by Kevin Salisbury
A very successful Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop was held in March at Grace International Church in Glen Innes, East Auckland. There were 22 participants from the Pacific Islands, including two from New Caledonia. The other participants came from the Pacific communities in Auckland: five from Pukapuka, five from Tokelau, four from Tuvalu, three from the southern Cook Islands, and two each from Tonga and Fiji. This was the first OBS event where most of the participants came in groups, either from the same church, or from different churches but known to each other. Clergy were conspicuous and their support or participation was key to the workshop’s success.
The stories were learnt and enacted in their own languages or French, and an open event was held on the final afternoon for friends and family of the participants to hear some of the stories. At the close, the Tokelau and Tuvalu groups led all the participants and staff in a simple action song, starting slowly but soon gathering pace to reach an energetic climax:
Lift the canoe together,
carry it down to the water,
paddle out to sea!
What an apt metaphor for the great task of launching this oral approach to spreading God’s message among the Pacific people and beyond.
Ngariki, from the island of Mangaia, described his experience of storytelling this way: “Reading the Bible aloud is ordinary, it’s familiar. But Bible storytelling draws people into the story. It’s like they are leaning towards you, eager to hear.”
After the workshop Ngariki connected with several Mangaians and told them the stories he had learnt. An elderly couple could not believe what they were hearing. Though they knew the Bible, it was the first time they had heard Bible stories told in their own Mangaian language! Ngariki is keen to pursue storytelling as it allows him to give a Biblical narrative in authentic Mangaian dress. Who knows where this may lead?
Tairua Williams was looking at her niece’s photo in the OBS advertisement on the back of the Wycliffe calendar and rang up to see when she could be trained in this approach. As a preschool teacher, Tairua knew the importance of training teachers in storytelling so that they might enthuse young children with their stories. The Pukapukan group from Mangere will take storytelling with them on their forthcoming mission to Fiji in August. As well as telling stories, those who attended the workshop are ready to do ‘naturalness checking’ of the Pukapukan New Testament before it is published early next year.
Sua, a senior Tuvaluan minister, is well experienced in telling stories in addition to teaching and preaching. But at the workshop he realised afresh the importance of using one’s voice expressively to create impact, and using gestures and actions to help convey the meaning of the story. For several Sundays after the workshop, he dispensed with sermons, preferring to stand in front of the lectern and address the congregation directly. He appreciated that telling stories had a greater power to influence people than a sermon or homily. “I see a greater response from the people. They are right there with you, and no one is falling asleep!”
The four Tokelauans from a church in Otara are excited about the potential for oral presentation of the gospel. Tina told her relatives about her experience and now they cannot wait to learn storytelling themselves.