September 17, 2012

After a Decade, we are Leaving Brazil

Our time in ministry here in Brazil is coming to an end. Those of you who have followed this blog over the last five years or so probably already know, but we will be moving to the USA. I will serve as the pastor of Stevendale Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On the weekend, we went back to Tabuleiro and visited all of the families we could during a full day. We got to see how God is still moving in their lives. We also saw where some families did not stay together and some have stopped following Jesus. Jesus himself told us that it would be this way.

We are also systematically visiting all of our Bible study families here in the big city, Juiz de Fora. We’ve seen God’s mighty hand at work in many families here. Even more baptisms took place here during my time in the US, preparing for our move. I saw pictures.

This will lead to either the end of, or transition of this blog. I will continue to prioritize Bible storying and training others to use storying, but my context will change. We will be in the US and in a traditional Southern Baptist Church. I will continue to write about Bible storying, experiences, how-tos, and post video and audio examples. What I haven’t decided is whether or not to do that through a new blog or through this one.  We’ll see.

July 22, 2012

Bible Storying is not a Silver Bullet

When I was first encouraged to begin this blog some years ago by Bryan Thompson, he told me that I ought to post on everything, “warts and all.”

Recently, I have been posting mostly encouraging success stories. Bible storying has been a tool for me and for my wife to lead others to the Lord Jesus Christ and to help them trust in Him for forgiveness and salvation. We usually use a person-of-peace process where we observe and wait for those who are responding to our Bible stories. We then begin with them in their home, a weekly oral, inductive Bible study. This usually leads to a believing family in three to five months.

I haven’t written here about the number of times (It happened again last night) that I shared a scripture story and it just seemed to do nothing. What a disappointment.

Still, stories stick. They are not easily forgotten. If they are God’s stories, they are seeds of God’s Word that have been sown.

I will keep sowing.

Silly Mission Trips

I am a little discouraged today.

I spent some time reading the blog reports of a short-term mission trip to a foreign country. I have also, in my trips to the US, been a part of missions emphasis worship services where stories of trips to a foreign country were told. It’s always the same thing.

Most of the time is spent talking about how different the place was, how scary traffic was, how weird the food was, and how poor the people are. The conclusion is nearly always how blessed “we” are, and we don’t realize it.

I’ve taken the time to write down all of the ministry item that were done on these one-week trips. I get discouraged when I list them out.

  • We picked up trash for a few hours.
  • We held sick babies for a few hours.
  • We played with the kids for a few hours.
  • We helped build something for a few hours/days.
  • We passed out tracts because we couldn’t speak to them in their language.
  • We gave vitamins and eye-glasses to people.
  • We had a worship services with the natives.

Brothers, we need to do better than this. If this is what you are doing, just don’t go. Or, at the very least, learn 25 significant Bible narratives by heart and tell them all, daily and repetitively while you do those things. When people respond, lead them to Jesus, get them baptized and help them either join or start a church before you go home.

I rarely hear church presentations of  recent short-term mission trips where people report that:

  • They stayed in the homes of non-Christians instead of hotels.
  • They spent their time with one family and ministering with and through that family for the duration of the trip.
  • They told and taught others to tell significant portions of scripture narrative.
  • They had a significant plan to overcome the language barrier.
  • They prayed and overcame Satanic strongholds.
  • They baptized new believers and got them celebrating the Lord’s Supper together as a church.
  • They and the new believers suffered persecution for the baptisms and conversions.
  • They came back with more harvest stories than culture shock stories.
  • They came back with a clear vision of the next steps.

I can think of one or two churches that are getting there. They learn from their experiences, both failures and successes and move forward. They are relentless, like Paul was.

July 13, 2012

Cutting back to 2 times a week.

My family and I have been doing three oral Bible studies a week. On the one hand, it feels like we’re living the dream, discipling people and winning souls on a regular and consistent basis. But, when you couple that with regular church services and occasional weddings, funerals, and workshops, it becomes overwhelming.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was when our 5-year-old son Nilson said that he didn’t have any time to play after school. That was true. His half day program is from 1pm to 5pm. After that he has swimming twice a week and we have had three bible studies a week in different parts of the city. The result is that he leaves the house after lunch and gets home around 9 or 10 pm three nights a week.

