Finally, one man said, “Can we hear the stories again?” Bilbo said okay and told the stories for a third time.
One of our teams had some story testing to do. They sent their main story crafter (I’ll call him Bilbo) out to a village in the western part of the country. My wife and I went along with him, on this occasion simply to watch. We visited a rural church which had gathered, in advance, a number of men for Bilbo’s story testing session. There were about 15 men present. It was a mixed crowd of half Muslim men, and half new believers that the church had led to faith in Christ and had incorporated into their regular congregation. We were told that no one present for the testing had been a Christian for longer than 6 months.
The plan was for Bilbo to tell the story of Creation and the Fall, then ask some simple devotional type questions to see what impression the men had of the stories. The men listened quietly as Bilbo told the stories. Then Bilbo asked the first of the devotional type questions. The room seemed silent, as if no one there had anything to say. Bilbo tried to better explain the question so they would understand what he was asking. Still, no one offered any answers or opinions. Finally one man said, “Can we hear the stories again?” Bilbo said yes and began to tell the stories again. When finished, he once again asked one of the devotional type questions. This time there was a few very short responses to the questions. But, for the most part, everyone just sat there as if they didn’t know what Bilbo was asking. Finally, one man said, “Can we hear the stories again?” Bilbo said okay and told the stories for a third time.
Immediately after Bilbo finished telling the stories for the third time, the room erupted in conversation. Our local language ability was not good enough to follow all of what was being said, but it was clear that all the participants were very animated about something. It seemed like they were all talking at the same time and asking a lot of questions to Bilbo, and to each other. This went on for about 20 minutes until Bilbo spoke up and seemed to close the time with a prayer. Then everyone got up and left.
Afterward we asked Bilbo what was going on during the session. He said that the men were totally shocked by the stories. They did not want to think about the devotional questions, they just wanted to hear the stories again. Bilbo said that finally, after he had told the stories three times, the men started talking about what they thought of the stories. “They were all amazed”, he said. “They were so shocked and amazed by the stories that they couldn’t figure out what to do next. Some of them wanted me to tell more stories, while others wanted me to tell the same stories again. All of them wanted to know the answer to the problem.” I said, “What problem?” Bilbo said, “They realized that they were all just like Adam, that they too had this problem of broken relationship with God and they needed to know what to do to fix that problem. I told them that we would bring them more stories later that answered that problem.”
What amazed me most about this story testing session was the fact that some of the men in the room were “Believers”. They had been led to Christ by the church, accepted into the community of other believers, and had been attending western type services for months. Yet, they were totally shocked by the reality that these simple stories had to offer, and they didn’t know the answer. The stories gave them a glimpse of Truth so pure that they couldn’t connect the Jesus that the church had given them with the problem of sin and broken relationship that the stories displayed.