“How do you disciple someone who can’t read?” It was a jarring question when an IMB missionary asked me that 20 years ago. He served in an oral culture — that is, a culture which relies on spoken, not written, communication. Oral cultures often have low levels of literacy.
I thought how my Sunday School teachers handed out the devotional booklets. They urged us read the Bible verse and the thought for the day and then pray. This was part of discipleship. I recalled the workbooks our student ministry used: look up the verses and read them, fill in the blanks, discuss the answers and live it out. This was central to my experience of being discipled, and it hinged on reading. How can Christians disciple people who cannot read?
Claudine Kanko, age 46, knows how. Until 2013, Claudine followed her culture’s traditional religion. That year, through a process called StoryTogether, IMB missionaries Anna Trucker*, Anna Farmer and others began coaching Baptist partners in Burkina Faso to put biblical stories into four African languages, including Leyle, that did not have a written Bible or that needed Scripture in oral style and audio-recorded format.
Claudine heard local Christians tell these accurate, engaging biblical stories in the Leyle language. In Bible storying groups, Claudine heard the Bible stories told multiple times; participants discussed at length what the stories reveal about God, human nature, salvation and much more. God’s Spirit used the stories to convict Claudine of her need for salvation, and she became a follower of Jesus. God’s Word has far more impact when it is in people’s preferred language and format.
Since early 2013, Claudine has learned dozens of biblical stories by heart. She and other Christians discuss each story in detail, but not just for information. They always inquire, “What does God want me (or us) to do in obedience to this story?” and, “How did you obey the biblical story we discussed last time?” They celebrate victories over sin and evil. If some people did not obey the Scripture, others encourage them and pray for their obedience to God’s Word. From Scripture in story form (and epistles, too) Claudine and her fellow church members learn to be Jesus’ disciples.
Claudine and other believers also internalize God’s word by learning to tell the stories accurately in a natural storytelling style. Having audio recordings of the stories close by enables people like Claudine to make sure their story sticks to Scripture. Claudine is an effective evangelist using the biblical stories and a trusted leader in her church. She is also known throughout the region as a strong intercessor. She is just one of many thousands who have been discipled via God’s Word using Bible storying, audio recordings of Scripture, and small group discussion and accountability.