Crafting Bible Stories: Four Rocks

There are a lot of aspects to crafting Bible stories. We often say it’s something you can’t explain, you have to experience it to understand it. I (Nathan) recently started teaching weekly at a local school for pastors. We thought it might be helpful to do a series of posts walking through the process of training others to tell and craft Bible stories. Would you like to see behind the curtain?

After introductions, which took up an hour and a half as we all told our personal stories of how we’d gotten there, I told the story of the demon possessed man from Mark 5. I started by giving them our mnemonic device of the four rocks. I gathered four rocks from the yard outside (careful not to choose ones near the edges, corners, or near the latrine) and set them on the desk in front of me. “Every time I teach,” I said, “I use four rocks as a reminder. First, we pray to ask God for his help to understand his Word. Next, we listen to God’s Word and read it to understand what it says. Third, we ask questions to bring out what God is saying in this story. Finally, we obey and share what we have learned.”  

One of the students prayed, and we began. I repeated that, having prayed, we would now listen and read the story from Mark 5. I told the story that I had practiced. I told the story in a mixture of dialects familiar in Toliara but leaning more towards the Mahafaly tribe. I also played recordings from a Masikoro lady who had told this story and from a Tandroy translation of Luke (Luke also records a similar version of this story in chapter 8). Tandroy and Masikoro are two other of the 7 tribes dominant in this area.

When I finished, I had our group read the story from Mark 5 from the Official Bible. It’s an old translation and a way of speaking that is predominant in the capital.We refer to it as “Official” because of the one dialect that has become standardized here in Madagascar. It is not the mother tongue of every tribe, but it is how most people speak in the capital and how everyone is taught to speak and write in school. Think of this as reading Beowulf or Canterbury Tales. It’s not that people can’t understand it, but especially for people who even if they can read do not prefer to read it is a chore.

Then I asked a series of questions. These are not rhetorical. I’m opening a forum for discussion. After every question, I allow the students to respond and facilitate a wider discussion about the topic. Aside from activating my audiences imagination through the oral or audible telling of the story, this is the most important part of the process. The questions allow people to actively, verbally process God’s Word. They are not just sitting and listening to what to believe. Every member is invited to openly wrestle with how to understand the story.

  • What do we like about this story?
  • What do we not like? Was there anything we didn’t understand?
  • Was there anything we didn’t understand?
  • What do we learn about people?
  • What’s one specific lesson you can take away from this story?
  • Who can you tell the story to so that you don’t forget it?

Once we’ve talked through these questions (at least 30 minutes of conversation), I remind them of the four rocks. We’ve asked God to help us understand (1), we’ve listened to and read the story (2), asked questions of the story (3), and now we must obey and share what God is saying.

That is how we start teaching Bible stories. I’ll continue describing the process as I continue the weekly class.

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