Friday, March 25, 2022

God uses the Small to Change the Nations: Modeling a Generational Timeline while Teaching the Stories of Joseph and Esther By: Dr. Tara Rye

“One person can change a generation!” My friend from India shared that his dad used to say this to him often. I have not been able to stop thinking about that short phrase. As I prepared for our trip to Gambella, Ethiopia, to minister to the Nuer people group that phrase bounced in my head, my heart, and my prayers. I realized that God was doing something in me in preparation for our teaching time. We were going to minister to the Hope for the Children Orphanage. Simon, the leader, did not set out to be the father of several hundred children, but as he saw all the children without parents because of the South Sudanese crises he began to gather the children. He told me, “We cannot change our nation if we do not give them Jesus!” So, Simon started collecting children that had nowhere else to go. He sought to change the next generation by loving the children of South Sudan. 

When Simon invited me to come and teach to the top English-speaking students, I prayed and asked God what would be the best Bible stories for us to bring. I knew the children were being taught the Bible, so what stories might have a profound impact? God put it on my heart to bring the story of Joseph and Esther because they both represented someone placed in circumstances beyond their control, yet they both chose to honor God and their people. I also knew that the Nuer language did not have the Old Testament translated yet, so I wanted to introduce them to stories in the Old Testament that they might not know yet. I love that Joseph and Esther’s life choices led to both of them being used to save their nations. God uses the small to change nations! This would be a phrase I would repeat often! It became our theme for the whole week and the one truth we wanted them to know deep in their souls. 

Generational Timeline 

Because knowing your family’s tribe and history are important to the Nuer, I wanted to help them see God’s generational timeline for them through the Bible and how each person plays an important role in God’s big plan. We started off by creating a human generational timeline for the Bible. We invited a boy and a girl to come forward to represent Adam and Eve while sharing that God created all things. He created the first man and woman in His image. God had a plan for the man and woman, but they disobeyed God and, in the process, brought shame and separation from God for all of mankind. But God had a plan to restore mankind to Him. God would provide a way through their descendants to save the nations through His Son. 

In the process of time, God chose Abraham, a descendant of Adam and Eve. At this point, we invited one boy to stand beside Adam and Eve to represent Abraham. God promised Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars of the universe and the sand of the sea. Through Abraham God would save the nations. Abraham was to go and tell the nations what God had done for him. The LORD blessed Abraham to be a blessing. 

Abraham had a son named Isaac, and the promise continued through him. We then invited someone to stand as Isaac. Then we shared that Isaac had a son named Jacob. Now, Jacob had twelve sons. God promised Jacob that he would give him the land of Canaan and make his family great and blessed him with many good things. Jacob in turn blessed his sons. We then invited someone to stand as Jacob and then gathered twelve people to stand as Jacob’s twelve sons. 

Once Jacob’s twelve sons were settled upfront, we pulled one boy out to represent Judah. We shared that Judah was blessed by his father Jacob. Jacob told Judah that the royal line would come through him and that the nations would come to obedience through his descendants. It will be through Judah’s descendants that Jesus, the Savior of all nations, would be born. It was very important that the descendants of Judah were kept safe. We then pulled one boy forward to be Joseph. 

Next, we explained that we would be telling the story of Joseph during the week. He will save his brothers and forgive them even though they sold him into slavery. What man did for evil, Joseph recognized that God used for good. God used Joseph to protect the descendants of Judah so that we would eventually have Jesus, the Messiah. God used the small to save His nation. 

We then explained that many descendants were born and as time passed, the people of God ended in exile in Persia. It is in Persia that we will meet Esther and Mordecai. We then invited a girl and a boy forward to stand for Esther and Mordecai. We explained that God used Esther as a young, orphaned, unmarried girl in exile to become the queen of Persia. The king of Persia oversaw 127 territories that spanned from India to Ethiopia. We wanted them to see how Esther was the queen for their nation and that for such time as was needed, she was willing to sacrifice herself for the people of God. God used the small to save her nation. 

