Lately, there has been a shift in missions, seen even among those involved in Bible translation, from having the written Word to having oral stories and/or an oral translation. It is often claimed that the people who currently don’t have alphabets or a written language are so used to telling stories that introducing literacy in order to have the written Word of God changes their culture too much and so is bad, and that it’s better to just do everything in an audio form.
I have many hesitations with this “new method,” and some of those hesitations were actually unknowingly validated by My People themselves the other day! You see, the other day I received a forward in a whatsapp group of My People, giving the history of one of the big family lines around here. The introduction to this history, as translated from French by me, said:
“African history is built up around oral traditions. But there exist several versions of each story. Since there is no higher authority to prove one or the other, no version can dominate any other. So let’s share versions to enrich our history and see the difference between the versions for our own analysis. And so let us avoid disdaining another person’s version. I’m giving you my version with the greatest respect; please give your version with great respect as well!”
That all sounds good and well when it’s talking about family history going back 1000 years, but imagine if it were talking about the Bible. Imagine if, when talking about the Bible, it was said that there was no standard to judge truth by, so everyone should just say what they’ve heard and we’ll compare the versions and pick the one we like. Yikes! That gets into great heresy very quickly. I think that this is a good reason why, even in these cultures that have been oral to this day, it’s important to have a written standard to be able to weigh other versions against.
On a side note, they also say that in these cultures people sit around and tell stories and pass along stories from generation to generation. I know I haven’t been with My People very long, but I don’t hear or see that very much. In fact, when I ask for folk tales, a lot of people have said that they’ve forgotten them since they don’t tell them as much anymore; everyone is too busy trying to eke out a living that those kinds of things don’t seem to happen as much as they do in the romanticized versions of “Africa” and “unreached people groups.”
I know that this is a very hot topic in missions circles right now, and I’m sure that there are many who disagree wholeheartedly with what I just shared, but I wanted to add a bit of perspective to why we’re doing what we’re doing.