In Papua New Guinea most of the people speak a pidgin language, a trade language, called Tok Pisin. When my family and I moved there we spent the first while learning how to speak it. I loved that time because of the many phrases and words that made me smile. For instance, when someone invites you to visit he or she will say, “You must come and story with me.”
Because the written word is a relatively new thing there, verbal communication is vital. Telling stories is their way of understanding the world and people around them, their way of relating what is in the depths of their hearts.
A man who had lived in that country a long time said, “you don’t just blurt information here, you must build on it, make it into a drama, give it life.”
I once watched a Papuan friend tell a story to a small group. We were sitting in a half-circle, the story-teller squatting in the middle. His head swivelled as he made eye contact with those on both sides, often repeating parts and using his hands with emphasis to make sure they were getting it all. His audience leaned forward, intent on his words, even though it was a story they all knew well, an old folk tale that had been told and re-told for many generations.
I have heard it said that there are less than thirty unique plot-lines from which to choose when writing fiction. With such limited material, I once despaired of ever doing anything unique. But, like that Papuan man who kept his audience spellbound, I have discovered that it isn’t so much the story itself that captures people, but the way in which it’s told and the unique perspective of the teller.
Jesus knew this when he told stories to those he sat with in the markets and houses of Palestine. The stories he told weren’t anything new. They were simple stories about fishermen and farmers, about the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. But as He told them He allowed them to see with His eyes, giving them a perspective that took them to depths they had never gone before. In a sense, He told them what they already knew, but in such a way that they drew in their breath with fresh understanding. He allowed them to see with His Father’s eyes and the view was suddenly astonishing.
We too can open the eyes of our readers to the wonder of our world and our God. The Apostle Peter, as he was preaching, once said “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Peter 1:16).
We have not seen Jesus face to face on this earth, but we have seen his majesty. We’ve seen it in the world around us, in the people around us, and most astonishingly in our own lives. As believers we have had the longings of our hearts satisfied, the drama of our lives given meaning, and that which was once dead brought to life. That is the story we can and must tell, over and over, in all the plot lines and all the turns of phrase.
It is a simple truth, the essential truth, the only story. May He find us faithful.