Orality Breakouts: Using Heart Language to Transform Hearts

International Orality Network/Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. ION/LCWE, Hong Kong, 159 pages, 2010, $4.95.

Reviewed by Tom Steffen, professor of intercultural studies and director of Doctor of Missiology program at Biola University.

Because I’ve been involved in storytelling since the early 1980s, I was anxious to get my hands on Orality Breakouts. I wondered what new chapter this book would add to the growing literature on the rediscovery of the use of story to reach the unengaged and unreached.

In 2000, the Billy Graham Conference on Evangelism in Amsterdam met to strategize how to reach the unreached. At table 71 (of 100), a coalition was formed that would eventually lead to a focus on orality. In 2004, the Orality Issue Group, part of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE), produced Making Disciple of Oral Learners. This brief book focused on a number of areas: heart language, worldview studies, accountability, disciple-making, and multiplication. The orality group then formed the International Orality Network (ION).  

Orality Breakouts is a follow up to Making Disciple of Oral Learners. The editorial committee has divided the book into three sections: Backstory, The Word Became Flesh, and An Unfinished Story. Nineteen chapters from practitioners and professionals fill the three sections. I read about passion, prayer, paradigm shifts, successes, failures, lessons learned, worldview studies, story models and strategies, oral evaluation, and breakouts.
I was pleased to find that the authors define the movement beyond storying to include song, art, dance, drama, community development, and appropriate technology. The editors end each section with questions surrounding review, reflection, and resolution. Footnotes pepper the pages. The book concludes with a resource list, glossary, and index.

My best take away was that we’ve rediscovered the predominant genre of scripture and story and that God continues to use this medium of communication integrated with others to start church-planting movements around the world. The most glaring oversight I found includes the part of the history of the orality movement—that is, the role Trevor McIlwain of New Tribes Mission played when he introduced Chronological Bible Teaching in the early 1980s, providing the foundation for the modern-day mission orality movement.

As I set the book down, I wondered who would build off of this little volume and write the next chapters, and what the titles would be. Stay tuned. We are talking about a movement, only a glimpse of which the editors captured in this excellent introductory volume.

Check these titles:
Koehler, Paul F. 2010. Telling God’s Stories with Power: Biblical Storytelling in Oral Cultures. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

McIlwain, Trevor. 2005. Building on Firm Foundations, Vols. 1-9. Sanford, Fla.: New Tribes Mission.

Steffen, Tom A. 2005. Reconnecting God’s Story to Ministry: Crosscultural Storytelling at Home and Abroad. La Habra, Calif.: Center for Organizational & Ministry Development.


EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 246, 248. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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