I’m back from Cambodia. For all of you that prayed I want to give a heart-felt thank you. During this trip, I joined three other missionaries (one from Australia, one from Nepal, and an American missionary living in Thailand) in teaching the Simply the Story workshop to national pastors, missionaries, and Bible school students.
Although there has been significant church growth over the past 20 years, Cambodia is still a Buddhist nation recuperating from the horrific communist bloodbath that took place under the leadership of Pol Pot between the years 1975-1979. During this time Pol Pot’s regime literally killed off the nation’s intellectuals and sought to create a society composed of nothing but rural farmers. Pol Pot’s extreme brand of communism brainwashed the people into suppressing individuality and downplaying critical thinking. When you combine the twin factors of Buddhism and Communism (both of which downplay individuality and critical thinking) with a historically reserved people and, to top it off, translation difficulties, teaching the value of telling stories and formulating discussion made for a very challenging task.
But the Word of God prevailed!
One by one the workshop attendees began to come alive to the Word of God. Even some that were skeptical in the beginning came around towards the end. By the end of the second week, we left a core group in place committed to telling Bible stories, and teaching others to do the same.
Here are two examples:
When the story of Namaan was presented (2 Kings 5:1-27), one young Cambodian man was touched by the fact that Namaan’s servant, who was an Israeli that had been captured by the Syrians (remember that Namaan was a commander of the Syrian army), instead of being bitter towards Namaan, the girl told him about Elisha the prophet so that he could be healed of his leprosy. Seeing in this story a lesson about forgiving enemies, the man stood up and said, “My grandparents were killed by some of Pol Pot’s soldiers and for so many years I was bitter and only wanted revenge, but since the talk about the war crimes tribunals over the past few years, I’ve learned that I need to forgive. Learning this story validates the decision that I have made and I hope that we as a people can learn from this servant girl’s example.”
The second example came during the second week. A Filipino missionary that was new to the country was sitting in a small group listening to the story of Jesus being rejected by his hometown (Mark 6:6-6). The storyteller was a workshop attendee. One of the things that this workshop does is it gives people a chance to get their feet wet in telling stories and formulating discussions. Although I felt that the storyteller in this case was grossly underprepared, it didn’t matter to this man. When it came out in the story that Jesus was rejected not only by his hometown, but also by his family, the man went off to the side and wept. It turns out that this Filipino man had also been rejected by his family. From the story he learned that although Jesus did everything he could to reach his relatives, He didn’t let their rejection of Him stop Him from moving forward in His ministry. Another life touched by the power of God’s Word!
Such is the beauty of stories. One of the things that I’ve learned throughout this process is that it’s very easy to botch a sermon (Yes, I’ll admit. I’ve botched a few sermons over the years), but if I focus my energy on telling a story, and I’ve made sure that my listeners have heard the story enough so that they are sure to remember it after they leave, then the story itself will continue to teach the people long after I’m gone.
I’ve read so many books over the years that have tried to teach me how I as a missionary need to make God’s Word relevant to the people I minister to. Now I’m wondering why I read all those books. The very idea that I, a minister of the gospel, need to make God’s Word relevant is based off a faulty premise. As if God hasn’t already made His Word relevant! As if God when He wrote His Word didn’t have every single culture or type of audience in mind (and, yes, that includes a postmodern audience).
No, I don’t need to make God’s Word relevant. God has already done that! My job is to tell the stories He has placed in His Word, tell them accurately, and let the stories become the teacher. I have a feeling that God’s Word is a much better communicator than I’ll ever be.
Think about it,