On Storytelling and the Gospel
I wrote this piece several years ago while serving in Africa as a missionary. I have changed the name of the gentlemen in the story, but the event is real. It impacted me and I pray it does for you as well. I pray we understand the value of a good story in Western churches, and that we learn how to tell the greatest story ever told.
“There once was a man named Jacob…”
Those were the first words out of his mouth. Abe, a local pastor from the capital city, had come down to help with a volunteer team, and now, he was telling a story to a crowd of children.
Abe and I had driven up to make plans for a baptism that would be happening later that week. The tiny hut where this small group of believers meets is no more than 20 feet in diameter. The walls are open all the way around and it has a grass roof. There are no chairs or benches in this little meeting place, because the believers hold their studies and prayer on mats on the floor.
Children had slowly trickled in until the crowd spilled out and surrounded the hut. A crowd of kids sat inside, while an even larger group stood around the rim, their little heads bobbing over the walls trying to see and hear all that was happening. Eventually an adult spectator chided the children for crowding in and getting in the way. What happened next was priceless.
Abe quoted Jesus. He told the people to let the little children come.
Motioning for the children to squeeze in so everyone could hear, and dragging a couple up under his arms so they would know they could all get close, he began his story. The children were mesmerized. He told of Jacob and his family. Then he began to tell the story of Joseph.
Snatching up one of the little kids, Abe motioned as though he was dressing him in a magnificent coat of many colors. Later, he placed another child in imaginary handcuffs and threw him into jail. He had their undivided attention.
He also had mine.
I watched as Abe’s face filled with joy. He was not simply retelling a tale. He was making the story come to life. He was skilled at the gift of storytelling that is for certain. Yet, it was not merely his ability to tell the story that made such an impact on me. I was not just watching a man spin a yarn, I was witnessing a man fulfill his purpose. I could see it in his face. Abe was doing the very thing he had been made to do. It was a beautiful sight.
People love a good story. Just look around you. The little children running around your neighbor with sticks pretending to be knights and princesses and the little men sitting in McDonalds every morning at 7 o’clock telling each other the same old war stories are evidence enough of this truth. Man has been telling stories ever since he figured out how to talk.
We are a narrative people, and I believe that is by design. After all, what is life other than a story? Think bigger. What is history other than a story? Our very lives are lived in a setting and a plot. The events that take place all around us and in our world are none other than the complications of a grand plot in the story of the world, a story that will certainly have a climax. Governments rise and fall, disasters happen and victories occur and when the ugly head of a villain appears, a hero emerges. From beginning until end, history is the grand story of the world.
We live at one moment of the story, playing out our chapter as did those before us, as will those who come after us. Furthermore, we who have placed our trust in the words of God step out in faith believing we know how the great story ends. More than knowing how it ends, we believe this story has an author, and like any work of art, this story bears witness to the genius of its author. Like a fine painting or exquisite sculpture that reveals the skill of its creator, this grand story points back to the one who set it in motion.
And as players in this divine narrative, we exist to tell the story. It is why we are here. With children crowded around him, it was obvious that Abe knew his purpose.
May we all share his enthusiasm. It really is a good story.
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