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Using tech wisely in orality-based communities

International (MNN) — There are many reasons why communities might be oral learners, but many of them have at least one thing in common: limited access to technology. Is it really a good idea to introduce new tech into those stories?

According to Ed Weaver of Spoken Worldwide, wise and considerate use of technology can actually make all the difference in bringing the Gospel to orality-based learning groups.

The Benefits of Technology

Most oral-learning cultures are used to more traditional means of sharing stories and messages. Weaver says these communities are more likely to “tell stories or to sing songs or to act out dramas or to deliver poetry,” rather than swapping phone numbers or reading ebooks. Many are cautious about introducing technology into such environments.

Many orality-based traditions allow stories to adapt and change based on the storyteller or generation. Although this may be of benefit to rich orality-based cultures, it’s a problem when it comes to preserving the accuracy of Scripture. As a result, Weaver thinks “the risks of introducing technology can be offset by virtue of making sure that your message stays on track and doesn’t get adjusted or changed over time.”

It also increases the efficiency of Gospel movements. People in oral cultures typically have sharp memories, but it still takes time to train them and teach them the Gospel story.

Photo courtesy of Spoken Worldwide

“Let’s say that you spent six months producing 30 stories,” Weaver says. “You can then have hundreds of small discussion groups that are created shortly thereafter that are listening to that content. But if you did it one by one with just storytellers, you might have 10 or 20 groups that have been started just because that person, the expert in telling the story, has to be present.”

In other words, recording audio versions of Scripture stories makes it easier for people to access the Gospel message. In one case, a local partner had been unsuccessful in finding storytellers willing to orally share the Gospel without a salary. Once they had access to recorded Scripture stories, however, 600 volunteers came forward to start discussion groups. Within the next six months, volunteers kicked off almost 2,000 groups.

“Do I think that technology is the answer to everything? No, it’s certainly not,” Weaver admits. “But it certainly can facilitate getting information out into an unreached people group pretty quickly.”

Tailoring Tech to Need

Weaver says it’s important to remember that Spoken isn’t typically giving cultures their first glimpse of technology. “Just because somebody isn’t or is living in an oral culture, doesn’t mean that they haven’t been exposed to some kind of technology,” he explains.” Probably not a computer, but probably a phone.”

That being said, Spoken is considerate of each target group’s access to technology. Key community leaders such as village elders or chieftains might have phones, but the chances of other community members having phones themselves are slim.

“We don’t want to completely disrupt their culture,” Weaver says. “We’re not just going to barge in and say, ‘Hey, here is what you have to do.’ We are paying attention to the presence of technology, what types of technology they have access to, and what supporting infrastructure they have.”

Once Spoken determines what levels of technology a particular community is used to, they provide tech appropriate to the situation. If someone has limited access to electricity, for example, Spoken might provide solar-powered audio players with stories based on Scripture. If another group already has access to cell phones, they might provide micro SD cards with recordings of Gospel stories.

Photo courtesy of Spoken Worldwide

They’re also careful about how much technology they introduce into a given community at once. “We’re not just overrunning a particular village or a particular region with technology; we’re introducing into the hands of some key leaders and developing it that way,” Weaver says.

This focus on local leaders is crucial to Spoken’s approach. “We love the creativity that our partners on the ground can introduce to us and say,’ Look, we do need your help here, but we don’t need your help here,’” Weaver says.

The bottom line has to be Jesus Christ and his message.

“Over time, we have tried to take the focus off of technology and say what’s really recorded on the technology is the most important thing: the information about the Word of God.,” Weaver says. “The Word of God itself is what’s important and how you deliver it is just a choice.”

Find out what Spoken Worldwide is doing and how you can get involved at their website.

Header photo courtesy of Spoken Worldwide.

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