Going straight to bed is just not fun. Staying up late is not fun either. (Everyone with tired small kids knows what I mean.)So, we reduced.

Two of our families agreed to meet with us every other week. By alternating, we can rescue one more night a week for coming home and having family time. These two families are starting oral Bible studies with other families in order to keep consistent.


In the past 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve told, and/or helped others learn to tell these Bible passages.

  • The Parable of the Sower
  • The Bronze Serpent
  • Zacchaeus
  • Jesus Appears to Thomas after the Resurrection
  • The Empty Tomb
  • Philip in Samaria
  • Jesus in Samaria (Woman at the Well)
  • John the Baptist calls people to repent
  • Joshua and The Crossing of the Jordan
  • Elijah calls Elisha
  • The Jars of Oil
  • The widow’s offering

There are some others, but I have not been keeping record.

June 27, 2012

Stories Include

As we engage in discovery Bible studies and oral Bible studies, one thing I keep noticing is the way Bible stories grab everyone.

In one of our weekly meeting households there is a teenager with some kind of emotional/social issue. He can become violent suddenly, or experience an emotion that doesn’t fit the moment. He has trouble talking to people directly and almost never makes eye-contact. He is extremely intelligent and loves to read and use the computer, more than interacting with people.

He often has to be physically forced to sit with the family to participate in the Bible study and has tried several times to run away as soon as it get started. However, once we start listening to the Bible passage in order to learn it by heart and tell it to each other. He gets quiet. Once we start telling the passage to one another, he participates. Once we start talking about the story, he identifies with it. A transformation occurs. It is temporary, but amazing.

He starts talking in multiple sentences, instead of short phrases. He starts looking at people when they talk and when he talks to them. He smiles. He talks to his parents about how he will obey the scripture and how they can help. He really engages.

Then by the time we close with prayer, he is back in his shell and ready to run away to the other room.

(He wants to be baptized now. Not in a church, however. He wants to be baptized in a river.)

June 18, 2012

Quick Bible Storying Workshop

I was invited to do a quick regional training workshop for a Foursquare Gospel Church the week before last.

Since, I didn't have a lot of time, just a couple of hours, I started off with a sample storying session. I told the story of the the paralytic and the crowded house (the first twelve verses of Mark 2).  This served as a model of the the 5 parts of a Simply the Story style presentation.

After we had finished the storying session and discussion, nearly everyone was impressed that they could use storying in their respective ministries. I then walked them through the 5 steps and how to do each one, reminding them from the example how we did it.

Here are the 5 steps. 

  1. Tell the Story. - Tell the scripture in an accurate, unbroken way. 
  2. Retell the Story. - Invite someone to tell the story back.  
  3. Step through the Story. - Take everyone through the story again as a group, telling with pauses for the participants to supply details. (there are some other techniques there too.)  
  4. Look for Spiritual Treasures - Using questions help participants make observations of the events in the story that have some spiritual or theological significance.  
  5. Make Personal Applications. - Using questions, help the participants to connect some of their spiritual observations to their own lives and situations, and decide on ways to put the scripture into practice.
After we went over the steps, I helped them use a very simple technique to learn a passage of scripture by heart. I asked a volunteer to read the Scripture story of the man with the withered hand (Luke 6:6-11). She read it and all listened. Then, I had them tell the story to one another in pairs, as best as they could remember it.

Afterwards, I had the volunteer read it again, but asked them to pay attention to see if there was anything they left out, added, or changed in the story. Once the passage was re-read, I asked them to share what they noticed. Several pointed out key words or portions of the story and others nodded in agreements. I asked them to tell the story again to their partners.

Once they had told the story the second time, most were feeling much more confident about their passage. We did the reading one more time, made a few more "I forgot this" observations, and then I asked everyone to find a new partner and tell the story again. This time every was confident they could tell the story well.

