Riding home on the subway, Patrick Stein casually looked around at fellow passengers.
Two things stood out: First, as a 50-something, he was probably one of the oldest commuters. The median age in this North African city was 26. Second, everyone had earbuds and stared at their phones, each person in their own private world.
The International Mission Board missionary silently wondered what it would take to get people as interested and engaged in Bible stories. As the train clanked along, an idea took shape. Why not create oral Bible stories to put on phones? Because people listened to their phones with headphones or earbuds, no one would know what they were listening to — creating a natural level of privacy in this Muslim-majority region.
Praying for a new approach
For months Stein’s team of veteran missionaries and local believers had prayed strategically for the Holy Spirit to show them a way to reach their city in a new way and the answer came on this train ride.
“We looked at prayer as kind of a walkie talkie in the time of war. It was like we prayed, ‘Hey, we need fire power right there,’” Stein said, remembering how they pinpointed prayers to needs and watched God powerfully respond. “We prayed specifically for a way to share Bible stories in a language the everyday person could understand.”
The local Bible, Stein explained, is written in a local dialect no one speaks. In this city of millions, even people who read well use an English Bible because it’s easier to understand. More than a decade of living in this culture made Stein aware that using either of these Bibles wasn’t the way to go anyway.
While many in the city are literate, Stein’s team understood the natural way of learning for most is still orally. Plus, if they wanted to reach the “everyday person” selling a soft drink on the side of the road, paper wasn’t going to work.
Two years in the making
It took two years for the team to create 50 Story Together Bible Stories in the local modern language with a story arc called, The Promised Savior. All stories point to Jesus whether it is from the Old Testament or Revelation.
“We have a story team made up entirely of national believers who craft the stories in a simple, clear and understandable way,” Stein said. “We used professional actors to record them, because we wanted it engaging and to draw people in.”
The two-minute stories — available as video or audio — are used for evangelism and discipleship and downloaded from a website. Stephens Amani, a local pastor, has used this method for sharing the gospel. As he explained the simplicity of the story arc leading to Jesus, he smiled and added it is an easy way to bring people to the King of kings.
“This is something very easy to use and people really like it,” Amani said. “People are sharing it on social media with each other.”
Moving the stories to social media was a natural extension of the project.
In a region where Christians are often persecuted, it provided another layer of privacy for evangelism. A story could be posted so anyone can watch it. Then, a person can ask questions via the comments. Many have no one they can safely ask questions to about Christianity.
Sifting through the noise
On the other end of the social media is a team of trained local believers. Stein said there are a lot of trolls just fishing for an argument or to find the identity of Christians. The local believers have learned how to sift through the noise and find the person who is truly seeking the Lord.
“Using social media like this to spread the gospel isn’t 100% fool proof,” Stein said, noting there’s always some risk in this region when sharing the good news. “The local believers decided spreading the gospel is worth the risk.”
A heart or sad face emoji on a post can lead to a gospel conversation that changes a life for eternity. One man saw an advertisement for the Jesus stories on social media. He began to engage with local believers online, asking them deeper questions.
“Then it came time to meet in person,” Stein said, explaining that the purpose is to take those seeking the Truth from online to a face-to-face encounter. “This man met with our national partner, heard the gospel and became a follower of Jesus. He is now being discipled using the 50 stories.
“This is just one story of how this Story Together Bible Stories project has been instrumental in being a first contact with the Word of God,” he added.
Ways to pray
Stein invites you to be a part of this project by praying and giving:
— Pray for safety and discernment for volunteers who answer social media requests. Ask God to show them who is really seeking Jesus.
— New believers are to be baptized soon. They were evangelized and discipled through this project. Pray for them to tell their friends and family about their gospel transformation.
— It’s time to create new Bible stories. Seven are already planned but need to be recorded. Consider giving so this project may continue to safely reach people through simple, everyday language.
Some names have been changed due to security. To read more IMB stories, click here.