To hand the new non-reading Christian a book on the basics of the faith and send him or her home to study is not only ineffective, it is inappropriate. For example, imagine how frustrating it would be to have possession of an office or home safe, with complete and adequate resources locked inside, yet not be in possession of the combination necessary to unlock the door. So it is for the non-reading Christian who desires to grow in his or her faith.
Everything that is taught to a non-reading person must be presented in oral form. One-on-one discipleship requires great investments of both time and effort by a missionary or teacher, as well as by the new believer. When a missionary has to use precious time teaching basic reading skills, time is lost, thus hindering the spread of the gospel and inhibiting critical discipleship and personal spiritual growth.
The Talking Bible in Mozambique
Sitting on a mat under a shade tree in Pembra village, Laura Alberto Massingi speaks softly of the things of God with the group of ladies gathered around her. Questions are asked, gentle answers are given. It would seem Laura has few worries. In actuality, Laura has a love for God’s word and a burden to carry on the work her husband, Alberto, had begun as a pastor in the small Mozambique village before he suddenly died from a ruptured appendix in 2004. Even in her initial grief Laura said she was confident the church Alberto was the pastor of was important; however, she was worried how the work could carry on: “I found myself needing to continue spreading the gospel and teaching the Bible, but I was not sure how.”
According to the government of Mozambique, there are approximately 1.5 million Matswa people who speak Xitshwa in Laura’s mostly rural area of Mozambique. It is estimated that less than thirty percent of those people are literate, and that is why Laura feels a distribution of Talking Bibles in 2006 has been critical in helping her continue the work her husband began and the resulting transformation of many lives in Pembra.
Talking Bibles International produces and preserves single-voice audio recordings of translated scriptures in hundreds of languages and makes these recordings available throughout the world as Talking Bibles—compact, solid-state, digital audio Bible players.
Laura has witnessed God using the Talking Bible to bring his word to Matswa people in a special way. She oversees Bible listening studies where there is almost no reading of the Bible among the mostly illiterate group. “It is so hard to read,” she explains. “The energy is spent reading, not putting the word into their hearts. The Talking Bible is the only way the people of Pembra are hearing God’s word.” Laura’s desire was to get more Talking Bibles for the purpose of beginning additional studies and taking the gospel to remote areas. According to Laura, because of the illiteracy and aural traditions of the Matswa people, “men and women will sit and hear God’s word, but they’ll never read it.” It is almost unthinkable, she says, to read whole books of the Bible for herself or other Xitshwa speakers. Within her village, more than two hundred identified Christians, but only a few written Bibles.
Uninterrupted access to audio scriptures enables new converts to begin building a solid foundation for their faith while receiving essential encouragement and support.
When her husband died, Laura could read only a few verses at a time; however, she knew she loved God and wanted more of his word. Laura was concerned about her lack of Bible knowledge, but when the Talking Bibles came to Pembra she began listening for at least an hour every day. Within weeks, Laura found she was growing in knowledge. “I discovered Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and now see the connections between the Gospels.” She also began memorizing scripture; she found the Bible was speaking to her and increasing her burden for the people of Pembra.
Illiteracy has an immense negative impact on reaching the world for Christ. For example, in many places in the world, as soon as new converts have made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, significant personal, social, and political changes take place in their lives. Many experience alienation or physical threats from their families, as well as loss of possessions and status. Without access to scripture enabling them to grow in their faith, these significant changes are compounded by discouragement.
With her personal growth in the Bible, Laura has continued her husband’s work to make disciples and spread the gospel in Pembra. Laura’s desire may more accurately be called a passion that invades all she does. While currently overseeing fifty Talking Bibles in Pembra and the listening groups for each one, she also teaches several women’s Bible studies and has a vision for using the audio scriptures in a school she hopes to build in the village. She also plans to begin new studies specifically for women in more remote areas among the Matswa people. “Some people will hear God’s words for the first time,” she shares excitedly.
Learning and Understanding Scripture Orally
Like most rural African church leaders, evangelist Ishmael Elish Mahsava has no formal theological or ministry training. Being a church evangelist two hundred kilometers from the nearest tarmac road in the village of Jofane, he serves in an area that has yet to receive schools. Like elsewhere in Mozambique, the vast majority of the Xitshwa-speaking Matswa people in the village are illiterate. There are no written Bibles in Jofane, and Ishmael does not know of any in the surrounding villages.
Yet the people are learning God’s word and are gaining an understanding of scripture. Ishmael helped distribute one hundred Talking Bibles into other nearby villages in southern Mozambique in 2006. In the last year, Ishmael reports change in the people and churches of the villages. In some cases, people could go to church for years, but only hear a few words of the Bible since they and the pastors are illiterate and without access to the printed or oral word of God. According to Ishmael, many times they heard the same few passages they had heard numerous times before and few could differentiate between the words of the pastor and actual Bible passages.
Ishmael says his own knowledge of the Bible has grown extensively since taking on the Talking Bible project. In the year he has been regularly listening to the Talking Bible, he says it has become simple to study scripture and learn about God: “It’s much easier for me to turn on the Talking Bible and listen than to read.”
The evangelist says he particularly liked hearing about Philip in the Book of Acts, which he says is fitting, considering his call to evangelize and help plant churches in the villages around Jofane. Sometimes, after walking for days with the Talking Bible and a small solar panel to power it, a crowd of people will immediately gather when he enters a village. Soon, people are calling to neighbors and family to gather around; it is not uncommon to have fifty or more people gather around the little black box as it plays scripture.
“I just take the machine to a new area, let the people listen, and then preach. That is how a church is started,” he adds. Because of this, Ishmael is confident there will be new churches in all the villages surrounding Jofane. He says more Talking Bibles are needed for the work, “I’m not really the evangelist; the Talking Bible is the evangelist that does all the work.”
For more information, go to www.Talkingbibles.org.