This past week (June 3-5) I had the opportunity to travel by plane, truck, boat and foot to meet the Are (pronounced Aray) People on the southern tip of Papua New Guinea. A few years ago four Are people completed an oral Bible Storytelling program sponsored by The Seed Company. Now, we wanted to see if this type of program had any impact in the local villages.
As we walked into the first village we were greeted by tribal dancers wearing headdresses and carrying either spears or kundu drums. We learned that the song they were singing was about the birth of Moses. The village had stopped doing traditional dances about 70 years ago, but over the past few years the young people had developed a growing interest. The Bible stories that they were hearing were a great place for them to start developing new songs.
They are planning on going to a festival in the local capital in November to perform their Bible stories. They will also have some of the storytellers on hand to translate the songs into English for the audience. The storytellers love having the opportunity to tell their stories in public settings, where many listeners might not get another chance to hear about God in their own language.
While we were in the villages we interviewed several people about the Bible storytelling program. It was interesting to hear so many people that remembered the first story they heard from the group even if it had been years earlier. A few of the children even recounted the stories that they had heard.
Among the conversations, we heard several stories of lives that were changed. We met a man that had been an assistant pastor in his church, but had backslidden and left the church. He heard one of the Bible stories and was convicted and had recently returned to church. I was also told about a sorcerer who heard a Bible story at a local literacy class. After hearing the story he repented and got rid of all the tools of his trade.
Bible storytelling has also had an impact on Bible translation among the Are people. Currently, they only have the book of Luke in print in their language. As people hear the stories in their language they understand how much they have missed or misunderstood using the English Bible. We heard about a woman who had been a Christian for many years, but had never understood what a manger meant. When she heard it in her language she became excited to hear more of the Bible in her language.
Later this year we will begin storytelling projects in eight languages that don’t have a single verse of Scripture in their language. Our prayer is that people in these villages are also changed by hearing God’s Word. We are also praying that some of these groups will go on to translate God’s Word into their own language.