A shoe-less boy trained to be a church planter

Our small team walked down a small path that wound from the street to the front of an indigenous home. The tattered door hung from the clay walls. A thatched roof packed tightly over the sun baked walls guarded us from the night. We sat down on wooden planks and a hay mattress fashioned into a bed. The earthen walls and the black skin of our hosts blended into one indistinguishable backdrop on this dark African night. One small candle burnt low as the smell of late-night coffee and roasted home-grown grains swept in from the backroom.

Our voices and the voices of our two coworkers and interpreters were the only ones with a language we could understand. The rest blurred into a happy chatter occasioned by the laughter and cries of small children.

A boy approached one of our interpreters. “He wants to tell you a story,” the interpreter relayed to us. We agreed. The boy proceeded to perfectly recite a story from the Gospel of Mark. The room was filled by four missionaries, three pastors, a village elder and a half dozen other adults. But the boy never blinked in his telling of the story in front of this “impressive” audience. The story spoke of a man terrorized by demons who was healed through his encounter with Jesus. After telling the story, the boy walked all of us through a set of questions his father had taught him to ask whenever he had a group willing to listen.

“What do you like about the story?” the boy asked. “What do you not like or find confusing?”

He continued to ask us questions. He asked what we learned about mankind and what we learned about God through the story. He challenged us to apply it in our lives and to think about to whom we could pass the story. The boy probed us for answers and pushed us to share our thoughts.

We talked and learned together as brothers and sisters. That small thatched hut transformed into a holy sanctuary where together we learned from a story told to us by a nine-year-old boy. He was doing what he was trained to do. He didn’t know he was teaching. He didn’t know he was spiritually edifying or instructing. He was just sharing what he thought was the greatest story he had ever heard, the story of God.

The local village elder took the boy’s questions as a chance to share what he had learned from the story. He was a recent convert from Islam and was eager to learn more of the stories himself. A hush fell over the indigenous home because when a village elder speaks everybody listens. The man began to repeat a portion of the story he heard from the boy. But the boy grew uncomfortable. We didn’t know the language but we could tell there was something wrong. The boy’s youthful impatience bubbled over until he finally interrupted the elder. Shock and laughter blew through the crowd.

I asked what had happened. It turns out the elder had mis-remembered a point in the boy’s story and while his comments were by no means unorthodox, they betrayed he did not know the boy’s story as well as he thought he did. The boy’s father had taught him that God’s stories were the most important stories on earth and that when you tell one of God’s stories you must not let anyone change it. The boy was not willing to let even an elder change the story he told.

The elder joined in on the laughter and thanked the boy for his correction. In that one moment, the boy was more than a boy. He was a brother helping another brother to better follow Jesus. It just so happened that at that moment his brother was the village elder and he was a skinny shoe-less boy who knew one of God’s stories.

The boy learned this story, as he did dozens of others, from his father. His father learned it from a neighboring village elder. That elder had learned it from an Ethiopian Christian trained to plant churches using Chronological Bible Storying among his native people. The boy was using the same methods and stories that his father was using to plant churches. While the boy’s current audience happened to be all believers in Jesus, he continued to do what he did in any context: share the stories of God’s Word. To our amazement standing in front of us, was a nine-year-old boy who was trained to be a church planter.

This story was originally in a Missions Frontiers Magazine article

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