Seeking and Finding Commonalities

By Jerry Wiles

Orality methods impact the toughest places – the Ganges River in India.

HOUSTON, TX (ANS – July 26, 2017) — Common ground, common sense and common courtesy are pretty important these days. In many ways and in many places, they seem to be in short supply. Having traveled, served and ministered in many countries and in diverse cultures, I’ve noticed that there are certain commonalities everywhere with all people.

In relation to the Orality Movement and global mission efforts, it is remarkable to find that telling stories, asking questions and listening to people works everywhere. Everyone likes to be listened to and have conversations with people who are interested in them and care about them. When it comes to reaching people with the gospel and making disciples, we in the Western World tend to be eager to tell people what we think they need to know, rather than finding out what they already know.

In one African country where we have trained hundreds of pastors, missionaries, evangelists and church planters in Orality methods and strategies, the feedback and impact stories have been amazing and encouraging. Many of the reports will go something like this, “We used to go to the villages and communities, pass out tracts and preach and share our testimonies, and the local people would run us out.” They would go on to say, “Now, after the Orality Training, we go and ask questions, make friends and tell stories, and the people want to follow Jesus.” Listening, learning and gaining trust seems to be a universal way of finding commonalities and connecting with people.

A simple church in West Africa. (An oral culture).

One of the things I’ve noticed about people, whether it’s in a city in Central Asia, the bush in West Africa, the Amazon basin of South America, or a shopping mall in the North America, everyone, everywhere seems to respond well to kindness and demonstrations of care.  When we pay attention, show interest, make eye contact and greet people, in many cases, that’s all it takes to open up meaningful conversations. (Of course, it goes without saying that we need to be aware of the various local customs and cultural value systems. For example, interacting with women in the Middle East would be different than the way we would relate to a Japanese businessman or a Canadian medical doctor.)

A little research into cultural value systems can go a long way in becoming more effective in sharing the gospel and making disciples. If one travels internationally, or just in meeting and dealing people from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds in North America, understanding a little about Honor/Shame, Guilt/Innocence or Fear/Power dynamics is extremely helpful. Having an awareness of how people prefer to learn and communicate is a major factor. (Approximately 70 to 80% of the people of the world are Oral Learners, by necessity or by preference).

People everywhere seem to respond positively to the Prayer/Care/Share approach of the Mission America Coalition’s LOVE2020 strategy. ( Most people are open to being prayed for. I have experienced this many times over the years, just by asking someone, “How can I pray for you?” Very few will object to you praying for them. That will often result in a conversation that leads to discussing spiritual things and the gospel. Acts of kindness and demonstrations of caring are very simple and easy ways that lead to opportunities of sharing. Sometimes we make things more complex and complicated than they need to be.

Orality at a Vacation Bible School.

A friend and I engaged a couple in casual conversation. Both were Spanish speaking, but one also spoke English. Asking a few questions opened a conversation that led to spiritual matters. The lady, who was bilingual, translated as we shared the gospel, and both of them responded to the message of Jesus and confessed their faith in Christ. That experience impressed upon me the important lesson of how the Holy Spirit can overcome barriers, cultures and sometimes languages to touch hearts and change lives. Being sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and living in an attitude of prayer can enable us to be effective witnesses and ambassadors of Jesus every day, wherever we happen to be.

One of the remarkable things about the global Orality Movement is discovering the most basic and essential aspects of our Lord’s commission to communicate the Good News of Jesus to everyone, and make disciples among all people groups. When we explore how that can happen, it becomes obvious that the model and example we have in the Lord Jesus and the Early Church is relevant for today’s work of the Church (Body of Christ).

Storytelling at a water well.

In many cases the institutionalized systems and structures of the Church, especially in the Modern Western World, have taken on many traditions and methods that are not effective in the rest of the world in reaching the unreached.  It is a wonderful discovery when we recognize the power of simple, reproducible and transferable concepts that we learn from the rapidly growing disciple-making movements, primarily in the Global South. Those methods and strategies are really more like those used by followers of Jesus during the first century. These are the ways and means that allowed the gospel to spread throughout the entire populated world, before radio, television, the printing press, the internet, cell phones and many other technological resources we enjoy today.

The more we understand the importance of the priesthood of all believers, we realize that the Great Commission is not just for seminary or Bible college trained people, but that every follower of Jesus can communicate the Gospel and make disciples, regardless of our socio-economic or educational levels.  God has blessed our generation with a multitude of methods, strategies and resources for accomplishing His purposes.


The upcoming North America Regional Conference of the International Orality Network (ION) will address these and many other helpful topics. The conference will take place in Colorado Springs, September 11-13, 2017. More details are available at

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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