Continuous Mother Tongue Training Project
What do a storyteller, a town drunk, and the gospel have in common?
Jackson and his team live on an equatorial island off the west coast of Africa. The national language is a European language but the majority of the people speak one of two local languages. Speakers of the Fonio language look down on the people who speak Pescador, often discouraging
them from using their mother tongue in the city.
There was no Bible in either of the languages. A man named Jackson, a carpenter, was asked to lead a OneStory team. Their goal was to produce a set of Bible stories in Pescador so his people could hear God’s Word in their language for the very first time.
Jackson and the rest of the team came to their first Bible storying workshop and quickly realized that they didn’t have the computer skills they needed. Stories, feedback from local people, and consultant notes all needed to be documented on the computer. Jackson didn’t even have an
email address. So he started taking a computer class at night. During the day he worked with the team to practice telling Bible stories as often as possible. They also crafted the stories that they needed to have ready for the second workshop.
The team was looking for an older person who spoke their language well and could help with difficult terms. There was a man in town, Lecio, who was known for telling great stories. He was, however, also known for being the town drunk, and he was not a follower of Jesus. But they felt like he was the one they needed on the team.
Lecio can’t read, and he doesn’t speak the national language, but he showed up every day to work on the stories. After a few months of working on the stories, he decided he wanted to follow Jesus. He quit drinking, started going to church, and added Bible stories to his repertoire, telling them to the people who came to hear the town
Josue, another of the team members, lived far from the Bible translation office — all the way on the other side of the island, in the second largest Pescador community. That didn’t stop him from working to get God’s story into Pescador, though. This dedicated man got up at 3 a.m. and caught three buses just to get to the office, a trip that takes
him three hours each way.
At the second workshop, four months after the first, Jackson quickly picked up the computer skills needed for storying. He even helped people on the other teams with their documentation. He’ll be putting these computer skills to good use, because once the stories were finished, the team was committed to translating the Gospel of Luke!
For the next year they worked to craft clear, accurate, natural, and memorable Bible stories in their language. They tested their stories by getting feedback from people who had never heard them before. They made sure they could learn and tell them accurately, and that the stories faithfully communicated Biblical truth. This was the very first time they heard God speak to them through Scripture in their own mother tongue!
The team tested the story of the Prodigal Son in a Pescador
community. One lady said, “I’ve never heard this story, in any language. I really like it, and it makes me glad. I didn’t know we could talk to God in our language!” She asked them to come back and tell her more stories about God.
On Thursdays they Skyped with their consultant in the States to report their progress that week and plans for the next. They also shared how they could pray for each other. Most of their time was spent talking through ways to revise the stories they’d sent to the consultant. The consultant also helped them better understand the Bible passages they were crafting.
The team had workshops every three or four months, and the consultant also went to their village to work with them and do a process check.
He wanted to strengthen what they’d learned in the workshops so far and fill in any gaps in their understanding. One of the team members said, “My understanding of the work increases day by day. There’s nothing I don’t like. When we go test the translation, some think we’re on a
political campaign and out to get money. After a short explanation, they like what we do and listen to the Bible stories. They comprehend what they hear and help us in our work.”
Carlos, a Pescador pastor, is part of the storying team. He says, “Every time I come home from a day of work, I tell the Bible story of the day to my wife and children to practice my storytelling skills in Pescador.
Workshop Mother Tongue Project
We began our journey in missions as a second career. After joining Wycliffe in 2013, we attended a OneStory Introductory workshop, thinking, “I hope we like this; we just signed up for two years of it.” A couple days later, that became, “We love this! And I think we can do it.”
Six months later, after crossing an ocean, we jumped into a three-language cluster project that had been going for about one year already.
The Taburta people have about 500 speakers. For this OneStory project, they’d sent three people to be mother-tongue translators (MTTs). Our job was simple yet important, to support and help them however they needed to be able to complete this project.
This project was focused around Production Workshops which were conducted in town 4 times a year. Before each one, a mission plane picked up the Taburta translators from their village in the hot, humid lowlands and brought them into town for three weeks, then returned them after.
In the workshop, they participated in the Story Fellowship Group (SFG) using the Bible story set in the national language.
Besides SFGs, one to two hour sessions taught various principles of the OneStory method. They worked on stories in their own language. The camaraderie with other teams working on different languages at the same time helped everyone. Face-to-face time with an experienced translation consultant helped with accuracy, naturalness, and understanding.
Between Production Workshops our job was to visit their village to help our team test the stories. A group of mostly women listened to a recording of the story and learned it together. Then some were interviewed. Many were eager for the chance to just hear the new stories ! Because people aren’t accustomed to this style of answering comprehension questions, it took some work to get answers that are relevant to the question.
Though not ideal, we interacted with our team in the national language instead of learning their local language. Of course, this was only possible because we were not the story facilitators nor story crafters; the MTTs themselves were the experts in telling stories in their own language.
Besides the Production Workshops, there was also a one-week Multiplication Workshop six months after we arrived. By learning and discussing stories from Acts we learned about the growth of the Church and discussed how the team wanted to use the stories they crafted.
