Before we started, I had someone pray. Rock One. Then, I wrote these six words on the blackboard:
I didn’t explain anything about these words. I simply wrote them and then moved on to Rock Two. I played our Bible story, taken from Mark 5, in multiple dialects. Thankfully, we have two crafted Bible stories recorded from story-tellers we have trained. Plus, Wycliffe has been working for many years, translating the Bible into local dialects. I then had us read Mark 5 in the Bible. Think of this as them reading Beowulf. It’s an old translation and in a way of speaking that is predominant in the capital. I asked them if they could read that and it be understood by the farmer way off the road. They said no. And then, they all began to explain that the stories and Bible translations they heard before would be understood by people where they’re from. “It’s the way we speak,” they say. That’s the power of familiarity and contextualized communication.
I started asking questions. Third Rock. Now these questions are different from the 6 we use to get people talking about the story. At this stage we ask them questions to help them analyze the story in the form they have it and then craft it in a way that will make sense to their audience. As we walked through the passage of Mark 5, Jesus casting spirits out of a possessed man, I asked what differences they noticed from the written text and the translation recordings or the stories. They’re quick to point out the story is exactly the same; the way it’s delivered at the words used vary. I asked them what do the words Decapolis and Legion mean? They didn’t know. How would anyone know these days? I pointed them back to the Greek New Testament. These are just Greek words brought over into English, Malagasy and so on, I explained. Decapolis just means “ten towns” (deka = 10, polis = towns). Legion was just a military expression. “We don’t have to repeat these words, how would you all tell the story in your own words?” I ask. “Oh! That’s why the demons say we are Many or we are Several Soldiers, or we are Uncountable.” Every story-teller or translation had a different way of expressing the same idea.
I returned to what I had written on the board at the beginning. We have to tell the story in a way people will understand. It has to be short. They should be able to repeat the story. It should be contextualized to their everyday life. But we’re not changing the Bible; we’re telling the story clearly. I referred back to our discussion from the previous week about the pigs. It’s true that a barrier for people receiving the story in this culture may be the pigs. For one thing, there are tribes who do not eat pork. That might be a problem for them. Also, many people do ask why Jesus didn’t care about the loss of wealth the death of the pigs represents. However, as they had pointed out to me last week, that is the point of the story. So then, we cannot refuse to tell that part of the story in the name of being culturally relevant or contextual. The story must remain biblical for us to appropriately contextualize it.
Two of the students practiced, on the spot, to retell the story in a way they thought would makes sense to others in their town (Rock 4). During this time we discussed the difference between story-telling and explaining. One of the students had begun explaining the meaning of discipleship as he told the part of the story about Jesus traveling with his disciples. I encouraged them to use the questions after the story to explore any further explanation. We ask questions to gauge what people understood and so they can ask us what they didn’t understand. At that point, we are free to go back and clarify the story from God’s Word without confusing people about the difference between our explanations and the story itself. We closed as I encouraged everyone to prepare to tell the story next week when we met again next week.
Ask for God to help you understand His Word.
Listen to the story being told by someone and then read it as a group. It’s even better if it’s told and/or read several times.
Ask several kinds of questions to help everyone understand the story.
Obey what God is saying in the story and share it with others.