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A landscape from Senegal
DeVonna R. Allison
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing work in the West African nation of Senegal, the names of the Senegalese women in this article have been changed.

Mennonite Mission Network - In a dusty Senegalese village courtyard a group of Christian women gathered in the shade, happy for the rare opportunity to meet with other believers. And though there was excited chatter among the women, this was no mere social gathering. Many of them traveled for hours over rough roads in crowded buses so they could learn to tell the stories of the Bible through “story-ing.”

The local Council of Women, along with Mennonite Mission Network worker Margaret de Jong, came up with the idea for the two-day seminar in response to the challenges faced by Christians in a country were only 40 percent of the population can read. Storytelling is a highly esteemed tradition in the Senegalese culture and seemed a natural way for believers to share God’s message with their neighbors and families. 

Learning to “tell” the Bible
The day’s activities began with a story in which Fanta, a local storyteller who led the seminar, related examples of how Jesus and his disciples taught people through parables and stories.

“Peter and John could not read, but they taught the people,” Fanta said, recounting from memory a story from Acts 4:13, in which Jesus’ disciples taught in the temple. “How did they do this? The story says that Peter and John were uneducated men. What can we learn from this example?”

When Fanta had finished her introduction, the women were divided into groups, each one tasked with memorizing a different Bible story. It was not easy and some of the women were intimidated by their story’s many details, but they encouraged one another and soon each was able to retell the story well.

The stories they learned that day are familiar to many Christians: Zacchaeus climbing the tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the battle between David and Goliath, examples of King Solomon’s wisdom. But some of the women were hearing these stories for the first time and were being asked to memorize them.

The challenge
“I can’t do it; I can’t even read!” Salimata protested. A small woman and naturally shy, Salimata didn’t think she could remember all the information contained in the story her group was working on.

“You can do it!” the members of Salimata’s group encouraged, promising, “We’ll help you!” Prompted and coached, Salimata practiced until she could tell the story as well as the others. Cheers erupted as the women praised Salimata for accomplishing her difficult task.

The final challenge came at the end of the second day. Each group was asked to perform their story before the gathered women. One member of each group was chosen to tell their story while others in the group acted it out. As a finale, Fanta asked the women to illustrate their story’s lesson by preparing and performing a song, which is one of the ways story-ing differs from simple storytelling.

Binta was chosen to be her group's narrator. Their story was from 2 Kings 5:1-15, in which Naaman was healed of leprosy. Binta hesitated to step forward, afraid, but the women of her group encouraged her. They reminded her of the story Fanta had shared, of Peter and John teaching in the temple. When her turn came, Binta got up and began telling Naaman’s story, halting at first but then with confidence.

Sharing their faith
“It was encouraging to see women recognize that they have the capacity to learn a Bible story well enough to pass it on to others,” de Jong said. 

The women do face some personal risk in sharing their faith, de Jong said. Though proselytizing in this predominately Muslim country is not officially illegal, she said, evangelizing can bring with it severe consequences. 

But since the day of the story-ing conference, some of the women who attended have shared with de Jong how they’ve been able to put to use the skills they learned at the seminar. Binta has had many opportunities to tell the story she learned from 1 Kings 3:16-28 of Solomon and the two women who argued over who was the baby’s real mother. And timid Salimata is now leading - through story-ing - a small group of women believers and seekers in her own village.

“My prayer is that the passion these women had when meeting together will continue when they are back in their own families and communities,” de Jong said.

 

 

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