Report from Scriptures in Use by Carla Bowman
Bridges for Women Malawi
We had 24 participants, 19 of whom were women. Fantastic women. The 5 men were awesome. since these particular pastors and workers work closely with the women’s ministry, need to understand how women’s life issues are actually addressed in the Scripture narrative, how the Word provides answers and comfort.
Most were grassroots, ie not staff, but leaders of widow’s groups, volunteer groups etc and had come from out of town. Some of the men were pastors.
The participants seemed to love the story memorization using the oral style with a mentor during Lesson 2. After each group telling their story, the mentor for the group described their Biblical accuracy. They loved telling the stories and all proclaimed that listening to these stories told is more powerful even for them as listeners. However, they agreed that a huge majority of the folks they work with are non-literates and they have been unaware of how to reach and disciple them.
At the end of Lesson 2, I asked for the names of the stories they had heard on day 1: Parable of the Sower, the Woman who Bled for 12 Years, The Widow of Zarepath, The Fortune Teller at Endor, Perfume from the Alabaster Jar. The list went on and on but they remembered each one. I then asked them to go into their group and create a drama of the story they had memorized. These dramas were wonderful. The woman at Endor was unbelievably real. They were delighted when I shared before dismissal for the day that their drama was so real I was afraid. I gave two homework assignments since they were all staying overnight at the venue-the center for counseling on Gender-based violence. One was a literate assignment, to read Lesson 1 and 2 of their manual in Chichewa. The other was to create a song and dance for the story they had memorized.
On Day 2 of our classes when we reached the training center, they said they had all learned 4 new songs, developed for Perfume from the Alabaster Jar, The Bent-Over Woman, The Widow of Nain and the Fortune Teller of Endor (and Saul).
They all got up to perform. Each song was fabulous in the style of their culture with accompanying dance. But what I really loved was the way they imbedded fragments of the dramas from day 1 into their song. For example during the song of the Bent Over Women, they relived the moment when Jesus prayed for the woman who had a spirit and she suddenly was able to stand up. In the chorus of the song they all bent over and lifted themselves up as the refrain reminded listeners of the delivery and healing. During the Perfume from the Alabaster Jar, they reenacted the moment when the perfume was poured out upon Jesus. In the Widow of Nain the dead boy laid out on a palm mat came alive. It was some of the best Oral Arts reinforcing the core of the Scripture story that I have seen around the world. Their talent was unbelievable. What was more astounding was the fact that they have never done this to reinforce Scripture before, although it was clear to them how much this would speak to the oral culture people they serve.
Day 2 also began with review. How do oral cultures learn best? They didn’t miss a beat. “Story, dialogue, repetition, song, dance, drama, examples, characters in the story.” They were really getting it.
On Day 2 as the room got hotter and hotter we moved outside under the trees. On benches and woven mats they learned new stories that fit into the agricultural model they had learned about from the Parable of the Sower. Stories best for clearing the stones and plowing the field of the hard soil (hearts). Stories for planting and harvesting. Stories for discipling. They created dialogue questions for their newly memorized stories. I loved the moments in the afternoon when seated in a circle on our mats, they shared their questions. I let them do the critiquing and in doing so could see what they had learned about appropriate dialogue for oral learners. I knew they really got it when they felt that some questions led to preaching about the story. “It is not as effective to preach about the story or explain the story”, others said. “Let them discover the meaning from the characters, the consequences of their behaviors. Then they will remember and really learn.”
When they retold their memorized stories that afternoon they really began to share how practical this seminar was and how much it speaks to their culture. The last thing we did on Day 2 was to begin to identify the big obstacles to the gospel and to maturing in the faith for the women in their regions. The big surprise for me was that witchcraft, sorcery, and animism was number one for all the groups. I know this would be true in some other African contexts like among the fetish priest followers of Togo and Benin and many others. but I wasn’t sure about Malawi. Even among the Christians they say the syncretism issue is huge. Other issues of course came to the surface.
On Day 3 we began to identify stories that speak to the issues identified the previous afternoon. “How many of you have been to Bible school?” I asked. Several hands went up. “Well what we are going to do now is theology, narrative theology.” We are going to find God’s answers in narrative to the big issues in the church and among non-believers. I loved the next couple of hours as they poured through the story collections in Lesson 4, identifying stories that really needed to be in their local collections for the women they work with. Several stories of sorcery and God’s power over the spirit world were chosen. Stories of God’s view on many issues. They shared their reasons for choosing certain stories for their ministries, stories they can use tomorrow, next week, and next month, stories to plant seeds, stories to harvest, stories to disciple.
On the last afternoon together, they developed story, dialogue, drama, song and dance for the Ten Virgins from Matthew 25. It was beautiful. As each form of telling this story was presented it became clearer and clearer that they were made for this. I was thrilled when the drama group performed the story and then the song and dance group began to sing before the drama even ended as the words of their song spontaneously reinforced the action they were seeing. As the drama group finished they danced over toward the song and dance group and the two groups merged in one choreography of beautiful African art.
On this wonderful note, we ended in prayer, and with testimonies of what we had learned.