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Stories to remember

New CMS missionary J will be serving among Muslim women and families in the Middle East. In this article she shares some of her experience of sharing the gospel through stories. 

Sharing Jesus in oral cultures?[1] 

Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of sharing Jesus with several Muslim women and families. Some of these friends don’t know much English, some aren’t literate in their own language. Others are highly educated, but have learnt to recite the Qur’an, not to study its meaning. For these friends, to sit down and read the Bible with me would be intimidating, if not impossible. One of the most effective ways I’ve been able to share the gospel with them is through telling Bible stories. 

Storytelling and evangelism 

Maryam* and her family are refugees in Australia. They struggle to get by, but they regularly welcome me into their home–sometimes with a lavish meal, always with coffee. Maryam and her husband don’t speak much English, so their kids sometimes translate for us. We talk about life, I pray for Maryam’s struggles in Jesus’ name, and I share a Bible story in simple English.[2]  

Not only had she understood the stories, but she had also remembered them weeks later! Even with the language barrier, God has been growing Maryam’s understanding of Jesus through Bible stories.” 

In the school holidays, I took Maryam and her kids to the beach. As we sat looking at the boats on the sea, I was searching for a smooth segue into a gospel conversation. The best I could do was to ask, somewhat randomly, “Do you know any stories about boats?” 

“Yes, you’ve told me stories about boats!” she replied. 

In broken English, and with help from her kids, Maryam told me the story of Noah and how God rescued his family. 

She told me the story of Jonah and how God rescued his enemies. 

She told me the stories of Jesus calming the storm, and the miraculous catch of fish. 

I had been wondering whether the stories I had told made any sense to her, with her limited grasp of English. Not only had she understood the stories, but she had also remembered them weeks later! Even with the language barrier, God has been growing Maryam’s understanding of Jesus through Bible stories. 

Discipleship through stories 

Stories are easy to remember and retell. This means Bible storytelling is easily reproducible, making it a useful tool, not just for evangelism, but also for discipleship. 

Fatima* is a believer from a Muslim background. She was part of a group of women who met weekly to hear and discuss a Bible story together. After our time telling a story, we would ask the same simple questions:[3] 

  • What do you learn about God or Jesus? 
  • What do you learn about people? 
  • What do you like about the story? 
  • What might someone not like? 
  • Having heard this story, what should I do? (How should my life change?) 
  • Who can I tell the story to? 

Over the space of a few years, Fatima heard key stories from the Old Testament and many stories about Jesus. One Christmas, as she listened to the already-familiar Christmas story, the picture of Jesus she had gradually been building up all came together. It suddenly clicked: “If Jesus didn’t have an earthly Father, he must be God’s Son!” Since then, Fatima has been following Jesus.  

As Christian sisters have discipled Fatima, she hasn’t come from a starting point of zero knowledge of the Bible, as many new believers might. Instead, she’s already had years of learning biblical theology through hearing chronological Bible stories from creation through to new creation. She’s boldly sharing her faith with her neighbours, because she was retelling Bible stories before she started following Jesus. Now she’s even brave enough, with a little bit of prompting and encouragement, to lead a discussion with a group of believers, using the same simple questions. 

Bible storytelling training 

I have seen that Bible storytelling requires a specific set of skills that can be learned (crafting, learning and telling a story, facilitating discussion). It’s well worth getting some training and there are some great options available: 

  • Wycliffe’s Story the Bible Online Comprehensive Course – https://wycliffe.org.au/events/stbocc/ 
  • Or get in touch with CMS’ MENTAC team. Bible storytelling is the bread and butter of their ministry – why not see if they can run some training for you? Mentac has teams in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania and can be contacted through the CMS branches in those states. 

*Names changed for privacy reasons. 


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What stories could you tell your friends and neighbours? Could you use Bible storytelling to multiply disciples? 

Endnotes 

[1] The majority of the world’s population are oral learners, including 70% of unreached people. Two thirds of the world’s population cannot read well enough to use a Bible, even if it exists in their language. https://www.globalrecordings.net/en/faq. 

[2] In keeping with the principles of Bible storytelling, I try to keep the story: simple, accurate and memorable. For Maryam, that means adapting the language into simple English, leaving out details that aren’t essential – but still upholding the authority of the Bible by maintaining the meaning. It’s also helpful to use actions, movement and voice to help get the meaning across.  

[3] Discovery Bible Study questions.