Did You Bring a Story?An inside look at an outreach team among the unreached Zigua people of Tanzania
Story by Rebekah Saylor
Photos by Jordan Andre and Mark Eekhoff
Serving as part of AIM’s Training in Ministry Outreach (TIMO) team among the Zigua people of Tanzania, Rebekah Saylor is working to translate a series of Scripture-based stories into the Zigua language to be shared throughout the community.
I ducked my head and made my way into the small, smoky house. I greeted the Bibi (grandmother) and Babu (grandfather) as they fluttered about so happy that I had come.
It had been a week or two since I had stopped by to visit. “Rebekah! You came! We’ve missed you so much and I was just wondering yesterday when you’d come by again. I’m so glad you’ve come!”
This is the response I get every time I stop by this little house, whether it’s been a month, or two weeks or even just one day since I last visited. Once the greetings were complete I sat down and settled in for the visit. Shortly after, the Bibi asked, “So, did you bring a story today?”
Stories are such an important part of this culture. Whether it’s retelling an event from earlier in the day or telling an old folk tale, these people take their stories seriously and it’s such a fun thing to be a part of.
I love listening to people tell stories…sometimes it’s a fun challenge to put the pieces of the puzzle together as I try to fill in the gaps that I don’t understand, other times I find myself hardly able to contain my laughter because most Zigua have an incredible sense of humor, other times the stories are sad and full of grief, and other times I just flat out don’t understand any of the story.
Regardless, stories are a big thing here.
Part of my work here in Tanzania has been the development of a story set spanning Creation to Christ, giving our team the ability to share God’s story beginning at Creation through Jesus’ life and ministry. This is such a natural way to share the gospel with people that are so used to using stories as a regular form of communication.
The set is made up of 37 stories that are already translated into Swahili, so my work is to translate them from Swahili into Zigua. From there, I take the Zigua stories to my language teacher who helps correct my Zigua grammar (which is sometimes still a mystery to me!) and together we complete the story.
The hope is that these stories will be shared in groups of 5-10 people and that as people hear the stories we share together, they will go and share them with others in their community, even before they have come to faith in Christ.
It’s often a temptation to just start with the New Testament and share about Jesus’ life and work on the cross when sharing the gospel (and sometimes that’s necessary), but for people who have never considered the idea of a Savior, the concept can be confusing. When we start at the beginning, we have the opportunity to lay the foundation and share how each story points to a promised Savior and that God had a plan of redemption from the very beginning.
Once Jesus appears in the stories, they have already understood how this was something that had been anticipated for years and years. It’s a really exciting prospect of what could come with these stories.
Back to the Bibi’s question.
“So, did you bring a story today?”
Well, little did she know that I did, indeed, bring a story – and that story was the very first story in this set that had never been shared with anyone. Little did she know that as I was seeking God’s guidance on this project, he brought her to mind as the first person to share these stories with. Little did she know, that just a few minutes before, as I approached her house, I asked God for strength and for an open opportunity to share this story with her as I wasn’t sure how I was going to lead into it and I was nervous about starting this big project. Little did she know that those very words out of her mouth were the answer to so many prayers.
And little does she know that these stories have the power to change her whole world, if only she will believe. I returned the next week with the next story, ready to share if she would let me.
As soon as I sat down, those same words returned, “So, did you bring a story today?”