Two metaphors, band wagon and band-aid, are used to depict current storytelling methods and values. Both are helpful, but neither is the message.
“Getting on the bandwagon” is an English idiom that refers to our joining or showing interest in something that is fashionable and that perhaps we previously had no interest in. We may do it to improve our image or just because it is popular. The phrase referred originally to the wagon at the head of a parade that the band played on.
A “band-aid” solution is a simple way to fix what is often a complicated problem, with the realization that this may not be the best answer in the long run. We know that band-aids are not suitable for yaws but, short of anything else, we may attempt to plaster them over the sore.
In this article I apply the two idioms as metaphors for two general approaches regarding the philosophy and mechanics of storytelling.
Browse through the web and you will find hundreds, perhaps thousands, of resources that point to information about storytelling. There are websites that advertise graduate courses, professional storytellers, Bible storying, organizational management vis-à-vis storytelling, the oral tradition of storytelling, kinds of stories, and so on.
In this section I look at storytelling in its missiological context—stories and their use in the history of missions and churches, as well as their prominent place in contemporary missions in particular. This includes storytelling for evangelism and church planting, but also as an aid for teaching and translation.
Storytelling, when used as a substitute for Bible translation, is generally considered a band-aid approach. The complexities of an accurate and natural translation cannot be overcome quickly by an interpretation of the Bible text by means of a story. On the other hand, when the Bible text is adhered to literally it is not a retold oral story. Rather it is a feat of memorization or a recitation. In such cases, and for the most part, it does not have the same performance value or effect as a story.
There is nothing wrong with riding on a bandwagon, in fact there will be more attention drawn to you if you ride on one. In my view, storytelling today is like a bandwagon: it may be noticed far more than the horses or tractor that pulls it.
This may seem strange to say: I am the editor of the current volume of Word&Deed that focuses on storytelling and I have studied and written a great deal about it myself. However, the context of my interest in storytelling has always been in reference to small language groups in the Pacific.
Chronological Bible storying (CBS) is a phrase that is well known within the mission and missiological community, so I will not attempt a history of it here. The program and approach has the primary goals of evangelizing and planting churches. Its methodology includes:
- A selected chronological set of Bible stories
- Retelling the stories based on their memorization and recitation
- In some cases drama and performance enhancement
- Contrasting a “Biblical worldview” with traditional ones
- Discussion and teaching, based on theological and worldview assumptions
- Various media technologies to support the goals
OneStory was a Bible storying coalition of missionary organizations that supported and promoted Bible storytelling (‘storying’ in their idiom). The training for the storytelling was under the direction of the WBTI orality coordinator, Dr. David Payne. Wycliffe, then, has been firmly seated on the bandwagon and, in fact, has given direction to the route the training wagon will take. The general outcomes of the coalition were:
- Development of story sets, also called an “oral Bible”
- Training mother-tongue speakers to tell the stories
- Providing audio recordings and distribution of the stories
- Providing worldview and other research
- Planning and coordinating follow-up ministry within the coalition
More recently (2018) Orality & Storying is given a prominent place on the homepage of SIL. (www.sil.org) with a number of objectives: (1) It builds on the foundation of using cultural stories; (2) It involves carefully crafting stories from Scripture; (3) These stories are true to the original text but told orally in a natural, engaging way that is easily reproducible; (4) It allows communities to build on their oral tradition in using Scriptural stories.
The Seed Company
The Seed Company (TSC) is affiliated with the Wycliffe Bible Translators, USA, and raises funds and supplies consultants for a variety of Bible translation projects, including storytelling. TSC projects are defined in terms of time, cost and results, providing:
- Linguistic and technical training
- Checking of translated Scripture for clarity and accuracy
- Information and outcomes with supporting partners
- God’s message for people groups in their own heart language
For cuts and scratches, there is nothing like a band-aid. They can either cover the sore or cut until it heals, or provide temporary help until something more appropriate can be found. There are certain kinds or varieties of storytelling that are more like band-aids than bandwagons.
Small language workshops
By small language, I have generally referred to language groups with 500 or fewer speakers. Other linguists would claim that any language group with fewer than 10,000 speakers is endangered.
Research that I have done from the Ethnologue suggests that fully 25% of the languages of the Pacific have fewer than 500 speakers. In PNG alone, there are well over 200.
In 2002 and 2003 I ran workshops of one week in the Sepik areas of PNG in an attempt to encourage speakers of small languages to retell Bible stories in their own languages, instead of Tok Pisin (Pidgin English). I learned, among other things, that:
- Storytelling provides initial familiarity with the Bible and allows hearers to identify with the translated materials more quickly.
- Storytelling accompanying translation provide current and natural renditions of the text, but are not subject to the same constraints because stories do not claim to be translations.
- Storytelling following a New Testament translation gives purpose to the project because church members (not simply the church pastors or leaders) can be involved in telling the Gospel story. It is Scripture Use, with distinction.
- Storytelling is ideal for small language groups that do not have any materials, but can also be effective in areas where a translation has been started or completed.
- Storytelling accommodates the oral approach and allows the 70% of the population who cannot read (and who probably never will) to understand clearly the stories from the Bible because they, too, are able to retell them.
