In the middle of the last decade, we witnessed the embryonic releases of social media and networks, and we are now participating in the maturing digital social networks. The Zuckerberg generation and its apps have cajoled, encouraged, and tethered us into a narcissistic, instantaneous, conversational environment. From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, the global resurgence of orality has arrived with vigor, and has tectonic implications for our stewardship of the gospel for this century.
From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg
The global resurgence of orality has arrived with vigor, and has tectonic implications for our stewardship of the gospel for this century.
This Month's Articles
For many today the term orality is equated with Bible storying, but orality is rather a framework for what makes Bible storying and other such methods effective. It is a fundamental principle of creation design reflecting our dependence on the spoken word for communicating with God and one another. In one sense it’s simple: before writing we spoke. God spoke things into existence. Adam verbally named the animals. God simply hardwired humanity for oral ways and means of communication, but things get more complicated when we begin asking, “why does 80% of the world not hear or understand our message when we communicate through literate ways and means?”
I came from a small village in Kaduna State of Nigeria. Orality is a part of who I am, even though I received literate training from Western educators. I “un-learned” my orality in attaining a formal education, but rediscovered it whilst leading a large effort to spread the word about HIV prevention and stigma reduction in Nigeria. When I was working with a non-governmental agency in trying to connect a life-saving message with my people living in the grassroots of the country, orality all came back to me; I remembered how we got important information to oral people in a way that they were willing to listen to and remember it, and then pass it on to others.
A few years ago, a not-for-profit group conducted research on the village of Ambam in order to understand some of our major problems. In the process they found that in this village of 1200 people, there were over 100 widows, 90% of whom were illiterate! Their husbands had died of various causes (e.g. snakebites, violence and disease), and in most cases, the widows’ in-laws confiscated their property, leaving the widows to care for their children alone with little or no income. So how do we increase economic opportunities for them and empower them through skills acquisition and a cooperative?
I’ll never forget the day I watched my mission professor weep as he told of his first years among the unreached. He explained how billions who have no access to the gospel would remain broken unless more in this generation would respond in obedience and go. With tears streaming down his face, he looked around the room and asked why so few were willing to leave the comforts of this land to serve the unreached. I drove home weeping and praying, resolved that no comfort in this life would ever be exchanged for following Christ to the ends of the earth.
It was at a rural church where Simon and Juanita came to hear about Bible storytelling for the first time. Their friend and Ngobe evangelist, Eliodoro, had invited the couple to participate in a weeklong seminario (seminar) at Iglesia Misionera Restauración de Almas in Laurel, Costa Rica. Spanish would be the language in which my colleague, Regina Manley, and I would be teaching Bible stories while allowing the heart language, Ngabare, to be used among the indigenous men and women during the seminar. Although a year earlier we had trained them in some basic Bible storytelling skills, Pastor Carlos Espinoza had asked us back in order to include others in the church community who had not previously attended.
“Can I tell you a story about Isa al Massih and some fishermen?” I asked my Muslim friends as we set a lee-ward sail in a handcrafted dhow off the coast of East Africa. These local fisherman were eager to hear this story that was unfamiliar to them, so I went on to tell them, “One day when Isa had been teaching the masses, he sat in Simon Peter’s dhow and asked him to put out a little from the shore. After he finished speaking to the people he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’” As the story went on smiles lit the faces of my fishermen companions when they realized the miracle of the net-ripping, boat-sinking catch that resulted from Simon’s obedience to Isa’s command.
What does it take to train leaders when they cannot read and write? When most of the world’s Christian resources are made for the literate world, how do we equip the majority? How do we come alongside the vastly growing Church of the world and empower them in the very thing they are most hungry for these days? In the following pages, a few stories will be shared to illustrate ways that leaders are being equipped. These stories are straight from local indigenous leaders who have shared with me what they are doing to address the needs for leader development in their countries.
