When an unschooled man believes God can use him

I recently got an email from a friend in Africa.  A couple months ago I did a training in Ghana (Storying in Ghana).  One of the men who came lives in a remote Muslim area.  For the past year he has been trying to start a church, but has not been able to.  He has never been to school and he can’t read.

Sharing stories to a groupMy friend wrote, “Since he returned from the training, he has been sharing the stories he learned.  47 Muslims have been coming regularly to talk about these stories.”

Why is this happening?  What was different from a year ago?  Probably two things that stand out to me.  Our friend saw that God wasn’t limited to just use people who have been educated (Memorizing vs Knowing).  And his village didn’t see his talking about Jesus as a threat or “infidel evangelism”; it was natural, relational, and simple.

It’s finding ways to get people into God’s Word and God’s Word into people with the fewest number of obstacles possible.

First 48 Hours in India

A few hours after my twenty-six hour flight to India, I was put on an overnight train, told to get off at some town that I couldn’t pronounce and some guy I didn’t know would meet me.  At 6’2” in a place full of 5’ people, when I got off I was easy to spot.  We got on his motorcycle for a dusty twenty minute ride while every person we passed stared at the “tall white man”, a phrase I have gotten used to over the past few months.  It was 115o.

We arrived at the small village I would be at for a couple days.  It’s in a region where believers have been persecuted in the past.  Though the town itself hadn’t had any problems, my host didn’t let me walk around the village by myself.  So when I had free time I would go on the roof terrace and pray, looking at the Buddhist shrine next to the house, watching people.

That morning I sat with 12 men and women and began to teach them how to use stories in their villages.  There is no alphabet, no Bibles, and no Jesus film in their village language, K.

Tree Adjusted That night we walked a few kilometers to a nearby village.  I stopped at a well as an old woman offered to draw some water so I could wash my hands and feet.  Nearby was a tree that looks a lot like our logo.  In many places of the world that image is what church may look like.  We prayed that this village would have a church soon.

We got to the village as the sun was setting and set up a TV and DVD player to show the Jesus Film in Hindi (one of the major languages of India).  Fifty people came and afterwards about twenty said they wanted to learn more about Jesus.  In a Hindu culture with 330 million gods, adding Jesus to your deities isn’t hard to do; establishing His singularity is.  We told them the next morning we’d come back and share some stories of Jesus.

A couple hours after sunrise we were back.  Thirty people – men, women, kids – were sitting under a tree.  And we told a story of Jesus in K.  Then we told another.  And another.  At that point an old man stood up.

Man with stories “When I was a boy (obviously a long time ago), a man from England came and told us about Jesus, but we didn’t understand.  Many years later, an Indian came and told us about Jesus in Hindi.  We understood what he was saying, but only in our heads.  Today, when you told us stories in K…I felt it in my heart.  Will you tell us more about Jesus?”

I told him I have a friend who lives not too far away.  If my friend came every two or three weeks, would the old man bring two or three others and meet him underneath this tree and learn the stories he would share?  And would he then tell those stories to people in the village underneath this tree?  The old man said yes.

So underneath a tree in a remote Indian village, Hindus are gathering now to hear for the first time stories of Jesus in K, learning why Jesus is unique from 330 million gods.

And that was the first forty-eight hours in India.

Reproducibility

Yesterday I was taking a Sunday afternoon nap and when I woke up I heard the recurring “shump shump shump shump” sound of a sewing machine in the next room.  I walked in the room expecting my wife, but instead one of my daughters was working on a project for a friend.  She just learned how to sew in the past couple weeks from my wife.

When I went downstairs, in the kitchen was my youngest son with an apron on backing brownies, under the tutelage of our other daughter who was making sure three tablespoons of salt were used, not three cups like he was about to pour in. 

Going in the other room I found my oldest son on the computer creating some promotional fliers for his sibling’s sewing and baking “businesses”.  He had pictures and layouts and I think the video camera was being charged to make a video to post on YouTube.  I’d like to say that I taught him everything he knows, but honestly all I did a few years ago was get him started and he took of with it from there.  Now he’s flourishing in creating things on his own.

Finally I found my wife, sitting on the couch reading a book.  It hit me later last night what I had seen, besides the house being quiet.  We were seeing my kids do things that they had been taught by us, now on their own and even teaching others how to do what they had learned.

Reproducibility.

“You have heard me teach things…Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. (2 Timothy 2:2)”

When we get the opportunity to train people in how to use storying, we don’t just want them to walk away with notes in a binder to file away.  (Actually, the way we do training we don’t use any handouts or notes anyway, but that’s another topic.)  We want people to leave the training prepared to train others in what they have learned, and do it in such a way that those people can in turn help still others learn.

This short excerpt is from an email I received in December.  It is from a friend in Congo who oversees the people we trained in October.

Your mission to Congo has been a blessing to Church of The Holy Spirit. We keep practicing the training we got from you and it really works. Even a week ago we went to M______ on 18th afternoon and sent a couple of people from the church [my note – these were people who had never gone out before to other villages.] to God’s field telling Bible stories and 8 people come to Christ. Let me tell you that the same day, in the morning we baptized 8 new believers.

Storying is very transferable or reproducible.  Something is easily transferable usually because it is very natural.  And when what is taught is caught, it is able to be passed on to others.

Now if only my kids could learn to keep their rooms clean like they learn other things…but then again, a clean room might not be natural for them.