- SIL workers (or other facilitators) can demonstrate the oral approach by memorizing and telling Bible stories (and traditional stories), rather than reading their materials.
- Storytelling is not “high-tech.” Taped stories and video recording is instructive for new storytellers, but storytelling does not rely on either technique to be useful. Tape recording the stories provides some constraints that prevent wild divergence from a base story.
It may turn out that even band-aids are expensive and don’t really do the job. Some of these technical band-aids may in fact be excessively expensive and unnecessary, something like cutting a 10 square meter block of grass with a power mower.
At first glance, it may seem unusual to think of technology as a band-aid. Certainly, in SIL, technology is considered the research and surgery center of the world. However, from an anthropological point of view, it often turns out to be an expensive band-aid. And although some band-aids last a long time and have pretty designs and colors, they do not address the root of the problem. Band-aids don’t heal a wound but assist externally while the healing process takes place. Here are some of curent technological band-aids:
Global recordings and VMS
Recording Bible passages requires an expensive infrastructure that small isolated villages can ill afford. Therefore, WBT, SIL and other agencies must provide funding for machines, technical assistance, maintenance, and other services.
Global recordings network (GRN) provides “audio & visual tools for evangelism and Bible teaching” that includes audio cassettes, CDs, mp3s, special playback machines and Bible pictures. The Bible stories are told “with a local voice without the distraction of a foreign accent.” The technique involves reading the Bible story in a source Bible translation language that is retold and recorded in the local language, then later distributed with playable devices.
Vernacular Media Services (VMS) is the media department of JAARS and helps “Wycliffe and national translators use media tools that are culturally appropriate.” The devices include video, audio, radio, filmstrips and drama. However, there is no indication of how the organization determines what is culturally appropriate. Instead we are told that “There are 53 people serving in Vernacular Media position[s] in various countries with Wycliffe, and 28 are serving with other missions.”
“Megavoice produces state-of-the-art digital audio players and accessories designed to carry your message across town or to the ends of the earth.” Megavoice claims that their products can be applied for inspirational, humanitarian and corporate uses. Because the audio players are small (the size of a cell phone) and their messages cannot be erased or recorded over they are advertised as ideal for non-readers in remote areas.
Megavoice, while useful, is a band-aid for face-to-face interaction by means of storytelling because it assumptions such as:
- Taped voices are a culturally appropriate way of retelling a message
- Tapes are a culturally appropriate way of listening to a message
- There will be interaction and discussion following the message
- The recorded message is readable, clear and understandable
- The message is in some final or archival form
The Jesus film and similar products have a history of use in many languages and countries. The film is a two-hour “docudrama” about Christ, based on the Gospel of Luke. It was released in 1979 and has been translated into hundreds of languages and has been used by more than 1,500 Christian agency, with a viewing of 6 billion people. According to their website, “Many mission experts have acclaimed the “JESUS” film as one of the greatest evangelistic success stories of all time…. As a result, more than 200 million people have indicated decisions to accept Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.”
In most remote areas of PNG, for example, showing the film requires a portable generator and supporting infrastructure (for fuel, maintenance, etc.) and is generally limited in use. Many language groups now have the translated film. It suggests that:
- This is how Jesus, the disciples and others looked
- This is how they dressed, talked, worked, etc.
- This is the whole story
We need band-aids and bandwagons, but we also need to be reminded that we need hospitals and doctors. Doctors understand the basics of disease and know that in many cases simple hygiene will help eradicate common problems. There are others diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, that are related to moral standards in the culture and communities. Providing medications treats the symptoms, not the root cause. Of course for any disease it is important to consider the individual and try to help them in any way possible.
Storytelling and all of its associated technology and methodology is an attempt to help people understand that Jesus wants to establish his Kingdom among all people groups and that the evidence of being a part of his Kingdom is how we live and relate to one another. The Bible tells us about God’s Kingdom and personal stories are some degree of proof that people understand and exemplify it. However, the media is not the message—whether a bandwagon or a band-aid.
 For example, earlier I (Franklin 1985a, 1985b) define it as a particularly relevant strategy for small languages. Elsewhere (Franklin forthcoming) I have proposed and taught it as a graduate subject at GIAL.
 See the website http://www.onestory.org/Default.aspx which says “The OneStory partnership includes Campus Crusade for Christ, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Trans World Radio, Wycliffe International and WWAM” as well as other agencies and individuals.
 Orality and storytelling are of course not the same. Orality consists of many speech modes, one of which is storytelling.
 I say “well over” because nobody really knows. The government census figures published in 1990 are difficult to interpret because village populations sometimes (often in certain Provinces) include multiple languages. SIL has not surveyed most of the small language areas for years.
 Global recordings network, once called Gospel recordings, has been in business for many years. There website (http://globalrecordings.net claims that they have recordings available in 5650 “different languages.”
 Quoted from their website. VMS follows a common error perpetuated in publicity and by members when it claims that it serves Wycliffe in various countries. The fieldwork for Bible translation is carried out by SIL, not Wycliffe, although this seems to be changing now that former NBTOs or affiliate organizations are now called “Wycliffe Member Organizations.”
 From their website at http://www.megavoice.com/home/.
 See the website http://www.jesusfilm.org