Storytelling effective across cultures
Posted on: 16th May 2022
After decades of parish ministry in Australia, CMS workers Warwick and Caroline have been serving for over eight years in a multicultural city overseas. Caroline writes about the role of storytelling in their current ministry context.
Prior to moving to the Middle East, we spent time preparing and training for cross cultural ministry at St Andrew’s Hall. Our initial experience learning Bible storytelling was very challenging, but we became more comfortable as we ‘storied’ at a weekly ESL outreach.
Bible storytelling in the Middle East
In our current context, Warwick has had key opportunities to use Bible storytelling regularly. It has been incredibly effective as a strategy for evangelising and equipping those who are not literate in any language, and for those functioning in English as their second or other language.
For many years now, Warwick has met weekly with a handful of South Asian Christians who are the key leaders and trainers in a ministry to immigrant labourers. Some of those Warwick is training have chosen to live alongside their countrymen in these camps, even though they could obtain more skilled work and higher salaries elsewhere. Most of them have studied at Bible college or are studying the Bible at a seminary in our city.
Sharing stories with workers
The camps provide basic dormitory accommodation for the labourers who construct the large towers and residential compounds in our city. This workforce is comprised of temporary immigrants whose residency permits end when their work projects are finished. Most are Muslim, Sikh or Hindu, some are Christian. Distributing Bibles or conducting church services would not be possible, but men gathering to talk and discuss is very common.
Before Bible storytelling was implemented by our colleagues, they had attempted a preaching ministry. But hearing a lengthy sermon at the end of a long, hard, working day was often too much for the men. Usually, they would fall asleep, no matter how hard they fought against exhaustion. Our colleagues noticed a huge change when they began Bible storytelling. The delivery style helped to keep the men engaged, and the word of God, written or spoken, is living, active and powerful to change hearts and minds. Believers who work as labourers are now being trained to use storytelling with their friends and roommates.
Assim* has used storytelling extensively since he learned the technique. While he has had limited education, his children in his home country have had more opportunities and can read and write. One of his sons challenged him about the details in the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. He was convinced that his illiterate Dad must be wrong and was startled to discover his father actually knew the Bible better than him.
Assim has shared the gospel with many people, including with his boss during a long car trip, explaining those passages he’d learned by heart. He even passed over his mobile phone, which had a Bible app on it, so that his boss could read passages that he couldn’t, but that he knew intimately.
“Our colleagues noticed a huge change when they began Bible storytelling. The delivery style helped to keep the men engaged, and the word of God, written or spoken, is living, active and powerful to change hearts and minds.”
As we teach and train, our aim is that these labourers will know over 60 key parts of the Bible by heart, understand their significance and be able to teach them to others. We currently have identified 40 men who are being trained to teach these stories to other groups.
Combining preaching with storytelling
Where possible Warwick has also used Bible storytelling in his preaching. Our church has over 80 nationalities present at each gathering, and English is not commonly a first language. However, when a familiar preacher ‘tells’ the Bible story with appropriate emotion and accuracy, they often remember more from the sermon, and can read it for themselves in their own language Bible. Although many of our church members are not equipped to read the Bible for themselves, Bible storytelling helps them engage with God’s word.
Recently Warwick has been training two new ministry apprentices who help in our small group ministry. They are preparing to take teams of key members from various small groups to a nearby country with many refugees from the region. They will be working with believers there who are evangelising these refugees as they provide them with shelter and other assistance.
Our two apprentices will train the teams in storytelling, focusing on Bible stories that are familiar to those who follow Islam as a means of engaging them in conversations about Jesus. Both apprentices have a first language other than English, but storytelling helps them cross cultures and language barriers more easily.
* Name changed for privacy reasons.
Bible storytelling is effective in many cultures and contexts. It can be useful for evangelism and discipling Christians. Get in touch with your local CMS branch and see how you can share God’s story across cultures.