NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to reach two-thirds of the world's population who "learn through stories or music, drama or poetry."
"If you hand them a book to read, they either can't read it or they won't read it," IMB worker Annette Hall said of chronological Bible storying's impact in addressing WMU's Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting June 17-18 in New Orleans.
Hall, who has worked for nearly 40 years with North African and Middle Eastern peoples, said chronological Bible storying also holds the key to evangelism in the U.S., with 50 percent of all Americans being functionally illiterate.
One recent news report, for instance, indicated that 30 percent of children in the third grade in Richmond, Va., cannot read on their grade level, Hall said, noting that they most likely come from families of non-readers and never will be active readers.
The process behind chronological Bible storying is simple, Hall said, explaining that she often uses a set of 20 individual stories that move listeners through the Bible from Genesis to the second coming of Christ.
"We tell them the story, and then we have them learn the story, and then we process the story by asking some very simple questions," Hall said. "Because they've learned the story, and because we use the same simple questions every time, they can reproduce this and go out to tell other people.
"We don't teach. We want people to get the point of the story from the story -- they need to discover it for themselves. If I tell them the answer, it goes into their heads but it doesn't go into their hearts."
Storytelling should not be a new concept to Christians, Hall said, pointing out that Jesus often taught biblical truths through the use of stories now called parables.
Life transformation is at the core of storytelling, Hall said. "We want it to enter and change the heart."
Hall illustrated the storying process by sharing the Gospel account of Jesus sending a man's evil spirits into a herd of pigs. After telling the story first in simple terms, Hall assigned the group to be characters, and retold the story, with participants acting out the story. Then she asked simple questions to promote discussion of concepts in the story, such as "What did you like? What were you surprised by? What did you learn about God? What did you learn about man?"
Asking probing questions to a group of oral communicators can easily spark an hour of conversation, Hall said, as oral communicators tend to devote time to discussion. Through such examination comes repetition and understanding, she said.
Among the pointers she gave the workshop participants:
-- study the words in the story and rephrase them in simple terms.
-- break down concepts into short simple thoughts.
-- do not change the meaning of God's Word or add to the Scripture.
-- use the same name for God each time, to not confuse listeners.
-- understand the culture because some terms may be offensive, especially in Muslim and Hindu cultures.
-- consult several translations for alternate word choices.
-- repeat before and after the story that this is a "true story from God's Word."
Frances Woodward of Pearl, Miss., who attended a workshop led by Hall, said she planned to use the process with children and her grandchildren.
"Children love to act out," Woodward said. But for her personally, she said, studying the passage to find its simple meaning "sharpened the facts for me."
Hall assured the group that "everybody in here can learn to tell a good story."
About 40 participants practiced and modeled the process during breakout sessions and crafted their own stories to share.
In the general session, Hall shared a recent success story from a Bible storying training event last year in southern Asia. One of her colleagues, who helped with the training, met a young woman whose family had been radically changed.
"The woman said, 'There were some people from my village who went to a training and they learned how to tell Bible stories. And they came and they told the story for me and my family. Now I am a believer and so is my family. All of us believe in Jesus,'" Hall recounted. She added that more than 20 people in that village have been baptized as a result of chronological Bible storying.
"Chronological Bible storying is a powerful tool," Hall said. "God gave it to us. He gave us a book full of stories. And all we have to do is learn to use them."
Don Graham is the International Mission Board's senior writer; Barbara Denman is the Florida Baptist Convention's director of communication. Chronological Bible storying expert Anita Hall is available to do training for churches and groups. She can be contacted through the International Mission Board at 1-800-999-3113 or www.imb.org