Orality ‘one of the best-kept secrets in missions’

International (MNN) – If you needed to give someone life-saving information immediately, you would want to make sure they received that information in the way they understood best. There’s no time to solve puzzles, translate, or think through what the information might mean. It has to be clear. The same is true for sharing the Gospel.

Part of sharing the Gospel in a way people understand involves translation. Another part involves communication and learning styles. We caught up with Dr. Yohannes of Spoken Worldwide to look at a topic that is changing ministry in a creative access country known for its hostility towards Christians.

We’re referring to orality—a form of communicating information audibly whether that’s through storytelling, song, or other methods like dances and plays.

Yohannes explains the goal of Spoken Worldwide in this nation is to grow partnerships on the ground and help the Church disciple more people.

(Photo and header photo courtesy of Spoken Worldwide)

Orality might mean slightly different things to different people, he explains. But that usually has to do with cultural communication styles more than anything else.

Today, work to share the Gospel hinges primarily on literate forms of communication. But Yohannes says that orality, “one of the best-kept secrets in missions,” is an important and growing tool for ministry work.

And according to the ministry’s website, two-thirds of the world’s population understands information best when it is spoken to them. This might be because the culture is not literate, or because they are preferentially oral learners.

This might be a shocking percentage to some readers. However, Yohannes explains that even for a thoroughly educated individual such as himself, orality plays a key part in his communication style. It’s not just about whether or not someone is literate.
Asking questions to answer needs
With this realization Spoken Worldwide continues to ask themselves this question as they move forward in ministry: “For us to go and make disciples, especially if we were to teach them all that Jesus has commanded us to observe, how do we teach someone to observe all that Christ has commanded us to observe if the written Word is inaccessible to them?”

And the brilliance of this question is that it has a different answer depending on where the ministry is taking place. It helps ministries realize—they need to rely on local leadership to best identify challenges, needs, and effective strategies.

“We believe in local leadership, or indigenous leadership. We believe in grassroots work… So we come together, we come to consult, we sit down,” Yohannes says.
Changing the narrative through orality
For an example, Yohannes gives us the case study of the Samburu people, a semi-nomadic pastoral group.

“The [Samburu] believe in their creation narrative that God created all cows and gave [the cows] to them. So when a Samburu goes and raids the neighboring tribe and take their cows, what they are doing is really recovering what is rightfully theirs because that’s what they believe. That’s their worldview.

(Photo courtesy of Spoken Worldwide)

“So you really have to communicate to replace that narrative with another narrative if we’re to address the root causes of those things– if we’re going to transform that society by the power of the Gospel and God’s truth.”

Orality is not just a method of sharing the Gospel. Rather, it is an effective means of sharing the Gospel. So many cultures have relied on oral communication for centuries past in order to pass on most important information to their community.

This is why orality is also a great way to address humanitarian needs.  Sharing vital information about hygiene and clean water can transform a community, and it is shared quickly and effectively if passed on in the way a community traditionally communicates– by word of mouth.

So while literacy is important in many practical ways, it isn’t a prerequisite to sharing the full message of the Gospel.

“Their inability to read is not really a problem.  What is a problem is that we try to minister to them in a way that makes sense to us, but does not make sense to them.”

Will you take a moment to pray for Spoken Worldwide, especially in their outreach this creative access nation?

“We have local partners and we have local staff members who are on the ground, who are actually doing the traveling, doing the partnering work from the inside. And we certainly pray for their safety, for their travels and their interactions and then also for effective partnership and the resources that are required to do that.”

To learn more about this ministry and how you can partner with them, click here.