Stories connect with Central Asian culture

Tags: Central Asia, Muslim Ministry, Story

By M.K. in Central Asia

Where do you get your information from? Do you read articles or listen to the news on TV? Better yet, what is your source for trusted information? Do you find a good book on the subject or would you rather ask a friend whom you know to be knowledgeable on the topic?

Some people prefer to learn and get trusted information from written, or literary, sources, but others learn from and trust spoken, or oral, sources. For the past 200 years or so, Christianity has primarily relied on literary methods for teaching and spreading the Good News.

In the United States, statistics show that 58 percent of adults never read another book after high school; 42 percent of college graduates don’t pick up and read another book after college. About half of the people you encounter on a daily basis prefer to use oral methods for learning and communicating. They will watch TV, listen to the radio, find online videos and podcasts, and talk things over with their friends and co-workers, but they probably won’t pick up and read the Bible, tract or book that you gave them. The question is not whether people are able to read, but rather, whether they do read. How does this affect the way you witness, teach and make disciples in your local church?  

We’ve been asking that question in Central Asia. Here, if someone is looking for information or seeking help, they will go to a respected relative to talk. People gather in the evenings in the courtyard of their apartment building to tell one another the current news and gossip. During holidays and special events, extended families and friends gather and talk for hours, catching up, telling funny stories around the table, and giving well-wishes and blessings appropriate to the occasion.

This culture highly values spending time with one another and telling stories. Such communication is a way of preserving one's history, teaching morals, and staying connected with one's community.

So, for the vast majority of people here, information is received and passed on primarily through oral means. On the other hand, passing out literature is viewed as something that sects and false teachers do in order to steal the weak away from the dominant religion.

Given this situation, how then can we accurately and effectively communicate God's Word to Central Asian people?  

The Bible is about 70 percent narrative. It is full of good stories that teach about who God is, about man's fallen nature, and about God's plan to redeem his creation. These stories teach us what God loves, what He hates, and how people ought to live. God has primarily chosen to reveal Himself to us through stories. Telling these stories is a very effective way to communicate God's truth to those who are oral learners.  

More often than not, people here are eager to listen to a good story. One day, as a local believer was giving a young lady a ride, he asked her, “May I tell you a story?” She answered yes, and he began to share with her the story of Jesus healing the demoniac from Mark chapter 5. She listened intently as he told the story using as much emotion as he could to bring it to life. He even drove a little bit slower so as to have enough time to finish.

When he got to the end, he asked her, “What did you like about that story?”

“Wow,” she replied, “I never knew that Jesus was so powerful, that he could heal people like that.”

“Yes,” the local believer continued, “Jesus changed that man's life. Before he met Jesus, that man was completely separated from God and without hope. But Jesus loved him and healed him and set him free. And you know what? Jesus did the same thing for me.”

With that, he had the opportunity to go on and share his own story, about how he was without hope until he had his own encounter with Jesus that changed his life forever.  

In Central Asia, it is getting more and more difficult to share one's faith. Laws are becoming more restrictive and people are generally less receptive. But the Word of God is still just as living and active. Jesus likened the Word of God to a seed. When that seed is sown and takes root in someone’s heart, it produces fruit 30, 60, or even 100 times what was sown. Our goal is to sow God's Word widely and abundantly.

Currently, one group of believers is memorizing 21 core stories that work chronologically through the Old Testament, the life of Christ and the beginning of the Church. Please pray that these believers would learn to tell the stories well and that they would have the boldness to share these stories with the lost people around them.

(Statistics from “Making Disciples of Oral Learners” p. 55; Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and International Orality Network; 2005.)