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International Orality Network 2005 Annual Working Conference: Making Disciples of Oral Learners

By Durk Meijer
December 2005

A provocative call to radically rethink our communication of the gospel was the central theme of the 2005 International Orality Network (ION) Annual Working Conference held recently in Anaheim, CA, USA.

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ION participant shares her expertise in
storytelling. 
Two hundred ministry leaders, field practitioners, educators, media producers, pastors and interested lay people, representing more than eighty different organizations, were challenged to become more aware of the world’s four and half billion oral learners and their needs. Because oral learners are largely unreached by traditional methods of gospel communication, conference attendees were educated on how to take their work in oral communications methods to a higher and more effective level.

Participants were from India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, the Netherlands and the United States. Both novice and seasoned veteran oral communicators had the option of following one of two tracks at the conference. Attendees were reminded of the importance of oral communication by listening to testimonies of experienced field practitioners who have successfully used storytelling to share the gospel where other approaches have failed.

The first two plenary sessions laid the foundation for the rest of the conference.  Tom Steffen, professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Biola University, spoke on "My Reluctant Journey into Narrative," while Dr. Grant Lovejoy, from the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke on "The Extent of Orality and its Implications for Literate Evangelizers." Both men shared how they transitioned from traditional academic teaching approaches to "storytelling-type approaches." They also noted some of the hard lessons that have greatly influenced and strengthened their ministries.

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Exhibits at the ION conference were informative and
encouraging.
Reflecting ION’s core desire to communicate God’s Word in culturally-appropriate forms to all people, the conference displayed a broad range of ministry, including serving the deaf, who are often untouched by traditional literate methods of gospel communication. Different art forms for communicating God’s story were also featured, including African and Asian storytelling and culturally-relevant greetings, repetitions, responses, drama and rituals. There were also samples of chanting, dance and even a taste of hip-hop.  

The central lesson was well summed up by one conference attendee’s comments: “Our modern missions efforts have been primarily focused on trying to communicate our message to unreached people in ways that make sense to us – instead of in ways that make sense to them!”

Feedback from the conference confirmed its value and need for worldwide exposure. Consequently, along with its other initiatives, ION is already planning its next conference for late 2006 in Colorado Springs, CO, USA. A January 2007 conference is tentatively scheduled to take place in India.


Durk Meijer is associate director for operations for the International Orality Network. He is also vernacular media services advisor for Wycliffe International.