Churches and Baptisms in India

Not all the stories we will share here are ones directly related to people we have worked with, but we want to share because they highlight how storying is being used by God in situations where traditional Western ministry methods may not be connecting with the people as well.  This is one such story.  We had a chance to be in India for a training a while ago and met men and women like this pastor. 

 A pastor in India tells this story of ministry among his people.

 I was saved from a Hindu family in 1995 through a cross-cultural missionary.  I had a desire to learn more about the word of God and I shared this with the missionary.  The missionary sent me to Bible college in 1996.  I finished my two years of theological study and came back to my village in 1998.  I started sharing the Good News in the way I learnt in the Bible college.  To my surprise, my people were not able to understand my message.  A few people accepted the Lord after much labour.  I continued to preach the gospel, but there were little results.  I was discouraged and confused and did not know what to do.

 But then the pastor’s story takes a major turn.

 In 1999 I attended a seminar where I learnt how to communicate the gospel using different oral methods.  I understood the problem in my communication as I was mostly using a lecture method with printed books, which I learned in the Bible school.  After the seminar I went to the village, but this time I changed my way of communication.  I started using a story telling method in my native language.  I used gospel songs and the traditional music of my people.  This time the people in the villages began to understand the gospel in better way.  As a result of it, people began to come in large numbers.  Many accepted Christ and took baptism.  There was one church with few baptized members when I attended the seminar.  But now in 2004, in six years, we have 75 churches with 1,350 baptized members and 100 more people are ready for baptism.

 This account is taken from the booklet “Making Disciples of Oral Learners” (Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 2005, 2-3).  This is probably the best non-technical read (about two hours) on who oral learners are and why ministry to them needs to be approached differently.  We like it because it is written by the leaders of many organizations and so doesn’t have an organizational agenda hidden in it.   Available in paperback or as pdf.

Under a tree

In a North African country, a group of national Christians entered a Muslim region.  Before long, they could see a cloud rising in the arid horizon.  The believers sat in the shade of the only tree grove around.  Before long, the Islamic horsemen arrived.  “What are you doing here!  You are on our land!”

The believers told them they came to tell people stories from the injil (Bible).  The armed men dismounted, sat under the tree, and began listening to the stories that were shared.

After several stories, the chief stood up.  “I will make a deal with you.  We will give you the land around this tree and build a hut for you if you will send men to teach us more of these stories.  You will be under our protection.”

Unbeknownst to anybody else, two of the believers had been praying that day, offering themselves to live among this extremist people group.

Today, there is a hut near the tree where a group of men regularly arrive by horseback, sit under the tree, and discuss stories from God’s Word. 

(This story was one inspiration for the logo we use.)

How a 7 year old helped start a church

Taj trip 11.06 071There’s a mountain area in Central Asia where getting 20’ of snow is common during the winter.  People have to dig tunnels to get between houses.  There’s no electricity during the winter.  For six months the villages in this region are isolated from the world.

Afareen (not real name) and her family moved to this region right before the snows came.  Afareen began going to the village school. During the winter, after school the kids rush to one another’s homes for hot tea and candies or cookies.  One day they were in Afareen’s house and she told them one of the stories her family had learned.  Then the kids came up with a song about the story.

Taj trip 11.06 083That night, back at their own homes, some of the children sang the song.  “What is that song you’re singing?”  “We made it up at Afareen’s house.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s about a story she told us…” and they tell the story to their Muslim family.

The parents go to Afareen’s parents.  “What is this our children are telling us?”  Afareen’s parents begin telling them more stories.

Taj trip 11.06 114By the time the snows melt, Muslim families are regular gathering at Afareen’s house, drinking tea, and sharing stories from God’s Word.  Now they are going to the nearby villages and sharing those stories with others.

Midnight persecution, sunrise church

IMGP0642aIn the southern Pacific there are between 20,000 and 30,000 islands.  Some are sparsely populated and others have larger cities.  Some islands have a long history of Christian ministry working.  Others remain unengaged by Christianity.  On one such island, the population is 99% Muslim blended with spiritism.  That is where Tasi (not real name and a national from another island) felt God wanted her to live.

While we were training Tasi and others from the region, she absorbed the use of chronological Bible storying like a sponge.  A few weeks later, she moved to this particular island.

She began telling stories to women in the village while cooking, playing with children, and getting water.  Because of the extreme religious background of the people, Tasi didn’t feel it would be safe for her new friends if she give them Bibles.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway since their language is an unwritten one and no Bibles exist in it.

One night, around midnight, men from the village burst through her door and dragged her outside, pushing and kicking her.  More men gathered.  Some began stripping her, beating her with canes on her back and the bottoms of her feet.  The men kept telling her to deny these “infidel teachings” she was telling their wives and sisters.  Tasi kept praying out loud, “I love you Jesus…I love you Jesus…I love you Jesus…”

IMGP0753Men turned her house upside down looking for anything Christian that she might be using to teach.  They only found her own Bible, which they destroyed.  When they couldn’t find anything to use as evidence against her, they resumed their beating and yelling at her until the sun began to rise, since on their island it is wrong to punish people like this after sun-up.

Tasi made it back to her house.  Some women took care of her that day.  Tasi never renounced her faith in Christ.  The men never found anything they could use against her.  They didn’t return to persecute her.  And a small group of women began meeting in her house, the first church on the island, among an unreached people group without an alphabet in their language.  And they share stories from God’s Word.