Finally, even though we were out of time, I shared with the group how using simple instructions and a handful of volunteers, a story could be dramatized. I asked for 5 to come to the front. I simply said, "You will be Jesus, You will be the man with the withered hand, and you will be the religious leaders. Without speaking act out the story as you hear it told." I then called for someone to tell the story.

The narrator told it well, and the volunteers all did their parts with enthusiasm. It was simple and engaging. We had to stop there, as we were out of time.

May 9, 2012

And the Kingdom Grows

As I mentioned before, these home bible studies tend to yield a family of new Christians in about three months time. Sometimes they can form a church, sometimes they join an existing one. Yesterday we saw another family come to faith together. Just under the three month mark. We will look at baptism and what they would prefer next meeting (for us to baptize them and start a home church or for them to be baptized into a local traditional church).

One family that is now hitting the 6 month mark is starting a new bible study of their own and looking to lead another family to Christ.

We ourselves have been invited to start another bible study with a family in yet another neighborhood. This is one we should have done 2 years ago, but did not follow through when God called us. He was gracious to give us this opportunity again.

Our Bible studies are simple inductive bible studies where everyone learns the passage orally before we begin any discussion of the text. It takes a few meetings to get the technique, but the results are obvious.

May 3, 2012

Church Retreat with Storying

My wife, Loaise, and I led a 4-day church retreat this past week. I told the first six chapters of Daniel, one chapter for each of our six worship services. The continuity of the narrative had a cumulative effect on engaging the scripture.

We also divided the participants into a number of groups of about 5 people, and trained leaders on how to learn a scripture passage by heart together as a group and follow that with an inductive bible study. Our groups learned stories of 5 to 10 verses. Each leader chose his own passages, so there was a lot of Bible story telling from members of one group to members of another.

The biggest observation we had was that based on our use of this method with unchurched non-christians and with long-time churched Christians, is that the latter have a lot of difficulty both learning to tell a scripture story and honestly looking at it to make valid observations. Those with no experience in any kind of Bible study seem to learn it better and draw out much deeper observations. Others tended to skim past the scripture as a familiar passage and went straight to long-remembered sunday school talking points.

I will write more about this later.

April 6, 2012

I Wish I Could Tell You

One of the exciting things about Bible storying is seeing the quick result of participative Bible study. Every time we meet with a family, everyone learns to tell the passage of scripture by heart. This is what we mean by Bible study. We are not teaching precepts, but scripture itself. Once everyone has got the passage by heart, we are able to have a deep and lively discussion on that passage, pulling out treasures and making personal applications.

The nature of the study is participatory, so everyone gets involved. We do only about 10 percent of the talking anymore. Mostly we just ask questions and point them back to the scripture when the discussion looks like it might stray.

I wish I could tell you the miracles that God has done in the last couple of  families  we have worked with. Salvations and baptisms for sure, but so much more in life change and rescue. I won’t post here because I don’t want to take away from the dignity of any person or family. What  I can say is that I have never seen people discipled so far so fast any other way.

Salvation, opposition, struggle, and testing of faith seem to happen in just three months. Right around the testing of faith point the group either starts to reproduce, fall away, or move into a passive form of church membership (This seems to parallel the four soils, doesn’t it.)

March 23, 2012

A Little Technique, A Big Difference

Tonight at Mr S’s house we took a different approach. This family has been gung-ho in obedience to God’s word each week, but has been neglect in sharing what they have learned with others. This time we got everyone involved.

Our text was Matthew 13. We took some of the Kingdom of Heaven parables and spent time learning to learn them by heart and tell them accurately. The first parable was the Treasure Hidden in a Field. It is only one verse long. One person read it. Another read in in another translation. Everyone closed their Bibles and told it to the person next to them and listened to it told back to them. Then everyone reopened their Bibles and I read the verse again.

I asked “Did you notice anything you left out? Did you notice that you added anything? Can someone tell this parable for all of us?”