We then explained that in the process of time, God saw fit to send His one and only Son, Jesus, to come to earth. At this point, we brought up one boy to represent Jesus. We explained that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature in favor with God and man. Jesus preached, taught, healed, and cast out demons while pointing to the father’s will. Jesus willingly died on the cross for the things that all of mankind did and will do that bring shame and dishonor to God. Anyone who believes in Jesus is promised eternal life. Jesus gave the command to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He entrusted His followers to bring the message that God loves the whole world and sent His Son for them. God will use the small to change nations. Jesus entrusted His command to go make disciples to anyone who seeks to follow Him and be His disciple. 
I then invited the team upfront. I had shared previously that each of them was someone that I had the privilege of training, and now I am teaching alongside them. As much as possible, I gave them the key role as teachers. 

We split the stories equally, so it was a shared teaching time. My prayer was that they would see the generational teaching being modeled. We then shared that in the process of time, we learned the story of God and how He so loved the world that He sent His Son. We obeyed Jesus’ command to go make disciples of all nations and that is how we ended up in Gambella. God uses the small to change the nations! 
I then shared that God has a plan for you! If He can use us, then He can use you! God wants to use you though you may feel small to change the nations!

Big God Story Summary

In order to make sure that the listeners knew the Big God Story, we had Alice come forward and tell the Big God Story in Summary. She shared a less than three-minute basic summary of what God did for the nations through Jesus. The generational timeline allowed them to see and hear where each person fell in God’s timeline, but we also wanted to make sure that they knew what God had accomplished through Jesus. 

The Big God Story Summary was told to emphasize Jesus’ role in the timeline. We did not want to miss out on sharing about Jesus since we would spend the week telling stories of Joseph and Esther. Below is the Big God Story Summary. 

The Most High GOD created the heavens and the earth and every living creature in the earth, in the sea, and in the sky said, “It is good!” 

Then the Most High God created man in His image and placed him in the garden and told him to care for the garden. 

He could eat from anything in the garden, but not from the tree of knowledge, good, and evil. 

But man ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and it caused him to be ashamed. His shame separated him from God, and he hid from God. 

God loved man, so He made the first blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins and sewed clothes for man from the animal. 

God then gave man commandments to live by, but the man did not obey those commandments and his disobedience hurt his relationship with God. 

The Most High God had a plan. He so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. 

Jesus walked on this earth as the Son of God teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out demons. 

Man killed Jesus and hung Him on the cross. Jesus died and rose on the third day. 

Now everyone who believes in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life. 

Before leaving this earth, Jesus commanded us to go make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey all I have commanded you. I will be with you always! (Rye, p. 6) 

One villager came up to me later in the week and said that they really appreciated us sharing the Big God Story SummaryIt helped him to see the generational timeline for Jesus. I found it interesting how different aspects of what we did impacted different people. This villager was so impacted by the Big God Story that he came back and took notes while other stories were told. He was just someone passing by on his way to do chores, but he stopped to listen. He made sure to stop by the next day because he was so captivated by the stories.

Story Summary 

Now that we know God’s generational timeline for Joseph and Esther and how God has us moving toward Jesus, our team would teach the entire story of Joseph and Esther using various storytelling methods. We would introduce the story with a short summary of the story. The story summaries typically take about twenty minutes. They cover the key scenes with simple phrases. This provides the overview of the story so the group can know the whole context of the story before we dive into the week of learning. 

Grant presented the story of Joseph in summary as the crowd kept growing. As villagers would pass by us while we taught under the big tree, they would stop their journey and stay to listen. Our group that was supposed to be fifty students from Hope for the Children Orphanage ended up being a huge crowd from the village and almost all of the students at the orphanage. The big tree outside the compound not only provided us with shade from the sun but also placed us on the path that villagers traveled as they completed their daily chores.

One teacher, Peter, came up to me after Grant taught the Joseph story in summary and said, “Thank you for sharing the generational outline. I now see how Joseph fits in God’s story. This is very good! We will be using this in the future. We have taught about Joseph, but not like this.” 

On Monday and Tuesday, we only focused on Joseph. We told Esther on Wednesday and Thursday. The Esther summary was told by Emily. We were very excited about Esther because when we asked if anyone knew the story of Esther, no one raised a hand. Emily had a surprise element to her story summary. She prepared a short song that introduced the characters before she told her story summary. She used the same motions that we created for the story in motion, but only introduced Esther, the king, Mordecai, and Haman. The children loved it, but I am certain some of the teachers loved it more!

Emily’s song 

My name is Esther. My husband is the king. My uncle’s name is Mordecai and Haman wants the Jews to die! 

