Exploring Issues of Orality and Culture in Training

“There are 2.2 billion children in our world today that need to be reached and discipled as followers of Jesus. At the same time, 2 Timothy 2:2 urges us to multiply ministry by training those who will train others.” Eighty percent of those 2.2 billion children are preferred oral learners who can’t, won’t or don’t prefer to get information from print.

This article is taken from a talk by Larry Dinkins  at the 2.2 Training Forum.  Larry has worked in Thailand for many years and returned to  Chiangmai for full time ministry in January of 2012.  He trains Thai nationals and other Christian workers from 9 Asian countries in narrative/oral Bible story telling.

As trainers, our education is usually more literate and propositional and most would agree that, “You teach as you have been taught”. Thus, it is not surprising to find western approaches at the forefront of most training that is done today. In fact, 90% of the evangelistic materials designed for youth are slanted towards literates. Our challenge then, is how to train nationals in an oral style that is both simple and transferable.

A basic starting point in developing a multiplying ministry among oral learners is to acknowledge and understand the unique learning style of preferred oral learners as well as the teaching style that is most prevalent in that culture. Oral cultures have specific ways of communicating information that is more concrete and relational in nature. Many training models do not address this reality adequately. The best approaches are those that are able to match the predominant learning style to the preferred teaching style within that culture.

In the majority world we often encounter people who are non-literate or functionally/semi-literate and come under the category of primary oral learners. Yet, globally there is an increasing number of “digit-oral” and media minded youth who are designated as secondary oral learners. These cyber natives are immersed in a digital environment and are very adept at utilizing various technologies. They can read but prefer to scan or browse information quickly using graphics and visuals. They live in a story, movie and YouTube driven culture and likely search for a video explanation before pulling out a printed manual or textbook.

Our challenge as mentors and coaches who train both workers and leaders in oral contexts is to not only make our trainees aware of the unique issues involved but to design and implement practical oral training programs for both primary and secondary oral learners.

The suggested questions below can be used as discussion topics in the area of both primary and secondary orality:

1. A good Bible story session can be evaluated in three areas:
a. Communication – Did the listeners understand the story and it’s meaning? b. Transformation – Were they changed?
c. Reproduction – Can they pass on the story?

In working with oral storytellers, which of these three areas pose the greatest challenge in training? Are their practical ways to enhance the effectiveness of our training in these areas? What strategies that address these areas have you observed in your ministry?

2. A common complaint of traditional story telling is that children/adults end up with a shallow understanding of the story or a generic “moral of the story”. How can we coach storytellers to use more “open ended/deeper” questions that allow children/adults to learn more of the attributes and nature of God which is found in every Bible story.

3. In what situations should a story be “crafted/edited” and what guidelines should be used when that is done? Is there a place for “embellishing” a story to add more “flavor” to it or should the story be presented in a basically accurate fashion? What guidelines in this area would you give to someone that you are mentoring as a storyteller?

4. How have you seen drama, music, proverbs, poetry, dance etc. being utilized to supplement the oral telling of a Bible story? What are potential pitfalls when using such approaches? (be sure to discuss the use of drama in this regard).

5. Our goal should be to train people to teach oral learners in such a way that they retain the information in long-term memory. What can be done to achieve this goal? Usually the memory work related to a story is a single verse taken from the story itself or another passage. What is the relative benefit/disadvantage of this approach? What needs to be taken into consideration when helping children to not only learn an entire Bible story but retain it for the benefit of others?

6. What innovative approaches can be used to reach the digit-oral youth of our technological age? How will a recognition of secondary-oral learners affect the way we train and teach?

Web Sites For Further Information:

www.simplythestory.org – (click “uses/users”, click children) 1. Jonah told by a 4 year old; 2. Youth to Youth: Can’t Happen – Thai youth are used to a “banking” model of the mother bird feeding baby birds as they passively open their mouths to receive. The missionary in this story always gave Bible message during outreach. His Thai disciples no doubt thought, “I could never do that!” The turning point was giving them a model where they could say, “Yes, I could do that!”; 3. Eight year old (Be sure to reflect carefully on the questions that are part of the video. It show how even an eight year old can be trained to ask probing open ended questions); 4. Five Years Old and Spot On; 5. Missionaries Have Kids Too! (Bobby’s dad is a 30-year veteran missionary. He always used a more propositional approach to training. But when he was exposed to story training he immediately set up a team to teach this oral method in villages); 6. Family Devotions That Impact

www.btstories.com – John Walsh tells 260 five-minute stories
www.cbs4kids.org – 60 chronological stories with symbols
www.gospelproject.com – Four age groups, in print or digital
www.ST4T.org – Training for Trainers (T4T) with an oral approach, for evangelism and church planting
www.chiang-mai-orality.net – Note: Paralytic story from Mark 2:1-12 with simple object lesson

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