great deal we in the Global North and the Western World can learn from the Global South and the more relational, communal, Oral Cultures.  The most effective ways that people have communicated, learned and remembered things throughout history are still available to us today. I was recently in a conference where one of the keynote speakers closed his message with a long.  The song was, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Everybody remembered that song and joined in singing it.  It’s simple and memorable.

In our modern world we often don’t try to remember certain things because we know we can look them up or search for them.  However, there are certain things we should remember.  Throughout Scripture God reinforces the importance of remembering.  He has often said, “Beware least you forget” and “Remember the former things of old.”

Arts and Orality for Wholistic Missions

I recently helped facilitate a seminar titled, “Arts and Orality for Wholistic Missions.”  It was an amazing experience and pointed out how the arts are great memory devises.  The visual, performing and relational arts are all effective ways of communicating, learning and passing on God’s Word.  The Holy Spirit is creative, innovative and unlimited in the ways He can use us in advancing His Kingdom.



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].


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