Someone did and made one small mistake, which was quickly self-corrected by the group. We then asked some questions to find observations and applications.

Everyone agreed that it was easy to learn and tell.

We did this this two more times, with the Pearl of Great Value and The Net. Everyone learned the stories and told them well. We all agreed to tell at least one of these parables to five different people this week, and name the people we shared with next week.

Up to this point, there had be some reluctance on the part of the family to tell scripture. Today they mastered the technique with simple short passages.

March 21, 2012

Surprisingly Full Participation

In our second oral style inductive Bible study with this new family, we wanted to be sure to do our best to set the pattern well and encourage full participation. The family is a family of four, with two sons. The older one is a teenager and has some significant social and emotional challenges. The younger one is four years old. Perfect for playing with my son Nilson, who is five.

Our passage this time was a short one from Matthew 7. The Two Builders. I told the story in my own words, faithful to the Scripture.

We then called the two young boys from playing in the bedroom to come and do a sketch for us. I told them that they would be houses with their arms over their heads making a roof., one would stand strong and the other would fall. As I retold the story, the father made raining and flooding movements with his hands over his son. When he blew on him, representing the wind, the small boy flexed his muscles and stayed firm. As I was telling the story, the father repeated the motions over my son. When he blew on him, he fell with all the drama a five-year-old can muster. Everyone clapped and the boys took a bow. They then returned to playing.

I asked everyone to tell the story in pairs. I did not participate in this part, I just observed. (I am still deaf, did you know that? It’s been two months, but I am making improvements in my hearing.) The story is short, so everyone was able to tell the story well. The older son, who would not speak or even make eye contact last week, told the story with great precision.

I then asked if someone would read the passage word for word out of the Bible. Who do you think did it? Yes, the older son. This was touching for everyone.

After this, we asked some basic questions to find observations and applications in the passage. You would be surprised at the depth here. We ended with each person making an “I will” statement. That is, each person declared what he would do to obey the passage.

The whole study was shorter than usual, but for a group just starting out, it was just fine. It lasted about an hour.


I haven’t done a great deal of story set development. What I have found through experience here is that starting with The Four Soils, and following up with The Two Builders has been extremely effective in reaching nominal Catholics who have opened up their homes for Bible studies. Since they are already familiar enough with Jesus, these passages help set the habit of hearing God’s message by reading the Bible and obeying immediately what is understood. This has led to quickly transformed lives and baptisms.

The process of the inductive Bible study itself creates accountability and community. We model the process first, then transfer the facilitation of the process as quickly as possible to the leader of the family.

March 15, 2012

New Family, New Bible Study.

We started a new evangelistic home bible study with Bible storying this week. Challenges and blessings. I am not sure how much I want to write about this family for certain reasons, but I will write about the scripture passages we used.

We started with the parable of the Sower. One person from the family read the scripture. I told it in oral style, and then the whole family pieced it together, telling it as a group. We really only needed two or three questions for the discussion to begin and for God to move.

  • What kind of soil represents you?
  • What kind of soil do you want to be?
  • What do you need to change?

I must say. God is already doing something special in this family.

March 9, 2012


Some days, Bible storying and Bible studies just don’t work out the way you had hoped. This is one reason consistency is key. When we are regularly discipling and being discipled, we are not looking for a knockout every time we meet. We are looking to build each other up in love.

At Mr S’s house, we spent  most of the first hour just enjoying his daughter’s new found ability to hear. Her cochlear implant activation was wonderful and she could hear voices from day one. Now she is learning words, after 8 years in silence.

There are several steps in an oral inductive bible study. The three we start with are as follows.

  1. Someone reads the Biblical passage.
  2. Someone tells the Biblical passage.
  3. The group retells the Biblical passage together, correcting all details as they go.

One of the keys to having a meaningful Bible study is getting a good handle on the text. Even if we make no observations and draw no applications, if everyone learns the Biblical text by heart, we’ve been successful. For this to happen, the passage needs to be “unbroken.” That means no interruptions during the reading and the telling (especially interruptions to comment on the passage.) Scripture comes first and holds priority.

