The African Ear
“Bro. Skiles, I can’t read or write, so I’m depending on you to rightly preach and share from God’s word.”
-E. Bourque to his pastor, First Baptist Church Moss Bluff.
Most Africans are oral learners.
They learn best from what they see and hear.
This isn’t an excuse to miss out on literate means to reach people. Most of Africa is under the age of twenty-five. More and more are going to school and learning to read, often in English.
At the same time, most of Africa are still oral learners.
Even for the literate, oral and visual learning is their preferred style.
And oral learning is always best done with stories. It’s the style our Jesus used and it’s just as effective.
Because Africans have great ears.
They take it to heart.
And can recall the words/tone/pitch.
Here’s a brief story on that.
I’ve now written eleven books containing hundreds of short stories . The first story in my first book is the most requested of readers and listeners.
It’s called “The Evening Holler” and shares an old family story of how the early settlers of Louisiana’s No Man’s Land checked on the well being of neighbors.
You can read it here [MU2] as well as another link at the end of this post.
When I tell “The Evening Holler” I always insert the call of the Barred Owl. Audiences respond (in shock or laughter) when I loudly mimic out the bird’s unique notes:
“Hoo hoo-hoo hoo, hoo hoo-hoo hoawww”
As well as the old-timers take on its call: “It’s asking, ‘Who cooks for you. Who cooks for you alllllll.’ “
I always wondered how Africans—from another culture and heart language—would respond to this story.
Six years ago, DeDe and I traveled to South Africa for a mission trip among the Zulu people group on the eastern coast of that country.
My assignment was to tell stories and relate them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was excited about this because I love stories and love Jesus.
However, I was also somewhat intimidated. I knew I would be using a Zulu interpreter. So much of storytelling is in the timing, specific wording, and gestures. I wondered if that would be lost in translation.
Most of our time was spent with the Zulu young people in an area called “Sweetwaters.” We immediately fell in love with these new friends. Additionally, my interpreter, Syvion Myeoni, was great and fun to work with.
The favorite story of the Zulu people was the one you’ve just read—“The Evening Holler.” I tied it in with Jesus’ parable of “The Good Samaritan.” We shared about how when people are hurting, we should go to them and help. This was very poignant, as I knew all of those listening had been touched directly by the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic of their area. (Zululand has an estimated 40% positive HIV rate)
During our final week there, we returned to areas we’d visited. Walking up a dusty trail, we were greeted by the boys in this picture. When they saw me (bald-headed white men stick out in Zulu land!) they began hooting just like a barred owl.
“Hoo hoo-hoo hoo, hoo hoo-hoo hoawww”
Just as I’d done during my story, they cupped their hands to their mouth and imitated perfectly the call of our local southern owl. Being an oral society, Zulus capture a story and sounds much better than we distracted Americans. These boys had it down perfectly.
It was a seminal moment for me.
I realized how a story transcends culture, continent, race, and background.
The mission statement of Creekbank Stories is “connecting hearts to God through stories.” It is the desire of my writing and speaking. I’m not sure always how well I do that, but I’m convinced that a story I told in a dusty yard in a South African township connected.
I’m convinced that those words, gestures, and emotions will continue in a ripple effect.
That’s what it’s all about.