Our friend is a shepherd. He tends a flock of 200 “sheep” who form the network of house churches that he and his wife have helped to plant in the Caucasus region.
The members meet regularly around meals in each other’s homes. They sing songs, encourage one another, and tell stories they have learned from the Scriptures. Many of them had become disciples because someone shared a Bible story with them and they thirsted for more.
The shepherd’s wife explained, “During meetings we don’t have preaching, since no one is trained to preach. Instead, we learn and share stories from the Bible with each other. Even the children learn the stories and some are sharing them with their classmates in school.”
Storytelling is a celebrated tradition throughout this region. Relying on this tradition as a way to share their faith has allowed these believers to enjoy relatively good favor and to remain in their own communities, even though these communities practice a religion that is hostile to followers of Jesus. In fact, some leaders of the traditional religion are now sharing with their own followers stories about Jesus that they have heard from the believers.
The members of this flock have found that sharing personal testimonies and Scripture stories at specific times is effective. One believer testified, “Sometimes I tell a story from the Bible that speaks to a problem someone is facing. People really appreciate this, and it communicates that I love them and care about them.”
This should not surprise us. Much of what God tells us of Himself is revealed in the narratives–the stories–that we read in the Old Testament. Jesus taught in parables, using stories to explain Kingdom truths and to call people to follow Him. The spoken word that went straight to the heart with power to transform lives during Jesus’ ministry can do the same today.
We ourselves can testify to this. We have been deeply impacted as we have begun practicing the craft of oral Bible storytelling. It is not possible to tell a Scripture story well without first having internalized and digested it, and no one digests the living and active Word of God without being changed in the process.
The shepherd’s house church network and others like it are using a culturally appropriate, reproducible, and sustainable method of church planting and discipleship.The transforming Word of God, written on the hearts of these believers, becomes a testimony to everyone with whom they come into contact.
As people respond to the stories they hear, and as new house churches are formed, new believers want to know more. Our team can partner with those who desire to craft additional Scriptures into oral story form. Our role includes helping ensure accuracy in the translation and telling of each story. We also make recordings of each story that can be used as a reference.
One beauty of oral Bible storytelling as a translation strategy for reaching Bibleless, churchless people groups is that church planting and discipleship do not have to wait until people learn to read or until the Bible is printed. The church that forms around the sharing of translated Scripture stories will eventually desire a print translation. When that happens, they will already have the beginnings of a print translation team in place.
Our team’s desire is to partner with leaders like the shepherd by continuing to help them accurately craft Bible stories into oral form. We want to mobilize local believers who will take these powerful stories and tell them in the heart languages of all the peoples of this region. It is our hope that through the transforming power of these stories they will learn to know the Good Shepherd as a friend.