Nepal (MNN) — Do you remember the first time you heard about Jesus? Most likely, you either heard the Gospel first from a concerned parent, friend, or stranger. You may have been smacked in the face the first time you heard it in church. Or, if you were young, you may have heard the Gospel first from a Bible storybook. Regardless, it’s likely that you first learned of the hope of Jesus Christ by hearing it.
This is just what Scriptures in Use is doing in Nepal, only they’re taking oral communication to the next level. They are training local Christians in small communities to be storytellers. The storytellers will travel from community to community to witness to the people there. These people who have yet to know the truth of the Word are what SIU calls oral learners.
Jim Bowman of SIU explains: “There are about 4.6 billion oral learners in the world…. And most of those oral learners reside in places of the world where there are the largest unreached populations–places where the Word of God has never gone, places where the name Jesus has never been heard before.”
Why do these people learn best by stories than by reading for themselves? The main reason has to do with the fact that as of 2011, only 64.9% of Nepal was literate. Some researchers believe it to be closer to 50%.
While the government of Nepal is trying to eradicate illiteracy by the end of this year, there is still a lot of work to be done. Therefore, oral teaching is still considered invaluable to SIU. Along with storytelling, the Gospel is effectively communicated through drama and musical performances.
SIU works on a training basis, encouraging locals to reach out to their neighbors with the Gospel. “Our primary role here in the United States is to offer training to literally thousands of emerging new mission organizations that are coming up in the developing world,” Bowman says.
Along with spreading the Gospel, SIU hopes their training will establish long-term sources of ministry. “We train local church planters, and then we encourage them and train them to develop entire movements of people– what we call church planting movements for oral learners.” These churches work with oral teaching and are appropriately called Oral Bible Churches.
SIU has over 50 partners, many of them located in Asia. Nepal is just one area of extreme need and has shown exciting progress. The group located in Nepal has named themselves the Bridges Training Network of Nepal. Their goal is to reach everyone in Nepal by storytelling the Gospel.
Nepal has many remote areas. In order to reach certain communities, some men have to travel two or three days to reach far away and excluded villages.
Of the local Christians who want to spread the Word, Bowman says, “We’re there to serve them. Our model is to help the Bridges Training Network of Nepal grow strong, to help and mentor and coach, and help them to be more effective at planting churches and storytelling the Gospel.” SIU wants to maintain this approach, “keeping it growing further and further out into, really, the outermost parts of the world.”
Besides being advantageous in that it is accessible to anyone who can hear, storytelling breaks down barriers in strict communities. Bowman explains: “A lot of times you can’t come in as a religious person. But communities will openly welcome you if your identity is that of a storyteller. And so we’re very clear to tell them that we are there to tell stories of the Bible–tell them the stories that Jesus told.”
The process begins when SIU offers a training event for about 4 days. They work with local pastors. Master trainers instruct other trainers who, in turn, teach pastors how to share the Gospel by story.
In Nepal, “They go into a community and begin telling stories with maybe one or two families. Over a period of weeks, they’ll tell one new story every week. And over those weeks, it just seems like people keep coming. They want to hear these stories. They want to hear the Gospel of Jesus. And so, it’s really exciting to see how, over time, they’re able to plant thousands of churches just because they’ve been consistent in telling a new story every week in a small community.”
SIU recognizes that other ministries have taken up similar techniques for Gospel sharing. “We’re really hoping and praying that this collaboration will be a positive effect in the community. We’re really all in this together. We are all the Body of Christ. And so we really don’t look at any of this as competition.”
Bowman views the various ministries’ participation as an opportunity to refine the storytelling strategy.
One reason why it is so important to get locals involved with storytelling is that they are better attuned to the needs of their community. They recognize the best stories according to their culture. They can tell stories in a way that is meaningful and appropriate to their neighbors. Bowman mentions how people who are sick are especially encouraged by stories of Jesus healing the sick and hurting. They ask that they are also healed, changed, delivered, and transformed.
“Most of these people come from very needy situations. So we’re just thrilled that the stories of Jesus continue to breathe life into these communities, and that there is a transformation going on that’s rather extraordinary. [We're] just glad to be a part of helping all the ministries work together to advance the Gospel.”
Bowman asks that you pray for the storytellers in Nepal. Often times when a new community is reached, the response is favorable, and many times very large. Many of the storytellers are young and inexperienced at leading such large groups of people.
On top of that, these young men are struggling financially. Many of them are trying desperately to support their families. Traveling from community to community costs money.
While SIU does not support these pastors financially, their training does address how pastors might support themselves and work together to this end.
You can also pray that the emerging leaders will have the grace and capacity in every way to lead these ministries, according to the principles taught by Jesus.
Pray that SIU would play a powerful role in equipping, developing, and providing for their ministry needs.
250 new oral churches were planted this past year. These churches are in need of spiritual guidance, coaching, and mentoring.