Story is a powerful tool! It is why the Evangelism Explosion model developed by D. James Kennedy and used and adapted throughout the United States uses “personal testimony” as a witnessing tool.  The personal testimony is your personal story of how you met Jesus and what he has done for you or what your life has become since that encounter. Little, if any argument can be made to your story and it moves the listener emotionally and invites her to relate to the story, reflect on her own life and what changes she may want or need. In the end, she may ask, “How can I have that?” On the other hand, consider the statement: Jesus is the savior of the world because he died for your sins and he wants to change your life. Today, this statement can invite argument instead of reflection.
Jesus used parables and stories to convey biblical truth, truth about himself and truth about God, the Father. Story is still a very effective tool and necessary in oral societies. In today’s world, millions of people are oral learners or at least oral dependent and will only be reached through story. In a prior article at MissionCalling you can read more about the power and the need of stories as a discipleship tool.
In this article, we are going to look at evangelism through story, in other words, we are looking at a strategy of using story, Bible stories and personal stories, to evangelize. A good evangelism strategy must look at the truths necessary to come to salvation. For example, an understanding of sin and that sin separates us from the Creator God, the need for a savior or bridgebuilder to bring us back to God, that Jesus is that savior, that he paid the price for sin, died and was resurrected, and that belief in him and his work as applied to our life saves us from that sin and brings us to a relationship with the Creator God. But the presentation of those truths must be different within different cultures in order to be effective. This is something that short term missionary journeys must consider in order to give a best effort to their missionary trip.
Strategy of stories
In many countries in South America (and many countries in the rest of the world), animism survives in rural areas if not in entire countries. In Bolivia, for example, most village people worship mother earth. Sacrifices are made in order to avoid angering her and other spirits.
Evangelism to an animist is not very effective if it only addresses Jesus without addressing the spirit world. The people in Bolivia don’t understand “sin” per se and going to “heaven” isn’t desired since all the spirits of their ancestors dwell in the mountains. So, where do we begin?
First, as in any strategy, it is important to look at the culture we are entering and ask ourselves what do they need to understand in order to understand God and his salvation? Below is a list of the strategizing objectives, but for now let’s look at a list developed by many of the leaders in Bible story telling for an animist culture. However, please take note that any mission group going into another culture must take the culture they are entering seriously and learn all they can about it. I will withhold (for now) some of the horror stories that have occurred because well meaning individuals did not understand the culture they entered. Remember that Paul said, “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” Paul goes on to say to the Jew, he became like a Jew, to those under the law, like one under the law, to the weak, like one who is weak. “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” 1 Cor. 9:19-23.
Again, using the animist as an example, The Oral Bible School has chosen 12 stories as follows:
- God created angels. I like to say that God created the spirit world. This immediately introduces God as the creator of all and above all. This eliminates the idea that the devil and Jesus or God are somehow equal forces.
- God created the world.
- Adam and Eve disobeyed God. This is the introduction to sin.
- God delivered Noah. It is amazing how many cultures have a flood story.
- God created new languages. This story explains man other than the group you are speaking to. Most animist cultures have a creation story for their own people group but have no idea where anyone else came from and assume that other peoples have their own god.
- God set his followers free. This is the exodus story, which gives the foundation of the illustration of salvation. Other story tellers feel that a better story here is the sacrifice of Isaac and his rescue because it better prepares the listener for Jesus as the sacrifice. You may decide to use both.
- Elijah and God’s test.
- God became man and is worthy of worship. This is the birth of Jesus and visit from the wise men.
- Jesus has authority over Satan. Again, important in animistic cultures. Matt. 8:28-34.
- Jesus has authority over death. Important to eternal life, not becoming part of the spirits or god.
- The Rich man and Lazarus. This speaks to the idea of sin and following sin or following Jesus.
- Jesus took our punishment. He is the savior, our deliverer that brings us to relationship with the Creator God that was lost with Adam.
This is simply one idea for going into an animist culture. These were formed by examining the essential Bible truths that are necessary for salvation and what are the barriers to those truths that exist because of the worldview of your target culture.
Evangelism where Christianity is understood
All of the steps illustrated above are not necessary to a culture or target group where Christianity or at least a cultural Christian worldview is understood. But the questions still need to be asked. What may be the barrier to reaching someone who lives next door and believes in God-sort of-but thinks God is a mean judge? You may tell the story of the Good Samaritan and point out that it is Jesus who rescues us when we are beaten and he paid the price to see that we are well.
In the next few articles we will look at story telling some more, strategies to telling the stories and strategies to memorizing them, as well as, resources.
 Evans, Steve; Lovejoy, Grant; Terry, J.O., Tell the Story: A Primer on Chronological Bible Storying, 2003 International Centre for Excellence in Leadership: Rockville, Virginia.