This is a ministry that I had never considered. After a language is analyzed, a grammar is developed, and scripture translations completed for that language....there still remains the problem of disseminating the stories through the culture that uses that language. Realistically, only a fraction of any given language group will exert the effort to become literate so they can read the Bible for themselves. Therefore, missionaries need many other tools to help spread the truths of scripture. These tools need to be culturally relevant so as to have the greatest impact.
For instance....in cultures that are deeply musical, Bible songs can be written and recorded so as to teach the great truths of scripture. In storytelling cultures, there are various visual media that are available to teach the stories. In many ways, this is not unlike the Medeival Cathedrals in which the stained glass windows told all the stories of faith ... they were called the Bibles for the poor (because the poor were usually illiterate).
Without a doubt, we want people to be literate and be able to read God's word for themselves (hence the great value of an organization like Literacy and Evangelism) .... however we must also practially realize that the life giving truth of the Living Lord Jesus Christ doesn't wait on learning literacy (indeed coming to know Christ while illiterate may actually goad people into taking on the challenge of literacy so they can know Him better). The Washington Post gives us this great article about how these kind of vernacular media are used (things like the Jeuss film, MP3 players, cell phone audio, etc).... the closing story shows how the drive for literacy brings people in contact with Jesus Christ.
This video that accompanies the Washington Post article demonstrates how many mission organizations team together to make this work happen.
In Rong Domriex, the farming village where children play knee-deep in the rice paddies, a local Christian pastor said he believes maybe half of the 11 children in Im's literacy class will become Christian.
"Whether they follow Jesus Christ or not is up to them," said Dom Saim, the pastor and a former Buddhist.
Im's father, Sum Tel Thoen, 37, a fisherman, said he didn't care that Christians were teaching his daughter. "It doesn't matter if my daughter is Christian. My focus is education," he said. "I can't read or write. I want my daughter to." He said he was pleased that his daughter was dreaming of getting a job someday, now that she can read, instead of spending her days collecting firewood. Brushing her black hair away from her large brown eyes, she said matter-of-factly, "I am too poor to go to school."
Her father said that he, too, was learning about the new faith from Im. He stood next to his daughter as she described Jesus. "He says, 'Don't steal other people's property, and if someone scolds you, be silent and don't scold back,' " she said, holding tightly to a paperback Bible, the first book she has ever owned.
All this interest in Vernacular Media got my head spinning around reaching our own culture. What are the vernacular media that we need to be using to tell people about Jesus? How are we telling gospel stories through novels, film, video games, small group gatherings, social organizations. How are we analyzing the cultures that surround us to discern how best to bring the gospel to them? For this is our task as the American church. Perhaps we can learn best from missionaries in the field ..... learn from them how we are missionaries in our field at home.
I forgot to add this link before I posted. Vernacular Media Services cooperates with other mission agencies around the world in figuring out culturally appropriate strategies....and they've put together this resource wiki ... a database that is continually being updated from people working in these fields....it's a great resource for anyone interested in evangelism and missions:
so go visit www.vernacularmedia.org to see the resources that they share.
Soli Deo Gloria