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Orality & Audio Bibles

Orality & Audio Bibles

When a Ghanaian village heard the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5 from a Konkomba Audio Bible, the people focused on the last thing our American observers would have imagined: the pigs. The pigs? Really? Jesus Christ had just healed a man beyond earthly hope and they were concerned with the PIGS?!

The dark and stifling church building, with no electricity and people silently crowded into every seat and empty door or window, was suddenly bursting with excitement. Questions and answers flew around the room from every direction:

“Why did Jesus cast the demons out of the demoniac? Didn’t He know they’d go into those pigs?”

“Yeah, the demons asked for permission. He gave them permission.”

“Did He know the demons would kill the pigs?”

“Of course, Jesus knows everything!”

Did He reimburse the village for the pigs?

Whoa! Wait. Huh? What did this oral society take from the story that’s so completely foreign to us? Let’s explore the answer . . .

The Importance of Orality

Think about it: the universe was spoken into existence; God talked with many of the patriarchs; and Jesus Christ taught the way people around Him learned best – verbally – with stories, parables, and dialogue. While God inspired the Written Word to preserve it for future generations, when used in ministry it was most often read aloud, for the benefit of all, in both Old Testament Israel and New Testament churches. There is something vitally important about oral communication and the Spoken Word of God.

Communication itself is a basic component of who God made us – a drive to understand and be understood. The outward expression of that drive is language, of which speaking is generally the most natural and comfortable method.

The particular language we use provides both a sense of self, which makes up part of our identity, and a sense of community, which connects us to those who share our mother-tongue. Conversation in a mutual first-language provides deep bonds of understanding – and all the more when speaking is a person’s preferred, or only, way to interact.

The Culture of Orality

The thing is, regardless of intelligence or opportunity, we all started out non-literate. At some point, sounds became words and words became sentences, until suddenly speaking was second nature.

Then the auditory learning continued: songs featured catchy music, poems had ear-pleasing rhymes, and picture books offered imagery, action, conflict, and life-lessons. All these techniques, which oral communicators have always relied on, helped us process and remember information (think “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”).

Orality has many strengths as a learning style: it emphasizes connections, is based on community, highlights the big picture, and focuses on the present moment. Those who are oral learners, either by choice or by circumstances, collect knowledge through listening. They enter into stories in a very personal and profound way – as if they were actually at the scene and involved in the action.

There is also an increasing number of readers who prefer to use non-literate communication styles. These “secondary oral learners” would rather receive information through film, TV, and other electronic media. The fact is, whether primary or secondary, neither group will learn the life-giving truths of the Bible by reading it.

The Spoken Word of God

This is where the effectiveness of Audio Bibles comes in. God’s Word, speaking for itself in the first language of the listeners, is a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship:

“My life was really in confusion because I didn’t understand God’s Word. I attended church and considered myself religious, but I often sat there without understanding anything because it was in Spanish. I am so thankful that one day we received the blessed Audio Bible. The pastor began to play it so that we could listen and we heard our own mother language. I was finally able to understand that God loves me and wants me to live according to His Word. Since that moment, my life began to change and get better. Not just my personal life, but also that of my family and my community. This is a tremendous waking up for me to the knowledge of the greatness of God and his mandates. Now it is God who governs my life and that of my family.”

“I cannot read and always waited on somebody to translate or explain the Word of God to me before I could catch a little. But with the Audio Bible in my mother language, I listen directly to the Word of God. This built up my trust in Jesus. I was reticent on certain things when my pastor said them, but with the Audio Bible all my doubts are gone, because I can hear Jesus addressing me directly.”

The Audio Bible is transforming church members. They have understood that all that matters is a relationship with the Savior. Through the program, they have learned that heaven is for all who are called by the name of Jesus. It is the most exciting and motivating thing to listen to the Bible in our local language. Hearing Jesus speak in our own language is convincing and has changed our lives.”

Audio Bibles are particularly captivating, as in these testimonies, where church services have always been done in a trade language. While the people were so busy using their heads to figure out the basic meaning of individual words, they missed the underlying concepts that had the power to change their hearts. Many didn’t even realize that God could speak their language until they heard Jesus do so.

But the benefits of God’s Word in audio aren’t limited to non-literate people. The Holy Spirit can use the dramatization, character portrayals, and word inflections to bring out a clearer sense of context and highlight overlooked passages. “Does it really say that?” becomes a regular question – and the answer is always, “Wow, yes it does. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that . . .”

The bottom line is this: mother-tongue Audio Bibles provide the people, principles, and promises of God’s Word in a format that is useful and understandable, regardless of a person’s ability to read.

The Wisdom of the Konkomba

So let’s bring this all together: the Konkomba, their culture of orality, and their fascinating reaction to those darn pigs. What’s the deal?

Well, being oral learners, the people of this Konkomba village entered into the story as they listened. They “watched” the narrative unfold as Jesus delivered the man, the demons entered the pigs, and the herd rushed into the water and drowned.

As part of a communal-herding society themselves, they understood that 20 of the pigs belonged to one family, 30 to another, 100 to yet another, and so on. Those 2,000 pigs were the wealth and prosperity of the entire town. The Konkomba villagers were horrified by what they saw as complete economic devastation; they naturally identified with the frightened herders and townspeople who were negatively impacted and had begged Jesus to leave.

To them, inviting Jesus to become a part of their lives and community became a question of survival (imagine the reaction of a wealthy American to the story of the rich young ruler – “Will He ask me to give away all that I own?” – and you’ll see a fitting parallel). Would Jesus destroy their economy, too?

Now, while the debate went on, two of the elders discussed the passage between themselves. After a few minutes, they quieted everyone down and shared their conclusion. Mentioning the name of an insane man in the village they said, “You know we would rather that man died than one of our pigs.” After meeting with universal agreement they continued, “Jesus was trying to show us that the value of one man’s soul was worth more to Him than the whole economy of our village.”

Wow! The wisdom and insight that oral people can bring to God’s Word is phenomenal, which is why we work so hard to bring God’s Word to them. Please join us to provide Audio Bibles in every available language . . .

Image: A grateful woman in Malawi joyously celebrates hearing God’s Word in the Chichewa language on a Proclaimer for the first time.

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