How Oral Bible Storytelling is empowering women worldwide.
In regions across the world, women are devalued, objectified, and persecuted. Even so, some women are choosing to speak up on behalf of Jesus. The Esther Initiative trains women to be oral Bible storytellers who then train other women to do the same. Forging ahead in faith, theirs is now a story of hope, a story worth repeating.
“You can’t take my bike—I’ll give it to you.”
When the would-be thief tried to steal Abigail’s bike, he probably did not expect her to offer it to him. Whether touched by her generosity or confused by her confidence, the man left Abigail alone (without taking the bike).
For Abigail, threats to her safety and property were not new, but the ability to fearlessly confront a threat? Well, that was new.
As a young girl, Abigail didn’t like attending church services. She sat in the back and never paid attention. She disliked the singing and couldn’t understand the Bible in the national language. Her brother would scold her for her inattentiveness, but it never stopped him from dragging her with him each week.
One week, something the pastor said finally stuck: “Jesus will take those who believe in him, and those who do not believe, he will not take.”
Abigail was confused, but soon after, she dreamt that Jesus took her parents, her brothers, and her. She woke not knowing what the dream meant, but she felt certain it was connected to the pastor’s words. She prayed that God would help her know what to do. When she opened her Bible, she felt led to read John 3:16. From there, her thirst for Jesus only grew.
She attended Bible college and married a believer who went on to become a pastor. Eventually, she became a member of the Esther Initiative, where she was trained by women to share Bible stories of God’s love, mercy, grace, and power.
Through the telling of Bible stories in her heart language, Abigail’s knowledge of Jesus—and her love for him—have grown. Now, these stories of God’s compassion, even for people whom the world deems lowly, help her walk in confidence and share her hope with others.
Abigail rides her bike from village to village telling Bible stories. Each Friday, as many as 130 children gather to hear God’s Word spoken to them in their heart language. The children share their burdens with Abigail, and she prays for them and their families.
In the midst of threats of persecution, Abigail’s faith is strengthened.
“I will never leave Jesus,” Abigail says. “Until my last breath, I will serve him with my life.”
In Asia, a woman named Rehka faced derision and shame because she had no children, even after seven years of marriage. Then a trained storyteller, Sister Suresha, shared the story of Abraham and Sarah with her.
As you can imagine, the story resonated with Rheka. Hearing Sarah’s laughter at the idea of a son, and the ways she and Abraham tried to force God’s hand, gave Rheka a new perspective.
She realized that her hope was in God, not in whether or not he chose to provide children. She began to understand the possibility of a spiritual family and the way in which all who believe in Jesus become descendents of Abraham. Even in the face of mocking neighbors, she clung to the hope that anything is possible for God. She found joy, and she persisted in asking God for a child.
As Sister Suresha continued to share Bible stories with Rheka, Rheka’s faith grew. And, in a joyous turn of events, God has since blessed Rheka with a son!
Training Women to Train Women
In places where women are prevented from receiving an education and are discouraged from interacting with men, the Esther Initiative is providing them with the biblical wisdom they need to transform their communities.
Through oral Bible stories, women who have never learned to read are receiving the truth of the gospel, and they are delivering it faithfully to the next generation of disciples.
Because the program is run by women for women, even those who have experienced severe trauma at the hands of men are finding comfort in the Scriptures. Instead of shrinking back in fear, these women are now leading their families to Jesus and facing social issues head on.
Since the Esther Initiative started in Ethiopia in 2016, the initial goal of 25 trained storytellers has been surpassed in a big way. Now, more than 7,000 believers have learned to tell these Bible stories, over 4,000 non-believers have heard them, and around 700 people have become followers of Jesus.
A field project manager there put it this way: “When we observe the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t differentiate the sexes. Both men and women are called to share the gospel. Let us continue equipping people regardless of sex, educational background, economic status, or professional training.”
The Esther Initiative is one of many strategies we and our partners employ to spread the gospel to every people group. We praise God for the freedom his Word brings to all who believe, and for the work he is doing among women in Esther Initiative clusters everywhere. The gospel message is a message of freedom, and the Esther Initiative provides a platform of hope for many women who may never have had an opportunity to learn about the saving truth and love of Jesus. When they do, they are then empowered to step out in faith, sharing the hope they’ve found with others in their communities. Glory to God!