By Alyssa Klaus
Andrea, executive director of The God’s Story Project (TGSP), knows just how important telling stories is when it comes to reaching oral learners (those who are either non-literate, barely read, or prefer to learn without reading).
The God’s Story Project started in 1998 with the English version of God’s Story: From Creation to Eternity, “an 80-minute panorama of the Bible in audio and video format,” says Andrea, whose last name has been withheld for security reasons.
“It’s basically 18 stories woven together, giving a clear overview for anyone asking ‘How do the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together?’ or ‘What is the Bible all about?’ It lays a very solid foundation on which to build.”
The project spread like wildfire. By 2000 they had 25 languages, by 2004, they were well on their way to over 100 different languages.
“Right now we have 350 languages and growing. We just recorded one language in a very difficult part of India, and we’re recording a second one this week,” Andrea says. “We also just finished one language that is out for evaluation among a gypsy group in Europe.”
Many translations of God’s Story came into existence not only because of a request for a certain language, but also because of the vision behind the request.
“If someone says ‘We want to have this language done,’ but they don’t have the vision for its use, why move forward? We want to do this because people see it can be used and it can help people who are non-believers or young believers,” Andrea says.
One such person was The God’s Story Project’s current Indian director.
“The first language that he did was the Kannada version in South India, in the state of Karnataka,” Andrea says. “This is a man who saw a vision for the use of God’s Story, and wanted to get it translated into his mother-tongue. He eventually ended up becoming our India director in a very short amount of time because he sees the value of how this affects people.
“He travels on trains with a portable DVD player and plays the first 13 minutes of God’s Story, where it includes a one-minute overview of how the Bible came to be, creation, Adam and Eve, the fall of man, and how God expelled them from the garden.”
Those 13 minutes end on a note of hope, though, and that’s exactly what the people on that train are looking for.
“By the time he closes that DVD player, there are about 14 or 15 people surrounding his seat, wanting to know what that hope is,” Andrea says. “At that point, he takes their contact information. Someone from his team will contact them later and finish the video with them. Many of them come to the Lord as a result.”
Another ministry that would prove just as effective blossomed from the God’s Story Project.
“Out of God’s Story came a desire from people around the world wanting to know more,” Andrea says. “The desire for the Word of God from all over the world, along with an understanding about how oral communicators learn, led to the development of Simply the Story (STS) in 2006.
“Simply the Story is a training that allows anyone, regardless of literacy skills, to hear and understand the Word of God, apply it to their lives, and empowers people to help others by sharing the Truth and leading discussion.”
Andrea says a key to storytelling is “listening and responding.” Those interested in teaching the Gospel through Simply the Story attend a five-day workshop in which they are taught how to learn a story, dig deeply into the story, and teach others using discussion. Once trained, storytellers can use this method every day—for personal growth and in ministry—by listening to the Lord in that passage. As they converse with other people, STS practitioners learn where a Bible story fits in to the conversation. These practitioners can then share an accurate story without opening the Bible because the story is in their heart.
Simplythestory.org describes the process in this way: “Storytellers are teaching what they have learned. But the storytellers also listen to what the people themselves say and ask. Storytellers develop the skill of responding to the people, all the while listening and responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Bottom line, STS storytellers are prepared spiritually with a personal understanding of the story to help lead a productive inquiry of the story.”
Andrea admits that this new style is a paradigm shift from the way of thinking in Western culture, including the Church. “It can be uncomfortable for some people, especially those with a higher level of education,” Andrea says. “But, those who are from oral cultures throughout the world, such as Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, actually learn this style more quickly. Even in America, those who can’t read have taken this and run with it more quickly than some of the highly educated. Stories work; they’re extremely powerful. The Bible is 75 percent stories, and you have to step back and say, ‘Hmm, do you think God knew how people learn best?’”
As for Biblical accuracy, she says, “We stress accuracy on the Word of God. We have to have an anchor. For those of us who can read, that anchor of accuracy is the written Word, for those who can’t read, it’s the recorded Word. Along with accuracy, we stress the importance of good discussion. Good questions lead to good discussion, and this helps people own what they discover. The final cherry on top of this whole wonderful plate is applying these truths personally: ‘What does this mean to us? We spent time in the Word, we’ve seen things that we’ve never seen before, but what does that mean? How does it apply to our own lives?’ That’s a big key—God changing our lives.”
With God’s Story and Simply the Story training spanning the globe, one would think that The God’s Story Project would have to have a large staff to keep things running smoothly. On the contrary. Andrea says, “We do our best to keep as many people and resources on the field. The nearly dozen people working at the headquarters are volunteers, including myself.”
Their field resources are immense. “We actually have instructors all over the world,” she says. “We have instructors in West Africa, East Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and several countries throughout Asia such as Vietnam, India, Nepal, Thailand, and we’re nearly done raising up a team of instructors in Taiwan and China. We’ve done training in over a hundred nations that has affected evangelism and discipleship in 115 countries. It’s hard to do trainings in some places, but what happens is, people will come out of very difficult countries to countries nearby, get the training, and then return to their country.”
The reception to The God’s Story Project’s tools has been astounding. In India, 50 graduates of Simply the Story workshop, armed with Bible stories in their heart, saw over 5,000 come to Christ in the first six months.
“The harvest is plenteous; it’s the laborers that are few,” Andrea says. “When Jesus said that, He wasn’t lying. I believe that people want to know the true, living God. They really want to know Creator God, they just need help understanding how Creator God relates to Jesus. I think some of the ways that we’ve been telling people about Jesus has made it difficult for them to understand and unwrap this gift that God has given us.”
Andrea says that people have been very open to both Simply the Story and God’s Story, 99 percent of them responding positively.
“When I used to do street witnessing, I used a different method and people were not very open. I had to ask myself, ‘Was Jesus actually telling the truth when He said the harvest is plenteous?’ He was! So maybe there’s something I’m doing that needs to change.
“With Simply the Story, we teach how to get the Bible into the hearts of people who cannot read, struggle to read, or don’t want to read, which is over 80 percent of the U.S. If we wonder why we’re not reaching people, it may be because we are really trying to reach oral communicators in a literate way.”
The God’s Story Project also plays a role in the bigger picture of worldwide ministry.
“God’s Story provides a platform and backbone from which to build upon: evangelism and discipleship,” Andrea says. “Simply the Story builds upon that platform with deeper understanding of God’s Word (discipleship) that’s transferable (evangelism).”
She says that in some places, God’s Story has spurred on more translations of Bible portions and led the way for The Jesus Film Project.
“Some Bible translators have told us that their literacy programs used to only have a few people. These programs were started to help people read the Bibles that were completed. However, a pig farmer or a hunter in some areas would say, ‘How are these squiggly lines going to help me farm or hunt?’” She says. “After they’ve finished God’s Story in their language group, their literacy programs started filling rapidly to overflowing. The people who came to Jesus through God’s Story started saying, ‘You mean there’s more of my God in those squiggly lines? Teach me to read.’”
Those who are reached by The God’s Story Project’s tools are not the only ones affected. Andrea has seen her own walk with Christ grow from the ministry. “We are so engulfed in the Word of God in this ministry, that we can’t help but be affected in our own hearts and by the results worldwide. We get reports daily of what God is doing in people’s lives. Dorothy—our founder who went to be with the Lord in 2014—and I would pinch ourselves every day that God would allow us to be a part of something so incredible.
“I believe in what we have. I use it. I use it wherever I go. I’m learning new Bible stories; I’m learning new passages in the Epistles. This isn’t something I’m doing; this is something I own. I believe in it. Not because we’re teaching it, but because I’ve seen it change my life and thousands more.”