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Seeing and Storytelling: God’s Word for Oral Learners

Mayan communities in Guatemala are steeped in rich oral tradition and indigenous languages. Not only is storytelling deeply rooted in their history, it continues as a way of life among adults, passed down to their children.

In this cultural context, missionaries David and Helen Ekstrom embraced the call many years ago to share the gospel with creative insight.

Helen and other Christians in Guatemala took initiative to work with public schools, and received permission to teach a weekly class about moral values. Bible resources served as curriculum for the weekly classes in Spanish, Guatemala’s official language.

Yet many of the children came from families that spoke indigenous Mayan languages, so literacy had to be taught in tandem with Bible lessons. David, Helen, and their teammates wanted to be sure that the children would really understand the gospel. Over the years, they tried various materials as new options became available, but most books were too expensive or didn’t offer greater benefits than what teachers were already using.

Then came a little picture book that caught Helen’s attention.

A Tool for Teaching About Jesus

For about ten cents a copy, The Story of Jesus could be provided to hundreds of thousands of children. In sixteen pages, vibrant illustrations and simple Spanish language present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and outline the message of salvation. And the story, excerpted from The Action Bible, goes beyond language with vivid illustrations by comic book artist Sergio Cariello. Children readily understood the pictures while learning to read the words.

Volunteer educators distributed the story during class time. After talking through several pages of the story, they asked questions and developed skits to help children interpret and act out the scenes. Children would also practice reading skills on short sections of text.

At the end of each class, booklets were collected until the next week’s lesson. Only after completing the series of weekly lessons about The Story of Jesus, children finally got to take their booklets home.

And there, a whole new ministry opportunity came to life: The Story of Jesus made children into evangelists at home. They read the booklets aloud to their families. Many parents and grandparents who grew up illiterate were eager to look at the pictures, ask questions, and listen in as the words are read and explained. As a result, entire families came to know Christ.

To date, a million copies of The Story of Jesus have been distributed in schools and churches in Guatemala with the help of ministry teammates, churches, and missionaries throughout the country.

Please Pray

God’s Word is filled with stories, parables, graphic word pictures, and analogies that overcome language barriers. Please pray for Mayan communities as they hear and see the good news of Christ, that they would deeply understand and receive the gospel.

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