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Behind the Scenes: Storying Part II

We kicked off the year with stage two of our Storying project, where oral Bible stories are crafted in colloquial Chinese dialects (Teochew, Hainanese and Hokkien). In this final stage, facilitators put into practice what they have learnt by working alongside native Chinese dialect speakers to craft the story of the woman who bled for 12 years (Luke 8). This included dissecting the Mandarin audio passage and representing the details through storyboarding, followed by a retelling of the passage in their dialect based on the storyboard.

Luke 8:48 storyboard

The absence of equivalent terms was a common issue across the dialect groups. In one instance, ‘power’ in Luke 8:46 was translated as ‘strength’. A Hokkien participant suggested that a description of the transference of strength better expresses Jesus’ act of healing, instead of a literal translation of the power leaving Jesus. This solution is more easily derived from the storyboard, as participants retell the passage by describing the images.

One of our interns was facilitating the workshop. We sat down with her to hear about her Storying experience.

What is your role in the Storying project? I have two roles: As part of the Storying team in Wycliffe, I help to coordinate participants from churches/dialect ministries in Singapore, and provide administrative and logistical support for their involvement in the initiative. Separately, I am myself participating in the workshops as a facilitator-in-training.

What prompted you to take on this project? Once I was introduced to Storying by my Wycliffe colleagues, I was quite excited to be involved due to several reasons.

First, I've wanted to reach out to my grandparents and other elderly folks for a long time. However, I've found it difficult to share the gospel in a way that is understandable and accessible to them with the traditional methods of Bible study or presenting the gospel as a series of propositions or arguments (the case for why one needs Christ).

Second, in reading up on Storying, I found myself convicted of the need for the truths and words in the Bible to be conveyed to people in a way that makes sense to them. From my observation, it does seem that Christianity in Singapore is very much a religion for the educated, upper-middle class, but that shouldn't be the case. The message of the gospel is universal, and (to put in economic terms) there shouldn't be high barriers to entry.

Third, on a related note, stories and narratives do speak into our hearts and minds. So much of the way we see the world is shaped by narratives (think about history and national narratives). The gospel itself comes to us as a grand narrative — the story of God's redemption plan.

How do you decide on which story to translate? There are situations in which a single story is crafted and translated, perhaps for practice when language teams are still undergoing training. The choice of stories may be informed by length/complexity.

In a proper project, the decision on which stories to select are based on two main considerations, though there are others, of course:

Completeness—whether to cover the overall redemption narrative of the Bible, or to cover OT/NT. For completeness, a full set of stories usually covers key themes such as creation, rebellion/sin, Jesus' birth, Jesus' ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.

Worldview—stories may be chosen to challenge the target community's existing worldviews/assumptions. Alternatively, some stories may form a bridge with the culture.

What part of the process did you find most challenging and why? I found the most challenging part to be connection, not content. Learning the process of crafting and translating Bible stories is one thing. But how can I get people interested and committed to Storying? How can I help people see the value of having Bible stories told in a language and way that is understandable and accessible to most people, even those who are illiterate? The challenge is in forming connections with people already involved in dialect ministries or who work with dialect speakers, and to get them on board.

As for the process itself, I guess the most challenging part is trying to overcome lack of knowledge and capability when it comes to thinking about the key terms and concepts that need to be worked out for the story. Often, some of these key terms are theologically significant and I worry about whether I have misunderstood or wrongly conveyed something. But it is alright to seek help, and I guess it's a process of learning to trust in God while doing due diligence to read up and prepare.

What are some takeaways from being a facilitator-in-training? One takeaway would be exposure to oral Bible Storying itself. As mentioned, I do have a significant degree of personal investment and interest. Being involved in this initiative helps me to think of additional ways of evangelism and discipleship, and challenges my existing assumptions about how things have to be done. The why, of course, remains the same.

Another takeaway is the opportunity of seeing different parts of the body of Christ work together. Unfortunately, through many years of church history, the church has often been marked by divisions. However, this initiative has let me see the joy of different churches and agencies, as well as believers from different countries and cultures, come together in partnership in gospel work.

Through Storying, we hope that dialect speakers unable to speak or understand Mandarin well will have better access to Bible stories. Check out three videos with audio recordings in Teochew (recorded in 2022).

You can get involved in one of our projects too! Find out how you can best serve in missions; you don’t have to be great at languages to join us.

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