Definitely most of our training was on-the-job. That’s one thing that we really like about working in a production workshop cluster. There was always someone that knew more than we did that helped us, and we in turn taught others.
By January 2015, a translation consultant moved to our town for a while. He observed how they created and tested and revised the stories, and gave advice and input to the national workers. By January the following year, all 20 stories were approved.
Next, we asked 20 people to memorize the stories, one story each. Then with the help of a recording professional, they were recorded and put onto inexpensive, solar-rechargeable players.
Two months after the final approval, in March 2016, a big celebration was held in the village with special guests attending from as far away as the USA. Speeches were made by important officials and special guests. 20 people recited the 20 stories from the podium. Nine pigs were roasted for a big feast. To remember this event, special T-shirts were sold. And the stories themselves were distributed via portable players that we sold with a subsidy. We also gave away the stories for free to anyone with cell phones that can play them.
With continued follow up for the use of stories, after some organizing effort, there is now a group of women leading SFGs in the village and sharing stories in the churches.
A team from our home church in the states produced videos for these stories. They took the audio recordings; mixed it with JPEGs, YouTube clips, etc. and combined that with appropriate background music to produce professional videos which the Taburta people enjoy very much.
This story of our experience would be incomplete without mentioning that there were many difficulties we met along the way. Just a few of them were building a village house from below ground (septic tank) up to the tin roof on top, malaria, itchy insect bites, snakes, a difficult teen, unreliable team members, and community development projects, and visits to the US to attend our kids’ weddings and meet new grandbabies.
But it was all worth it. Sometimes, we are amazed to see that without linguistic classes, Bible college, or any clerical experience, we have been privileged to have an impact on a whole group of people with nothing more than a 10-day training course in Tyler, Texas.
We had been living in a Muslim country for several years when my husband was sent to an international conference in Thailand. There, one of the key speakers talked about using oral chronological Bible stories to share the gospel, especially in resistant areas. My husband managed to have dinner with this speaker one night, and the more he heard, the more he was intrigued. When he came home, he told me, “I think this is something you would be interested in.”
Since we were planning to be in the U.S. the following year, I found an introductory OneStory workshop taking place not far from where we were living. The workshop’s description said something like, “All learning will be oral and participatory,” i.e., no note-taking. In spite of that scary introduction, I signed up.
Overseas, I had often been frustrated with knowing how best to share the gospel with my neighbors, but telling them stories seemed such a natural way to do it. So as soon as we were back on the field, I began trying to recruit someone else to work on a set of stories with me. Several people were interested, but aging parents and chronic personal health issues, among other things, prevented that from happening. Finally, in desperation, I begged a OneStory trainer to come to our country and do an introductory workshop as a way to recruit people for a project in the main language.
It worked! Three of us from three different organizations arranged to work on the story set together. But, right as we were getting started, our family had return to the U.S. to help family members, an unplanned visit that lasted several years. At the same time, another member of our little team had to exit the country suddenly. In the end, the project was finished by the team’s third member, a mother with small children who doggedly pressed on until she produced an initial set of 25 stories.
After our time away, we are now, at last, back in the country. Since our return, I have been working to add more Old Testament stories to the set. These stories show God’s character: the fact that he makes promises and keeps them, that he delights in righteousness and is grieved by evil, that he desires personal fellowship with people, and that he is actively controlling all of history. Even though these stories often challenge what they’ve been taught, people always respond positively to them. People’s worldviews are being changed one story at a time.
It was a typical village market day. Motorcycles growled, music blared, and of course there were roosters crowing somewhere. Everyone was busy buying or selling fish, vegetables, candy, kerosene, or soap. I was looking for a different kind of transaction. But I knew it would be hard to find a Pelawan willing to stop long enough to listen to a Bible story and give feedback on it. “Holy Spirit,” I said, “please show me who to talk to. I’ll go wherever you want me to.”
From across a crowd of people, I caught a woman’s eye. Surprisingly, she smiled at me. I hurried to where she stood, and after a few words of introduction, I asked her to listen to the story. As I played the recording, a crowd gathered. Soon thirty curious Pelawans stood listening. As the recording finished, another woman rushed over. “Are you listening to a story from God’s word?” she asked. “I want to hear it too!”
Two years earlier, I had joined Wycliffe Bible Translators as a short term member and signed up for OneStory’s Quest project. My partner Cara and I were assigned to work in the Philippines, and nine months later, after both of us had raised a team of financial and prayer partners, we flew to Manila to get started. In Manila we met Alice and Rose, two other new Questers.
During a week of Language and Culture Acquisition training, we learned an interactive oral method for learning a new language and culture. The next week, we participated in an Introductory Storying Workshop. We learned to tell sixteen Bible stories in English that trace God’s promises to David and their fulfillment in Jesus. I was incredibly moved by hearing how all the parts of the story fit together. I realized, “Bible storying isn’t just for people who can’t read. This is for me!”
A month after arriving in Manila, we flew to the island of Palawan to work among the Pelawan people, a group of about 20,000 subsistence farmers living in the mountains. Alice and Rose began working in another part of Palawan.
