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Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus and his band of disciples proclaimed a revolutionary message through stories, parables, and proverbs. Although few members of the early church could read or write, the message of the gospel took root, owing partly to its method of proclamation. Today, a number of mission leaders are calling for a return to Jesus' oral method of communicating. The majority of the world's people, they say, won't be reached any other way.

"Seventy percent of the world's people today can't, don't, or won't read," says Avery Willis, executive director of the recently formed International Orality Network (ION), a partnership of 22 mission agencies including the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (IMB), Youth With a Mission (YWAM), Trans World Radio, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Since the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, Willis says, Western Christianity "has walked on literate feet," indirectly requiring literacy for evangelism and discipleship. Yet more than 4 billion of the world's people are oral learners. According to the 2004 Lausanne paper "Making Disciples of Oral Learners," nearly 90 percent of the world's Christian workers serve among auditory learners and often use inappropriate, literacy-based communication styles.

ION seeks to equip mission agencies, churches, and individuals in effective oral strategies, and its mobilization of vastly different agencies has already been a feat in itself. "The amazing thing is we've all come with an attitude of what we can give, not what we can get," Willis says. "We've all agreed to leave our logos and egos at the door."

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March 2006

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