In an excellent talk for ministers, Dr. Ben Witherington III explores the impact of orality and rhetoric in the time of Jesus. While the US culture enjoys and assumes a high rate of literacy, Witherington says that the literacy rate in 1st Century Palestine was probably only 10-15%. So, it is significant that Jesus did not say, 'let he who has two good eyes read,' instead he said 'he who has ears, let him hear.' The letters of Paul, for example, were intended to be read aloud in the churches.
The Bible was written to be heard - it is to be an oral text.
While many today equate the 'word of God' with the written text of the Bible, Witherington says that is not the way the phrase was used in the New Testament. The phrase 'word of God' refers to either Jesus Christ (John 1) or it refers to the oral proclamation of the good news about Jesus (1 Thess. 2:13). The 'word of God' didn't refer to a static written text, it referenced the proclaimed message - the heard Word.
The Makua-Metto people also have an oral culture. Low levels of literacy create significant challenges. From a census of the Churches of Christ in Cabo Delgado conducted last year, we found that out of the over 1100 members, less than a third of them can read at all (that percentage follows pretty closely the literacy rate for the population as a whole). Out of that group though, only 16% said that they could read well.
One way that we are trying to address this problem is to use audio players so that church members can listen to God's word with their families and neighbors. With contributions from a few of our friends (thank you so much - you rock!), our team was able to purchase 100 DAVAR players. They are solar powered and easy to use. We were able to put recordings of 125 songs in Makua-Metto (thank you Chad), recordings of the books of Mark and James (thank you SIL), the 'Look, Listen and Live' series of Bible stories (again thanks SIL), and a bunch of sermons and lessons for adults and children in Makua-Metto (thank you Aguas Vivas Ministry, Balama).
In the Makua-Metto language, the word for 'hear' or 'understand' is 'wiiwa,' while the word for 'obey' is 'wiiwelela.' These two words are connected linguistically, as the word for hearing or understanding serves as the base word for the concept of obedience. This language connects these two actions in our friends' minds.
It has been fun distributing these audio players to our friends here in Cabo Delgado. Our hope is that through the church and these audio players, more and more people will encounter the heard word of God - that they would both 'wiiwa' and 'wiiwelela.'
May the Makua-Metto people hear, understand... and obey God's word!
Grace and Peace,