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Published on 28 December, 2015

When a story is the only thing heard

International (MNN) — It’s truly remarkable how much technology has changed the way we tell others about Jesus. Even so, some of the most effective methods date back to the beginning of time.

Galen Miller of Cru, the umbrella ministry of The JESUS Film Project, tells us about their ministry called StoryRunners.

In 2003, Cru founded StoryRunners as part of the OneStory Project initiative as a way to reach a unique demographic of people: those who communicate through story.

“They are called oral tradition cultures,” Miller says. “Storytelling and songs are the main way they pass on everything that’s important to them as a culture.”

What information is more important than this?

As it turns out, those who do not read or write constitute a large number of people who have never heard of Jesus.

“There are 4,000 languages that still don’t have any portions of Scripture, and the vast majority of those are these oral tradition cultures,” Miller says.

JULA language speakers - of which there are 6 million - now have a set of 42 Bible stories in their own language! Over 20 story fellowship groups have already started, and the gospel is spreading. (Image and caption courtesy of StoryRunners via facebook).

JULA language speakers — of which there are 6 million — now have a set of 42 Bible stories in their own language! Over 20 story fellowship groups have already started, and the gospel is spreading. (Image and caption courtesy of StoryRunners via facebook).

StoryRunners take Scripture passages and turns them into Scripture stories that end up becoming the oral Bible for these people groups.

For a little under a decade, StoryRunners operated by sending two-person teams into these communities to teach locals how to retell the story of Jesus.

And thanks to a slight change three years ago, what used to take two years can be equally accomplished in five weeks.

Training teams are sent to a host ministry near oral tradition groups to conduct a 5-week workshop that teaches local believers the story of Jesus so they can tell their people about him.

“Through that 5-week workshop, we have the chance to coach [20 locals] through the process of listening to passages of Scripture–often in their second or third language, pre-recorded, and then they retell those passages into a 3-minute story.”

Stories that are more than just stories

Miller points out that it is more than just telling a story, and it’s more dependable than leaving that person to interpret the Scripture and retell it on their own. Over the 5-week period, StoryRunners makes sure the stories are accurate according to the Bible, thoroughly anchored in Scripture, and easily understood and retold.

“It’s not a new method: it’s an old method that Jesus Himself used,” Miller says.

The work StoryRunners is doing is largely focused in West and South Africa, India, and SE Asia.

“With the OneStory Partnership, we’ve been a part of many of the 1040 window areas. These unreached people group areas are truly some of the least-reached. And the three main segments of the unreached–Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists–are included in that.”

A response worth hard work

“We’re getting great feedback,” says Miller in regard to the workshop. “Even during the five weeks, every night and weekend, we send out the 20 [locals] to have an opportunity to share the stories they’ve just spent the whole day talking about.”

The locals are also taught how to use the Scripture stories to lead small group discussions.

For now, many of these communities heavily rely on storytelling as their heart language; they understand it well. Whether it’s easier to trust a message told in your heart language or it’s just easier to understand, it’s worth the time it takes to give the Gospel in story form.

Miller gives an example:

“In one particular case in West Africa, there was a Muslim area that was typically resistant to the Gospel. But when people from their heart language went in to share with them stories, they were incredibly open. They welcomed them in and all throughout the five weeks had them come back and say, ‘We want more of these stories; we like these stories.’”

Miller says that some of the longstanding storytelling traditions date back thousands of years. One missionary even heard a member of a storytelling people share the story of the tower of Babylon. Clearly, the message sticks with people through generations and over centuries.

This map shows where StoryRunners has been to date. (Image and caption by StoryRunners via facebook.)

This map shows where StoryRunners has been to date. (Image and caption by StoryRunners via facebook.)

How will you be part of this story?

Christians don’t have to be involved with every ministry effort they hear about. But every once in a while, they learn about a ministry that touches their heart in a special way.

If you are passionate about telling oral tradition cultures about Jesus and want to partner with StoryRunners, there are some options.

For starters, StoryRunners is looking for team members. Miller says they’re in need of well-qualified young graduates, recent missionaries, or retirees with national ministry experience to be part of 4-person teams to lead these workshops around the world. Learn more about that here.

If you would like to give, find out more by clicking this link.

You can also pray for their 2025 goal: “StoryRunners wants to see 500 of these language groups reached that have not had portions of Scripture even translated into their language and have not had the chance to hear about Adam or about Jesus.”

One response to “When a story is the only thing heard”

  1. Jerry Wiles says:

    Outstanding article. May God greatly expand the work of StoryRunners.

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Call to action

  • Pray for God to protect the Gospel message as it is passed through story.
  • Give financially to StoryRunners.
  • Want to train storytellers? Visit their website to see if you are a good fit.

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