We were interrupted multiple times in every one of those three steps. Children playing too loud and needing to be corrected. Telephone ringing. Children pouting and needing to be corrected. (smiley face goes here) Questions. Medicine time, someone needs to take a pill. Water break. Bathroom break. More children interruptions. It was rough.

This was likely the worst meeting we ever had, if we were only judging by our checklist of things to do, or by how many insights we pulled out of the passage. In the end, we were very successful. We persevered through difficulty. We prayed for one another. We learned a few strategies to make the next meeting smoother. We all learned God’s Word by heart.

Oh, and our text was Zechariah chapter 3.

February 28, 2012

Some Mistakes, but God Moves

My deafness has been a challenge. I find it harder and harder to do the things I need to do. Simple things like calling someone on the phone are not possible for me right now. My hearing is getting better daily, but in the meantime, this is a challenge.

One mistake I’ve been making is in modeling for Mr S how to lead participatory Bible studies. He is managing the Bible study time, but I am still facilitating the discussion. This is not ideal, because, it creates an expectation that a highly trained outsider needs to direct Bible learning.

Worse, with my deafness creating communication barriers, group participation in the Bible studies is weakening, as I’ve found it easier to talk than ask questions . So, I am not only creating the wrong expectation, I am giving the wrong model. Two mistakes.

That being said, God has been at work. Five of the eight regular participants are now baptized and two more plan to soon. Mr S has also shared with a work colleague about what God has done in his life. This will lead to a new home meeting in a new neighborhood.

Sorry that I haven’t written about the last couple of storying sessions. Maybe I’ll get to that soon.

February 12, 2012

Crutches and Hospitality

A little over a week ago, my wife slipped and fell while picking mangos from the tree in our back yard. The tree is on a slope of about 40 degrees. So, landing wrong is always a big possibility, when jumping. She rolled her foot and tore, or at least severely sprained a ligament. She’s been on crutches since.

She had a cast for 3 days, and now she is keeping the foot immobilized  and icing it down several times a day. Once the foot is well enough, she can begin physical therapy.

So, this time, I went to Mr S’s house alone. The hill is too steep and there are too many deep holes in the dirt road for her to even have a chance to climb. I am still deaf, so going alone was a challenge, but like I mentioned in the last post, we don’t want to lose rhythm.

I asked Mr S to manage the Bible study time as best as he could remember. So he asked everyone to share something they were thankful to God for. Then He asked them to tell about what was frustrating in their lives or what needed God’s help. He asked someone to pray. We talked about last week’s passage and who we shared it with.

I then told the passage of Acts where Luke records Paul and Silas’s journey to Philippi. The family recalled the story together, making sure to get each detail right (this takes a bit of time, but is always worth it.) We then observed several elements of the story.

  • Lydia and her family being baptized right away.
  • Lydia receiving Paul and his companions in her home for an extended time.
  • The slave girl and her situation.
  • Her healing and the reaction of the city.
  • Paul and Silas’s reaction to being stripped, beaten and thrown in jail.
  • God’s response to prayer.
  • The jailor and his family being believing and being baptized right away.
  • Paul’s insistence on a correct resolution to his jailing.
  • The reunion at Lydia’s house with the other Christians.

The family began to make applications on two observations.

First, the way the gospel was spreading. People were being baptized right away based on believing in Jesus and not after being approved or passing a test. They talked about the importance of being baptized. They mentioned that one of their sons is being baptized in a local neighborhood evangelical church (today), and that they want to as well, but the church has a number of requirements for which they don’t qualify yet. They are considering if they should wait or just be baptized and start meeting as a church in their home.

Second, was how hospitable the new believers were. Lydia received a group in her home, provided for them, and held meetings in her home. The Jailer received prisoners in his home and took care of them. The family talked about how God brings people together. The family has been receiving a good number of people over for the Bible studies, friends and extended family, and even opening space for others to live with them. (This from a family of seven in a one bedroom house.)

Keep praying.