For the next few months, we lived in a Pelawan village a three or four hours’ walk into the mountains. We hiked to nearby villages to visit women who began helping us learn their language. We used the method we learned at the workshop to gradually increase the number of words we could understand and recognize in sentences. I loved every moment we spent sitting on the floor of Pelawan homes, doing our best to make conversation and often laughing together at the results.
Language learning was often motivated by immediate needs to communicate on certain topics–numbers, for example. One day I ended a conversation with a local woman under the impression that I had asked her to make me fifty bamboo stars. Two days later, she showed up at my house expecting me to buy 500!
We left the mountains about once a month to stock up on supplies that weren’t available in the village (which meant just about everything besides Ramen noodles, candy, soap, and canned sardines). We also used that time to send newsletters and talk to our families, since we couldn’t get Internet in the village. In the city, we met with Alice and Rose and shared ideas, successes, and frustrations.
Before long, we all met with challenges to language and culture learning. Alice and Rose both got typhoid in their first six months in the village. Cara and I had to evacuate our village for seven weeks due to a security threat.
A year later, we traveled to the city to take the Advanced Storying Workshop, along with four Pelawan ladies. Together, we began learning how to craft clear, accurate, natural, and memorable Bible stories in Pinelawan. The workshop gave me a huge boost of confidence as we walked through the process step by step and saw that we could do it. While we were there, we made a preliminary list of about 30 stories to possibly include in the Pinelawan story set.
After the workshop, we returned to the Pinelawan area and started working with two of the Pelawan women as our story crafters. During the story crafting phase, Cara and I lived in town, which allowed us to visit many different villages to get feedback on the stories. We were always looking for a fresh audience to listen to the stories so we could find out if they were clear and memorable.
At first, finding people willing to listen to a story, retell it in their own words, and answer questions about it seemed like an insurmountable task. Most said, “We don’t know that story. You know the Bible, you’ve been to school. Just tell us what to say.” We explained, over and over, that we wanted to know what they thought. We needed their help so that we would know if anything in the story needed to be fixed. Eventually, through many failed attempts and a long process of gaining trust, we developed relationships with people in a number of places who gave feedback on the stories.
When we finally recorded someone retelling the story accurately and saw from their answers to questions that they understood the story, we would type a transcript of the story and the feedback session and send them to our consultant. She would look at the transcript and give us suggestions on any part of the story that needed to be changed to match up with the Bible passage.
After six months of crafting, our storying consultant and coach came to Palawan for a process check. They observed our whole crafting and feedback process and gave us advice on crafting practices.
As we continued crafting, we faced more challenges. We had to leave the region several more times because of security concerns. In one case we were away for three months, so we asked our story crafters to come to the city to revise their stories. After working with them for several days we gave them recordings to take back to their villages. They would get feedback on the stories and then return to the city to revise them again.
Eventually we were able to go back to the town where we lived and visit Pelawan villages, just in time to invite Pelawans to a Multiplication Workshop. There were three or four women who had worked with us over the past year. But this time, we and our prayer partners asked God to bring men and women to the workshop, because men hold an influential place in the community.
God answered by sending three men and three women. But all three of the men were out of their element as soon as they got to the workshop. They had never been to the city before. It was noisy, crowded, and unfamiliar. They felt ashamed that someone else was paying for their food and lodging. Before the workshop even started, they decided they wanted to go back home.
“Lord, you brought these men here,” we prayed. “Please keep them here!”
God did great things that week. As we learned stories from the book of Acts, I heard each of those men pray for courage like Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul to share God’s word in spite of opposition. And starting the next week, that is exactly what they did. They began to hike the narrow mountain trails to tell the stories in villages where they had never yet been heard.
After the Multiplication Workshop, we spent increasing amounts of time traveling to villages to work with our crafters, get feedback on stories so that we could send them back to our consultant, and train more people to use the stories. One memorable opportunity arose when we heard that church members in the first village where we had lived had had a meeting after church, where they decided to divide into groups of two and three to take God’s word to all the villages in their region. We offered to train them in using the Pinelawan Bible stories in small groups. About a month later we spent our last visit in that village leading the church through two Bible stories and demonstrating how they could help people learn the stories and talk about them together. We told them that soon the thirty-two Pinelawan Bible stories we were working on would be ready. One of the women made sure to let me know, “When those stories are finished, I want them.”
The next month, we spent a week working with two media specialists from SIL and eleven Pelawans to record a high-quality version of all thirty-two stories. I started out the week unsure if anyone would show up and whether they had learned their stories, but everything fell into place beautifully to get the work done on time.
The end of our recording time coincided with National Bible Week in the Philippines, so we spent our last several days in Palawan attending celebrations and promoting the Pinelawan Bible stories. We distributed the recordings via Bluetooth and memory cards to Pelawan pastors and others who were interested in hearing and using them.
Delio, an older Pelawan man who led the people in his village in worship on Sundays, attended our last story group training. Everyone in the group learned the story together using commonplace objects as memory aids. Seeing the process, Delio remarked with excitement, “This really is easy! We can teach these stories to anyone, just using sticks and stones!”