In the Equip missionary training program, we are learning many ways to spread the gospel among unengaged and unreached people groups. Orality or Bible-storying is one method we are learning.
Orality is a way of life for many cultures. In recent years, however, it has become a tool to reach oral societies with stories from the Bible. Through Equip, we are learning different forms of orality. Much of this training we already apply during interactions among oral people here in New York City. But how does orality work? What exactly is an oral culture? And who is considered an oral person?
Orality Relies on Verbal Communication
According to orality.net, “Orality refers to reliance upon the spoken, rather than written, word for communication.” Almost as old as humanity itself, oral societies pass down traditions, beliefs and cultural norms without writing down a word. A story is much more powerful when shared verbally rather than in a written document. This is one reason using Bible-storying plays such an important role in our training.
Such reliance on spoken over written word can seem extreme in Western culture. This is the primary means of communication for the majority world. In fact, Orality Journal found that 80 percent of the world’s population, some 5.7 billion people, are oral communicators. Their orality is because of illiteracy, inadequate reading comprehension or simply a preference for oral communication over written.
Orality Affects Cultural Expression
Orality affects almost every sphere of a community and culture. Because writing is rarely, if ever, used, oral cultures depend on memory. From proverbs to stories to family history, those who are oral people repeat important information to retain it.
Yet the repetition of information does not guarantee its remembrance. So oral cultures develop unique ways of learning and remembering. Songs, poems and proverbs become tools that ease the memory process while allowing for memorable ways to share the message. Each oral culture has its own standard for the structure of these oral tools.
As cross-cultural missionaries, we must consider how best to reach the unreached with the gospel message. We are finding that the majority of our international friends in New York City come from oral cultures. This insight changes the way we interact with unreached students and neighbors. Storytelling, or Bible-storying, becomes an essential communication tool.
When I think of orality, Jesus himself is the best example of memorable storytelling. So much of Jesus’ teaching came in the form of parables! His parables apply not only to the Jewish culture of his day. They also apply to many cultures represented in New York City and throughout unreached people groups in the world.
As I have learned about orality during my missionary training in New York City, I see the Bible in a new light. In next week’s blog post, I will share these new perspectives and how our team is using Bible-storying to point to Jesus.