Are Orality and Storying Really Effective in Post-Modern Europe?
As told by an IW to Europe
I often asked myself this question, “Are orality and storying really effective in Post-Modern Europe?”
Working among Arabs, I was already convinced of the effectiveness and potential impact of using oral communication methods and storytelling among primary oral learners. I had seen it up close and personal. I had already seen how the power of the told story penetrated the hearts and lives of my Muslim friends.
Storying was already such a part of their culture. That’s how they communicated—through narrative—proverbs, stories, parables, songs. Their communication was cyclical, not linear—just like stories. It was a perfect fit.
However, there was still a lingering question in my mind. Could orality and storying also work in Post-Modern Europe? Would it have the same impact on people who weren’t coming from oral cultures, those who weren’t considered primary oral learners?
I thought about my own journey into the world of orality. I, myself, was not a primary oral learner. I was educated and could read and write. However, my own spiritual walk had been largely impacted by the power of the told story. I had encountered God and the truth of His Word in a fresh and exciting way through narrative stories, so why couldn’t the rest of the world? Why couldn’t orality and storying be effectively used among the secondary oral learners of Europe?
Living in France at the time, I thought I would try an experiment. Thankfully, we had an awesome pastor at our local French church, an American IW, who was more than willing to let me try something new. He was taking a risk. It could be a total flop!
I had nothing to lose other than time, energy, and a little bit of pride. I thought I would give it a whirl. If it bombed, I would know that my experiment failed.
I gathered advice and creative ideas from orality friends around Europe who were already using storying in their local church settings.
The pastor of our French church had given me the entire preaching slot. Nervous, I arrived early Sunday morning to set up the room. I moved the chairs into one giant circle and then added chairs behind the first giant circle. I put blankets and rugs in the middle of the room where people could sit if they chose to. We were expecting 70-100 people that day.
Everyone arrived at church a bit surprised by the set up. They were also curious and intrigued. I could see on their faces that something new, even strange, was quite refreshing and inviting.
The room was packed. Adults sat on the chairs facing each other in the circle. At first, that probably felt strange and awkward to most of them. Mainly children and teenagers sat indian-style on the rugs and blankets in the middle of the room.
I sat on one of the chairs in the large circle and began telling the story of Zaccheus. Everyone listened intently to my expressive words. Afterwards, I asked for volunteers to “act out” the story while I told it a second time. People eagerly raised their hands, fighting for a chance to “act” and be on stage in the middle of the room.
I told the story a second time while everyone had fun laughing and playing around with the scene and its characters. Because they were excited, and there were so many volunteers, we ended up acting out the story a second time while I did a third retelling of the story.
It was as if they couldn’t get enough! I was not expecting that type of response. I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm and visible excitement of the French people.
Hmmm . . . could orality and storying actually work in Europe?
We then broke up into small groups of 10 people. Everyone gathered their chairs in circles. Each group had a pair of socks. The first person held the socks and shared a few lines from the beginning of the story. Then, they “popped” the socks like popcorn to another person in the circle to continue the telling of the story. One could hear laughter and fun filling the sanctuary as people played together and had a refreshing and new experience with the Word of God.
After learning and telling the story together for a few minutes, a designated leader from each small group began the discussion time. With a list of some simple questions on a piece of paper, the conversation quickly got started.
We ran out of time, even while the discussion groups were still going full-swing. You could hear all the loud chatter throughout the room as people experienced God’s Word and discovered its application to their own personal lives.
What impacted me the most was that my French mother-in-law, a non-believer, was visiting our church with us that day. I was in her discussion group. She was smack in the middle of a group of French Christians. I was shocked as I watched her fully participate in the “popcorn” game and the discussion time.
Afterwards she said, “I loved that. I never would have been able to talk about the Bible like that. I wasn’t intimidated by the others, because we were all learning together.”
Somehow, the storying method brought everyone down to the same level. We were all exploring and wrestling with the truth of God’s Word together—believers and non-believers side-by-side.
The positive response from the French community was astounding and encouraging. Throughout the coming weeks and months, people would often ask me, “When are you going to tell us another story?”
Yes, orality and storying can even be effective among the French, among Post-Modern Europeans.
If you aren’t yet convinced, why don’t you experiment with it today? You have nothing to lose! But, beware, be prepared! In response to your experiment, your friends might start asking you, “When are you going to tell us another story?”
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