Jyothi, 12, is the daughter of rag-pickers in India. Her grandparents took out a loan to build their hut, but when it came due, they couldn’t repay it. Jyothi was pulled out of school to work long exhausting hours as a housemaid for pennies against the loan. But after work three days a week, she attends a Christian program that the children have named “Happy Club.” It’s the only time in her week when she can be a child, when she can smile and know that in spite of what evil in the world does to her, she is cared for by her heavenly father.
After the great catch of fish, we read that the fishermen came ashore and left everything and followed Jesus… have you ever wondered what they actually left? Was it just the fish, nets, boats, their occupation… or did they leave behind those things that make it difficult to truly follow Jesus? I know that all of us who lead ministries, however big or small they are, often have things that make up who we are as an organization… I know they are important to us, but are there times we must leave them behind to follow Jesus?
As businessmen and women, we often look first to secular examples of success in the business community and yet, as followers of Christ, we have been provided a wealth of biblical examples and models for leadership, ethical behavior, success, economics, strategic planning and a plethora of other stories for establishing, building, and directing our businesses. So, why do we not turn to these stories as we establish businesses and seek social and spiritual impact in the world?
Global mission agencies, churches and individuals participating in the Finishing the Task initiative share a vision to see churches planted among all unreached and unengaged people groups (UUPGs). The majority of these UUPGs are oral learners. Foundational to making disciples and bringing about transformation among them is access to Scripture in a format they can understand and in a language close to their hearts.
The orality movement has had at its core the practice of storytelling, one of the most accepted and practiced forms of learning in oral cultures. As in early times biblical truths are conveyed through the oral transmission of Bible stories. Yet even the most advanced Bible storytellers have only mastered 225 Bible stories to date. This amounts to approximately 10% of the Bible. If oral learners are to have access to the whole Bible then audio-digital formats must also be utilized.
The 7,000 distinct unreached people groups of the world reflect the incredible complexity, diversity, and greatness of our God. One media form will not reach them all. As we pursue the task of world evangelization, we must identify major priorities, ideally combining orality and indigenous media that will ensure that all the peoples of the world will have the opportunity to hear and see the gospel.
Believers can spread the gospel to the ends of the earth with what is already in their hands—mobile phones. There are now more mobile phones in the world than there are people. Christians can impact the nations by turning mobile devices into audio Bibles, using them to play gospel films and spreading training materials—all in the heart language. Using an offline strategy, evangelists can spread gospel media virally from phone to phone without depending on electricity, cell reception or internet access. What is an offline strategy? Read on to find out more.
Western theology is theology that is contextualized to Western cultures. In the individualistic societies of the West, people are oriented toward individual identity, individual merit, individual rights and freedom, individual salvation. Thus Western theology tends to emphasize the guilt and law themes in Scripture. Western theology uses predominantly the legal motif and legal-forensic language in discussing sin, atonement and salvation. But, since the majority world is Honor/Shame in cultural orientation, missiologists need to think beyond doctrine to more effective communication strategy with these cultures.
God seems to be increasing the pace at which Church-Planting Movements are starting globally—movements characterized by numerous streams of disciples and churches multiplying to the fourth generation and beyond. One thing I’ve learned in fifteen years of training individuals to cooperate with the Spirit in launching Church-Planting Movements (CPMs) and Discipleship Multiplication Movements is that I can never predict who the person is that will be used by God to launch such a movement. Just when I think, “this is the one,” God surprises me by using someone I least expect.
“I have so much more than you have. Let me share some of my plenty with you.” How much aid, given from Christians and churches in the Materially Developed World (MDW) to the less well off in the Majority World starts from motivation similar to this. What a nasty shock it can be to find out that the money we have sought to give from our plenty has actually caused harm instead of the good we had intended.
I wonder how often the way we share the gospel ends up creating unnecessary offense. Different believers share the gospel in different ways. Some who hear the message respond to one approach, others respond to another approach, or not at all. While it is always the work of the Holy Spirit when one believes, we shouldn’t forget the root idea behind the word “gospel” is that it is good news.