Stories are powerful. Far more than just entertainment, a story wraps truth in a compelling, non-threatening package that can slip past preconceived notions and beliefs and change the heart and mind. When Scripture is shared as a story, people see how it relates to their everyday lives, addressing their deepest felt needs.
For the last 25 years, Kathy, along with her husband and their two children, has served people groups through translation and oral storytelling. She was first introduced to chronological Bible storying in 2005 and now serves as a Scripture engagement consultant-in-training.
Kathy said: “Almost all the unreached peoples of the world are oral communicators. It’s such a pleasure to work in this field. ... When you go out and tell Bible stories, no one ever responds negatively. Even if the story contradicts what they have been taught and their belief system, people still respond positively.”
Why Oral Stories?
So why is oral storytelling such an important part of the work of Bible translation?
Many of the communities where Kathy works prominently feature oral storytelling. In fact, even people who are literate often prefer listening to Scripture stories rather than reading.
“Many educated people in this country don’t have books in their homes or spend much time reading,” Kathy explained. “We have one friend who is a college graduate and works as a school teacher. She had been given a Bible and flipped through it, but it wasn’t until she started listening to it that she was drawn to the Word and then became a Christian.”
“Even Jesus told stories and parables and used poetry and object lessons. He taught in ways that were easy for oral communicators to understand and remember.”
Kathy concluded: “Literacy programs are crucial, but they will ultimately reach only a small percentage of people in these communities. Oral stories can not only give people an appetite to learn how to read, but they also empower oral communicators to share the gospel.”
Oral stories can also go where the printed Word cannot. “We don’t want to just translate Scripture and then leave it in a warehouse or on a website for people to stumble upon. We need to find ways for people to engage with Scripture, to have life-changing encounters with it,” Kathy said.
Stories Change Worldviews
Kathy works with language groups to help develop sets of oral chronological Scripture stories. She also runs workshops, and trains and advises teams in their own language projects.
Kathy and her team are working on adding Old Testament stories to an existing set of 25. They are finishing a set from the lives of Abraham and Job and then will begin a set on the life of Joseph.
“The people here know the names of these characters very well, but they don’t know the Bible’s stories about them,” Kathy said. “Their idea of God is not someone who makes promises and keeps them, who cares about ordinary people, people who aren’t important in the world’s eyes. They don’t realize he has a plan for the world.”
A Privilege to be Challenged
It can be challenging work, but Kathy sees that as a privilege. “The Lord has brought our family through many difficult times over the decades. … Again and again we have been put in situations beyond us, beyond our ability to cope. ... Sometimes, I’ll take on a new task, and I’ll think, ‘Why did I agree to do that? I’m not competent to do that!’ And that’s good, because then I have to cry out to the Lord, ‘Help me!’”
“It’s a privilege to be put in situations that you are not up to. We want to be in control, but we have to depend on the Lord again and again ... and he has provided for us and cared for us.”
“When I look at the ways we could have spent our lives, we have no regrets,” Kathy said. “I’m so glad this is what we’ve done with our lives. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been good. We’ve been put in a position where we had to trust the Lord. We had no other choice. I’m very thankful.”