Book Throwing and the Mission of God: Part 3

Tom Richards, John Frum, Storytelling, Noah and ark

Tannese Noah and the ark story retold through song and dance at Jon celebrations (John Frum), Feb 2016

Interaction with Don’t Throw the Book at Them by Harry Box

Chapter 2

To live on Tanna is to live in the land of stories. Perhaps this is a familiar experience for other westerners living within oral societies. All people love stories; it seems we’re wired for them. But here, they carry out functions that are foreign to us. For example, stories can function somewhat like a title-deed for land ownership. Stories are also fundamental to all Tanna’s religious movements, conveying and reinforcing their ideals and values. When someone came to our closest village promoting a new movement, he came telling a story.

Box’s fundamental question in this chapter is: ‘Do oral societies have a system of communication that is adequate for receiving and passing on the Christian message?’ Box’s answer is, unsurprisingly an emphatic yes. I will summarize Box’s chapter and then add my own thoughts as to how we might answer Box’s question in relation to any particular oral culture with particular reference to oral communication on Tanna. Continue reading

Response to: Book Throwing and the Mission of God Part 2

Video

John Wilson was a resident missionary in Papua (Irian Jaya) from 1972 to 1991 and wrote his master’s dissertation on ‘Scripture in Oral Culture’ before orality was as trendy.  He was kind enough to add his thoughts to my application comments and I think they’re worth sharing.

Comments in italics by John D Wilson:

We must seek to understand the communication methods of our target culture; we need to have a good understanding of how the people communicate with each other and how their belief and plausibility systems are transferred. I think this point has been made clear by enough people in enough ways that we can no longer claim to be doing responsible mission if we don’t.

This does not mean that people are incapable of learning a different communication method. They may use it in a different way—in terms of logic and structure of thought.

Continue reading

Book Throwing and the Mission of God Pt 1

Interaction with Don’t Throw the Book at Them by Harry Box

The church in VanuatDon't Throw The Book at Themu (then New Hebrides) was first established on the island of Aneityum. Nova Scotian missionaries, John and Charlotte Geddie, arrived in 1848 and by 1849 they had produced the first ‘primer’ and then ‘book after book of literacy aids, scripture portions, catechisms and hymnals, until finally the whole Bible was available in Aneityumese in 1879 after Geddie’s death’ (Miller 1978, 80). In other words, the mission here was founded on a whole lot of book throwing!

This pattern continued on Aniwa, Tanna and many other islands until the work of the Geddies and countless others resulted in the formation of the Presbyterian Church of the New Hebrides in 1949, which in turn became the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, with whom I work today. And that pattern, as far as I know, has never really been questioned.

When I arrived in 2013, I joined a church that assumes its members will read hymnals and Bibles. It has a written worship book, constitution, rules and documents. Reports are expected to be printed even though few people have a computer and fewer still have a printer – while fewer again have any ink for the printer. I took up work at a Bible College that had its curriculum written on a piece of paper that was … somewhere. Students are expected to have four exercise books and do something with them. If you want to be a church leader you really need to be literate, or at least very good at pretending you are. Continue reading