dr. stan wafler phd
Stan and his wife, Pam, lived in Arua, Uganda, from 2001-2015. They served in a variety disciple-making roles, including Bible translation consulting, orality training, pastor training, marriage encouragement ministry, expository preaching training, and student ministry.
In this third selection, I want to share two more examples of using oral methods to gain advantages for language and culture learning.
Orality assists with contextualization. Orality helped Ugandans see that the Bible is the primary authority for truth based transformation. Rather than the missionary being the expert or authority at the center of the group, the Bible story became the center for the group. Orality allows a transfer of authority away from an expert or outsider and puts the focus of authority on God’s Word. This is a key factor in helping nationals deal with worldview transformation issues where traditional culture clashes with the Bible.
Traditionally, even among Christians there had been resistance to the truth that both men and women were made in God’s image. When a story crafting group tried to unpack this term they struggled to see how the image of God was a relevant truth with respect to male-female relationships, inter-tribal relations, and marriage. The nationals were wary to accept the Western view that they had been told. Of course they are aware of the agenda of the Western world to challenge the traditional roles of men and women. The image of God (Genesis 1:27) was translated literally as image or likeness in the Bible that was readily available in the local language. However, after more discussion about the uniqueness of human beings in God’s creation, the story crafting group expressed a more functional meaning as personality or character. God has given to human beings alone the unique ability to speak, think, choose, and have relationship with God. The process of unpacking biblical terms and re-expressing them allowed the group to discover a more biblical understanding to a culturally charged topic.
Orality elevates local knowledge and expertise. I enjoyed (on most days) learning a new skill and the language that went along with that skill. Unfortunately Ugandans were more
familiar with being taken for granted in their relationships with Westerners. Due to the
lingering influence of colonialism, an unwritten script seemed to cast the Westerner as the expert in most every situation. Although this was the overt cultural protocol, this script was not relevant or helpful for building relationships with mutual appreciation. In order to overcome this well-established barrier we needed to operate off of a new script.
One way we learned to do this was to ask a Ugandan to teach us a skill in the way they would teach a child. Some examples were: “Teach me the process of growing and processing coffee.” We discovered that in oral societies, important skills are passed on through oral learning processes. The oral learning processes involved listening, watching, modeling, receiving instruction, and correction. We learned as we picked coffee beans, dried them in the sun, removed the cover from them and eventually roasted them together.
On another day, a colleague and I asked, “Can you teach us how to make flour?” We
learned like children to pick up the cassava and place it in a large wooden mortar made from a hollow log. Actually, there were children who sat down to enjoy watching the mundus (Westerners) learn tasks that they had already mastered. We handled the large heavy wooden pestle, which was about five feet long and three inches in diameter. Quickly we learned that we did not have the skill, the muscles, or the rhythm of the lady who taught us. She would let us hold the pestle as she pounded so we could feel the rhythm and the force needed to pound cassava into powder. We would then try on our own and become the laughingstock of our teacher and her children. Accepting the position of humility and learning a skill from an oral learner set us apart from other Westerners. Of course, we learned new vocabulary during the process but more importantly we made friends because we asked nationals to excel at an oral learning process.
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DANE FOWLKES, PH.D.
Follower of Christ, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Practical Theologian, Researcher, and Author