More than 3,000 unreached people groups don’t have a single verse of Scripture in their language, said Paul Wynn of OneMessage.tv.
And even if they did, 80% are oral learners, meaning they come from a storytelling tradition where the written word wouldn’t be of any value.
With a goal of reaching those people groups for Christ, OneMessage.tv works with missions partners, including the International Mission Board, to produce a collection of 20 Bible story videos using members of specific people groups as actors and translating it into their languages.
“Once that library is completed, we give it to the ministry, and then they can share those videos,” Wynn told The Baptist Paper.
“They can do movie nights in the villages where they work and show it on a big screen,” he said, “or they can do little files on their phones and go … home to home and share them, or share them in small groups.”
About a decade ago, Wynn was in Nigeria and noticed a herdsman wearing traditional African clothing standing with some cattle in a field. The man’s mobile phone rang, and he pulled it out and started talking.
“Even in villages that perhaps don’t have power, they’ve got cell phones,” Wynn said, noting children sometimes start businesses pedaling bicycles to produce power for charging phones.
For more than 15 years, Wynn and Doug Keesey worked in media production for various ministries through their company OneMisson.tv. In 2019, they launched OneMessage.tv after working with an IMB missionary in Colombia to use locals as actors in videos communicating Bible stories.
During the past three years, Wynn and Keesey have been working with four people groups in Africa and South America, completing an entire library for one of the groups. They’re currently in discussions with a people group in northern Iraq.
“When we go, we don’t ask the missions partners for anything except some sweat equity,” Wynn said. “If they can help us find actors for a few days and that kind of thing, that’s all we ask. We just give them the resource when it’s completed.”
Typically, the videos are between three and six minutes, so it’s easy to sit down with someone and show it on a phone. If missionaries host a movie night, they may show five of the stories back to back.
“We concentrate heavily on Genesis and Exodus and then move into the gospels,” Wynn said. “It’s based to a certain degree on the IMB storying method. They have a list of about 40 stories that they use.”
Wynn and Keesey consider which stories will work well visually and address attitudes or misconceptions a people group might have. For instance, the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32 is relevant to groups that practice idol worship.
“We move into Jesus’ birth, a number of His miracles and then His crucifixion and resurrection,” Wynn said.
Stories of value
The stories are so valuable to some that they go to great lengths to obtain and share them.
“After we did our first set of stories, we heard of a man who was a believer who walked three or four kilometers up to a high spot where he could get cell coverage and download the stories. Then he walked back to his village so he could share the stories by Bluetooth with other people there,” Wynn related.
They’ve even seen some of the local actors come to faith in Christ.
“When we were in South America three years ago, we went to a village that had about 100 people but only two believers, a man and a woman,” Wynn recalled. “They were kind of our starting point for our actors. The very first story that we shot with them was Cain and Abel. This man got his brother, who was not a believer, to come and play Cain. The believer played Abel.
“When we started that morning, the missionary kind of sidled up next to me and said, ‘I think he may be a little hungover this morning.’ But this guy totally got into it. He was hands down our best actor. This people group by and large is not overly demonstrative — you really have to get them going — but this guy took to it. He hung out with us for the next two days while we were shooting stories.”
During the process the two brothers formed a relationship with the missionary, and a few weeks later the unbelieving brother started asking questions about Jesus. Within a couple of months he became a believer, Wynn said.
New believers starting a church
The people group now has about 10 baptized believers with plans to build a church.
“When people watch these videos, they’re seeing their own faces,” Wynn explained. “They not only hear it in their heart language, they’re also seeing people who look like them.”
He added this is a reproducible strategy that works in a lot of contexts worldwide.
Some of the videos have found their way into villages missionaries haven’t even gotten to yet, Wynn said.
“The people groups that we’ve worked with probably had not seen a video of any kind in their language,” Wynn related, and because of this project, the first one they’re experiencing is about the Bible.