As I woke up in the mornings while in Gambella, I would be singing Emily’s catchy tune. As a teacher, it was my gift on the trip. It illustrated how Emily owned her story and took seriously the call we give to our listeners to go and create their own thing related to the story. She took it to the next level and owned it. This is when generational teaching blesses those who have given the investment to another! As we traveled home, this story song was a fun way to show family and friends what we did in Gambella. One night as Emily led her story song, even the fathers in the room stood and joined in the motion and song!

Emily’s song prepared the listener well for her story summary. The sound of the crowd moving and chatting never seemed to cease. There always seemed to be a hum of movement and chatter, but, when Emily stood and started telling the story of Esther the silence that fell was palpable. We never once had to ask them to listen or be quiet. The power of story silenced them as they were gripped with the true tale of a young orphan girl becoming queen. A few women listened with huge smiles on their faces as the story unfolded.

Story Outline in Motion

After the story summary was told, we introduced the story through a basic outline that used motions to help us remember key scenes in the storyline. These were shared with a sing-song sound while using hand motions that communicate an idea. 

Because I knew movement was important to the storytellers in Nuer, I wanted to incorporate something that would provide easy story recall as well as provide a fun activity for the children. I created a basic outline and motions to tell the story, but the story in motion came alive when we as a team sat down and went through the motions together. The team took what I created and made it better. It is in these moments that teachers realize that what we teach is often done much better by the ones we have the opportunity to pour into. Grant, Alice, and Emily reminded me that I could stand back and reap what they sow because of how God has gifted each of them. 

For the story in motion times, we would ask the listeners to stand up so that they could engage their whole body in the movements. This was intended to help awaken those who might have become too comfortable or to quiet those that were too noisy. Movement will also awaken both sides of the brain. By using both words and movement, we are more likely to recall what we are hearing. 

It was our goal to have the story in motion before story time and after storytime to help create a basic story outline that would chunk the story for recall. For the most part, we were able to follow this rhythm, but there were a few times that time did not allow us to tell it at the end of the training. If they could remember the basic outline, it was easier to recall the bigger story. 
As the week unfolded, it was fun to watch the children both young and old unconsciously do the motion as the fuller story was told. They recognized immediately when the motion connected to the storyline. This story connection will remain long after we leave and enable them to tell it well.
You can access the Joseph story in motion at Joseph Story in Motion .

You can access the Esther story in motion at Esther Story in Motion 

Story Told in Sections 

The Joseph story spans from Genesis 37 to 50. It is the longest narrative of any one character in the Bible. It deals with family drama, favoritism, jealousy, revenge, slavery, power, influence, favor, and blessing. It has plot twists and role reversals found in dreams that come alive. It shows how one man adjusts to cross-cultural situations. 

In contrast, Esther is told in 9 chapters and shows us what it is like to live in exile as a foreigner, an orphan, and being commanded to do things simply because of her womanhood and beauty. It also has plot twists that bring about justice with finality and celebration. In order to tell the stories over several days, I broke them into smaller sections. 

My goal was to try to keep them under four minutes, but I wanted to stay true to how the story scenes unfold. I divided the stories up and each of us told our story section. If you see two names, then that section had two storytellers. If there are three names, it had three storytellers.

Here is our basic outline: 

Joseph was sold into slavery (Genesis 37) Tara & Alice 
God was with Joseph (Genesis 39-41) Emily, Grant, and Alice 
Joseph’s Secret (Genesis 44-45) Alice and Emily 
God’s Promises (Genesis 46-50) Grant, Tara, and Alice 

A Plot to Destroy (Esther 3:1-13-4) Emily and Grant 
Honor is Esteemed (Esther 5-7) Tara, Alice, and Emily 
A Nation Saved (Esther 8-9) Grant and Tara 

For each section, the storytellers would stand and tell the whole section at one time. This allowed for the flow of a natural story conversation, and it followed the scenes for that section. We would not do an introduction; we would simply start telling our story. The first person would start off by saying something like this is a true story in the Bible and then start telling. The last storyteller would say, May God honor the telling of His word! This allowed a clear beginning and ending for the sacred story of God.

QAR (Question, Answer, Response) 

After each story section, we then began a process of asking questions about what the listeners discovered from the story. Each storyteller would stand and ask basic observational questions related to the story. At the beginning of the week, the group did not engage much. But as the week progressed and they discovered the rhythm of listening and sharing, they started answering more quickly and more excitedly. We discovered that we did not have to ask anyone to retell the story because someone always seemed to retell it naturally. When a question was asked, they would often summarize the story as part of their answer. We would faithfully encourage them to go and tell the story to someone else!

