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.

Day 2

I show up at the seminar room…and nobody is there.  This does not bode well after yesterday’s experience (previous Not Everything Goes Smoothly).  But most places around the world you have to add “-ish” to any time reference as relationships are much more important than punctuality.

So about 1:00-ish (which means at 1:45), the room started filling up.  Instead of several days of training with one large group, because of the language issues I decided to do one day in one language, the next day in another, and the third day in yet another.  There wouldn’t be much depth, but at least there would be an introduction that we could build on in the future.  So for this day, I had 75 people who spoke Hindi.

It might help to understand the make up of those who were here.

  • Most had been believers for less than a year.
  • For most, they were the only Christians in their village.
  • Each of them was trying to start a church in a Hindu village.
  • Of the 75, only about ten had been in school.
  • Most could not read.
  • Their Bible knowledge was minimal at best.

And so we began.  Rather than “instructing” them in traditional ways, I shared a Bible story and we talked about it, raising all sorts of points that were theological and practical.  I don’t think they even knew they were learning.  (In another blog I’ll share some observations I’ve made about teaching unschooled men and women.)

StoriesWe have people retell stories in groups and I try to get them to talk about it.  This is a simple model of how they can “have church” back in their village – non-technical, simple, and reproducible.  I had a few people retell the stories up front and from the expressions of many people, they were surprised they had learned the stories!  For many, these were the first Bible stories they had learned!

At the end of the seminar, I told them that the next day I was going to do the session in a different language.  They left and I wasn’t sure exactly how it had been received.

The next day, the same 75 people were there!  I don’t know if they misunderstood that it was going to be a different language today or if they had secretly told the other folks not to show up.  So we did a second set of stories and teaching.

The last day, the same thing happened.  So we did more stories.

What a difference 72 hours makes.  On this last day I had everybody in groups retelling stories.  They were animated and passionate.  Instead of a stoic “Bible study” as many of us experience, they looked more like a group of friends talking in a family room with a football game on the TV in the background.  After 30 minutes I asked my translator if he could tell if most everybody was done.  “I’m so sorry, but they don’t want to stop.  They’re still talking about the story.”

Sharing StoriesAfter another 30 minutes they were still going.  Most Americans don’t go that long on any one topic so I wasn’t sure if they were still on the story or not.  With help from the translator, I sat in a few groups and they were STILL talking about the story.  One man told me he was sorry, but this is the first time since he had become a Christian that he had ever been able to talk about Jesus or the Bible with others!

After they left, I admit a few tears leaked out.  72 hours before I was pulling hair out, wondering what in the world we were going to do.  Now, I had just spent 3 days with 75 unschooled believers who were learning the Bible and talking about how to plant churches in Hindu villages.

Not everything goes smoothly…

After visiting some time in the first village (previous First 48 Hours), I took another night train to a conference of national believers.  There were about 600 attending and I was coming to lead sessions on orality and using stories to plant churches.   Sounds simple.

 I walk into my seminar room and only two people were there.  Thirty minutes later only four.  But they hadn’t missed anything because the translator hadn’t shown up either. 

A few minutes later we got up to fifteen people and I snagged somebody to translate.  We started 45 minutes late, which for overseas is about on-time. Five minutes after starting another ten people show up and we make the circle bigger. I talk about 2 minutes and another 15-ish show up so we rearrange again and start again. Then my original translator shows up so we try to get him up to speed.  We now have an hour left and a good size group of thirty.  I start again…and more people come in. After ten minutes of trying to figure out how to arrange so people can see around the columns holding the roof up scattered around the room we started again. 150 people. BUT…

They spoke 6 different languages and most people only spoke one.  And the translator only knew 1 of them.  Some could understand another language they heard but couldn’t speak back in it.  We tried multiple language translation translating 6 times, which very quickly became obvious that was a ridiculous idea to try.

Hard to have an interactive session when people can’t speak to each other. So I changed plans again and started more lecture style knowing people were being left out. Have you ever tried to teach to a wall…it gives more response than I got.

So I tried an interactive exercise.  Well that went over lousy. 

Finally I told everybody what was obvious, that I had no idea how to work this situation and needed to think on it tonight. Of course only 1/2 understood what I had said after it was translated.

And I have 3 more sessions with this group. 

 That was Day 1 at the conference.  Fortunately, well, have you ever heard the phrase around Easter time, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’”?  Well, it’s Day 1, and Day 2’s comin’…

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.