Written by: Jody
Let me start by saying, that if you have an undying love for flannel graphs I apologize up front. Although flannel graphs were very useful in their day, the increasing technology of our day has made them out of date and unpopular. However, I have the opportunity to working in a country where technology is limited and even nonexistent in some areas. A large percentage of adults have never been to school and cannot read or write. I am discovering that working among illiterate people can be very difficult. Why is that? Well let me tell you a story of a man I know (the story is true but the name of this man has been changed). Let’s call this man Tyson.
Tyson is a baptized believer living near the village of Boubon where we work. He is a fairly new convert and has walked with Christ for under a year now. In this past year Tyson has shown a great excitement for the things of Christ and desires to learn more about the Bible. He has under gone persecution and has not wavered in his faith. However, Tyson is unable to read.
Several weeks ago I started teaching Tyson the book of Matthew. I decided the best way to do that was one chapter at a time. So Tyson and I decided that after I teach him, he will return to his village and teach people in his village the same chapter. Now keep in mind Tyson is illiterate, he cannot read or write. He has no technology to listen to the story, so after listening to it on my cell phone and me re-teaching it to him, he must return and teach the story/stories from memory. At first glance you would say how hard can that be, illiterate people are great story tellers so they memorize things easily, right? WRONG! This is not always the case and I am finding that out very fast.
I think we forget how many times we heard these stories growing up. They were drilled into our heads again and again in Sunday School classes so they became second nature to us. By the time we hit high school, the stories of Christ’s birth, His miracles, His death, burial and resurrection are so crystal clear in our mind we can tell them and recall them without much practice or thought. However, for Tyson most of these stories are brand new. They have never heard about the city of Bethlehem or Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary are perfect strangers to him and most stories he hears from the Bible he is hearing for the first time. So things tend to move really, really slow.
On one afternoon I sat with Tyson in my compound on market day and listened to Matthew chapter two in full on my phone. You know the story of the wise men following the star to Jerusalem first and then to see Jesus. After that, because Herod seeks to kill Jesus, they flee to Egypt. After listening to the story I retold the story for him and then asked him to tell me the story. He could hardly start it. So I told him it again and again and again for over two hours I retold the same story over and over emphasizing different parts and quizzing him along the way. In the end, when he finally left for home, he still had a hard time telling me where Jesus was born. I was tired and frankly tired of teaching just Matthew chapter 2. I was convinced that he would not be able to go home and retell that story to anybody, and I was right. By the time I went to visit him 5 days later in his village, he still barely knew the story and I spent the better part of another hour or so re-teaching the story again, still unconvinced when I left that he was ready to teach the story. After this first lesson my wife said to me, “Jody you have to think like a teacher, maybe if he saw what you were talking about it would help him understand and learn.” So she recommended her flannel graphs which a friend from one of our churches gave us to help with ministry in Niger.
Now I have to admit, that teaching Bible stories from a flannel graph did not appeal to me at all. In my selfish and sinful pride, I did not go to Seminary to teach from a flannel graph, but I was desperate. Desperate for Tyson to understand and desperate to teach something other than Matthew chapter 2 again, so I tried giving it a shot.
The next time I met with Tyson I pulled out the flannel graph and proceeded to teach the story again for the third different time. And I really think it began to help. Maybe it finally sunk in after 3 to 4 hours of teaching one story or maybe the visual aids helped him remember, but either way I feel like we made some progress and were able to move on to Matthew chapter 3, which by the grace of God is a short one.
I tell you this story not to make fun of flannel graphs, or to make you think that illiterate people cannot learn for that is not true at all, but for you first to thank God you were given the chance to hear these stories again and again helping you to learn and remember them and that you know how to read so that you can read the Bible and even this blog post. I also share this story so you will know how to pray for me and Tyson as we continue our long process of exploring the Bible together and for him this would be the first time.
Remember, Tyson is just one man in the middle of what seems like an insignificant village. But it is far from that, this is one man who by God’s grace will grow in the grace and knowledge of the Word of God and begin to pass the Word along to others through the same process we are going through. There are around 3 million Songhai people, a large percentage of whom cannot read or write and a large percentage of them whom have never heard the gospel. It will be through men like Tyson and the process that we are going through now that many Songhai people believe and are saved. Pray for him, for us, but pray that the Spirit of God would impact this people through His word for the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.