Using art for story recall 

In order to help me recall the story of Joseph and the story of Esther, I created storyboards using stick figures. As I prayed about Esther, it was on my heart to provide a storyboard that could be replicated with bead art. I created a storyboard using geometric shapes to help me recall the story. I wanted to put the storyboard on scarves to hand out to the children. This way they could use them for headbands and then take them off to share with someone. Because I knew that art was not a typical learning tool used to recall stories in Nuer, I did not use it as part of our main teaching. However, at the end of the week when they knew the story of Joseph and Esther, I pulled out the art and retold the story using the storyboard to reinforce what they already learned. This is best used in smaller groups so that everyone can see the storyboard and follow along. It was quite a task to try to use with a large crowd. 

On the day before I was to share the storyboards one of the teachers, Peter shared with me that he loves using art. I showed him the storyboards, and he was very excited. I gave him the challenge to create art to tell Bible stories. I also had a young villager named Prisca approach me and say that every day as she passed by while doing her chores, she loved hearing the stories. She wanted to come by in the afternoon to learn more. To my surprise, she showed up that afternoon. She said, “I am sad that you will not be telling more stories this afternoon.” We were doing fun activities in the afternoon while Pads4Pupils taught women’s hygiene. I asked Prisca, “Would you like for me to share them with you now?” She said, “Yes!” So, I took out the scarves and started telling her the story of Esther. A small group of young men and a few boys gathered behind us as I used the story scarf to tell the story. I told her both the story of Esther and Joseph. I gave the scarves to Prisca and asked her to go home and share it with her family. She did! She shared with her mom, sisters, and aunts. Her mom and one sister came to greet me the next day. 

The next day Prisca and several family members showed up for our morning teaching time when I presented the story scarves and told the stories using the art. We had our team and a few teachers stationed around the crowd holding the story scarf pointing to the symbol as I told the story. For the most part, the group was able to track along with me and see how the story unfolded using the art. I left behind 70 scarves for both the story of Joseph and Esther for the teachers to distribute as they felt necessary. In order to help the teachers, recall what each symbol stands for I left behind a printout of what each symbol means for each row. 

The storyboard is unique in that it starts at the bottom of the page and moves up. This was to be symbolic of how God uses the small to change the nations! He lifts us up and moves us up when we are willing to seek Him and walk in obedience to Him. God used Prisca to show us that He can use art in their area to help them with story recall and encourage others to want to come and hear more. This affirmed the importance of using as many methods as possible.

When our team left the area and was staying at a guest house, I pulled out a story scarf to give to the house manager and assistant. I did not intend to tell the whole story but was showing them how to use the story scarf with the women they serve. The house manager sat down so he could listen to the whole story. So, a moment when I thought I would be just handing out a gift with a short explanation ended up being the whole telling of Esther using the scarf. Once the story started, he did not want to leave until he heard it all. 

The story scarf is a tool that can be used to draw someone into the story, and it is fun because you can give it to them so they can use it to retell as well! Another example of how, God uses that which is small to change the nations! 

On Thursday afternoon as I was about to crawl into the bajaj to leave when a young boy walked up to me and did the motions for “God has a plan for you” as he spoke in Nuer and then he hugged me! I knew in that moment that God had used that which was small to change one, and it only takes one to change a generation! Because God uses that which is small to change nations! 

 And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)

The story summary, story outline in motion, and the stories we told can be found in a workbook I created called Joseph and Esther (Rye. 2022).

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The Parable of the Tenant

What will the Vineyard owner do?

I have read the Parable of the Tenant (Mark 12:1-12) for three days now.  Sometimes God just wants us to sit and be still in a passage.  

There is so much here, but what I caught for prayer in this moment is that when the religious leaders that sought to hurt Jesus heard this story they feared the crowd and walked away. I thought now that is a great prayer today. 

Father, let those who seek destruction of Your people that You placed in this massive garden called earth let them fear the crowd and walk away from seeking to cause more destruction.  I especially long for this in the Ukraine right now.  I recognize that this is a temporary fix because they will seek to do it again. Thank you for being so faithful in sending servants so that even they may know You and respect Your Son. In Jesus name amen