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.

Memorizing vs Knowing

One of the questions I know I’ll get each time I’ve done a training anywhere – US and overseas – is “Don’t you feel it’s important for people to know where things are in the Bible?”  Absolutely.  But every situation it is not needed or sometimes even right to whip out a Bible and “get my preach on”.

In Ghana a cool scene occurred.  One guy said something like “I can’t memorize the Bible.  I can’t read and I only know a couple verses.”  We had just done four stories together and he had done an incredible job.  When I told him that the four stories were made up of over sixty verses, he got WIDE EYED and a huge grin and all the brothers around him started cheering him, rubbing his head, and making noise.  It was great.

Storying in Ghana

In Accra, the coastal capital of Ghana, the prosperity gospel is very present.  People name their shops after something about God in the hope they will be abundantly blessed, so there are thousands of places like “Halleluiah Redemptive Praise Hair Salon”, “Christ Fire and Salvation Repair Shop” or “Magnified Creator Our Savior Restaurant”.  My favorite was the “Though Millions Have Come To Heaven There Is Room For One More Motor Repair”. 

Several hours north of Accra I spent my week training people who had a different label.  Illiterate.  That adjective has affected how they view themselves being able to contribute to reaching the unreached people groups around them.  The first region I was in has the highest number of Muslims in the country.  Christians work all day in the fields and try to do ministry among their Muslim neighbors. They have felt under-qualified to do so because they can’t read.  The focus of this trip was to help a West Africa region ministry begin to answer the question “How do we train illiterate missionaries?”      

For two days we sat under a mango tree in this village with a mixed group of twenty literates and illiterates, sharing stories from the gospels.  During the first few hours, you could see those who could not read remain silent as those who could read started analyzing and questioning everything.  I tried very hard to not have us pulled this direction. The illiterates were used to these sorts of trainings and being left behind. 

On the third story, everything changed.  The illiterate men began to see that this method of ministry was something they could do!  The literate men wisely joined in instead of trying to take control.  Using the story content as our context, we talked about evangelism, church planting, personal spiritual growth, prayer, God’s character, the nature of sin, and salvation through Jesus.  At the end of the two days, one of the older men stated what had become obvious to everybody – “We can’t read.  We don’t need more training in methods.  We need you who can read to teach us more stories so we can reach Muslims!” Everybody’s head nodded and voices echoed agreement.

Driving several kidney-busting hours further, I spent two days in a village made up of mud and bamboo houses that doesn’t appear on any map.  The place we trained in is four bamboo posts on top of which lay bamboo leaves for shade.  After we arrived, fifteen men and women began to show up from the orange fields and nearby villages to meet the oburuni (white man) teacher.

At the end of the first day I gave an assignment.  Go share one of the stories we did with somebody, anybody.  Animism and traditional religion dominate this region.  People live in fear of evil spirits being everywhere.  The next day, every single one of the people who couldn’t read gave testimonies of sharing their faith with neighbors and other workers in fields through a story.  (Interestingly, most of the literate men did not share a story that night.) 

The story most shared was about the demon possessed man being healed (Mark 5) and many said their friends had never heard anything before about evil spirits being submissive to anything else.  One man stood up and said his friend demanded to hear more stories of Jesus because he was tired of living in fear.  He made a plea to his literate brothers, “PLEASE, teach me more stories so I can reach my village!”

In both these villages, national ministry leaders were present.  When I debriefed at the end of the trip, the West Africa director of mobilization said, “This changes everything we do.”  We will be talking more to see how throughout Africa training can be done so that the focus of the phrase “illiterate missionary” is on missionary, not illiterate.

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.

Blogging as communication and catalyst

img_1694-copyLast month I went with a small team to Congo.  There we trained 27 pastors and missionaries in how to use chronological Bible storying to go start churches in undeveloped villages.  It was a fantastic trip full of answered prayers, unexpected barriers both human and spiritual, people becoming Christ-followers, and sharing of lives.  Where but in the Body of Christ can you find people who don’t speak the same language and have almost no common background, but can worship together, pray together, share the spiritual journey they’ve been on, and move forward by faith towards a common goal – seeing people glorify God?

img_1769One of the frustrations we had was being able to keep folks updated.  We had several people checking here for updates, but it wasn’t possible to do.  Either we had no power, no access to internet, or when we did it was a sizzling 0.78 kps, which hampered any possible blog entry.  So we’ll have to figure out some alternatives for reporting from the field on future trips.

As we’re planning 2010 trips to train others, I felt like during this next year I’d like to expand the scope of this blog.  Recently we did an intro to storying workshop for several churches.  It wasn’t for those only interested in global missions, but for local outreach, small groups, student ministry, international university students, and families.  It was a great time.  (If you’d like to find out more about doing something like this at your church, let us kn0w.)  During the day, it became obvious many people were making connections to use storying in their various niches that God has placed them.

What I hope you’ll start seeing here are more regular entries that deal with a variety of topics:

  • storying that is occurring globally;
  • thoughts to spur storying use wherever you are in the relationships that God has given you;
  • pointers to other resources and articles in popular mags, mission mags, and scholarly journals that are out;
  • and more reports from locations we are able to train as we are able.

Hopefully the Lord will allow the posts and comments to be a catalyst for us to see people get into God’s Word (the written) in order that God’s Word (the person of Christ) can get into people with the fewest number of obstacles possible.