Mrs. Lombena transitioned with ease from the standard West African greetings into the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The Togolese man listening to the story was quickly attentive to her vivid storytelling. A lively discussion about the truths and implications of the Bible story she had crafted into his native tongue followed.
With sincerity on his face, the man asked Lombena to pray for him in the name of Jesus, the One who came not to condemn but to save. Essodina Ayewa, her trainer who has been watching from the side, steps up to lay hands on the man as they pray. “When you tell a story from the Word of God, it is powerful! It affects someone. He listens; he is penetrated,” Ayewa says.
Lombena and nearly 40 other students recently graduated from a three-year program at the Baptist Bible Institute of Togo (IBBT). For the first time, their curriculum includes training in orality methods. One component is the art of crafting and sharing biblical stories with people who prefer oral communication methods over written ones.
“We hear about the joy that animates the people who listen to the Bible stories all the time,” says IBBT director Dombe Tchalaré. The teaching led him to require that all students receive the training, and he envisions creating a dedicated “School of Orality” within the Bible institute.
Ayewa highlights how the orality training has been an important complement to the school’s classic theological education. “It gives them practical knowledge: how they can preach, do evangelism, counsel and address doctrinal issues” using stories from the Bible, he says. The orality education is also unique as the first training in Togo to be led entirely by African believers originally trained by IMB missionaries.
IMB missionary Katee Sheppard*, alongside a team of nationals in five countries, has effectively used Bible storying for more than a decade in a ministry to truck drivers. She says the drivers are normally closed to Gospel conversations, but they love the stories. “They ask questions about the stories, and God opens doors to tell them Bible stories that lead many to Christ,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard’s team understands the value of training more people. To date, IMB missionaries have equipped more than 25 national orality trainers across several African countries. Together they have led orality workshops and seminars for thousands of believers representing dozens of languages.
Evangelist Seni Zoungrana is one of the trainers who lead orality workshops. He discusses both the joy and responsibility given by Revelation 7:9. “That day, we are going to sing the same song in our different languages. Imagine the melody it will give!”
*Name changed for security.