Millions of Christians in the Global South need help to understand the Bible as a whole, with Jesus as the central character and the gospel of grace as the main message. They need to see that the Bible is not a thousand different separate stories, but God's one story told a thousand ways, and that it is all about Jesus and what he did on the cross.
Most of these Christians don't have the funds or literacy skills to access traditional brick and mortar Bible Colleges or distance courses. Their church leaders also often have little formal training and formal skills, yet are expected to be the source of Bible and Gospel knowledge for their members, and help them live God's way. But Global South Christians and church leaders often come from a strong oral culture and have the strengths and learning skills that are inherent in oral cultures.
The Solution: An Interactive Audio Soap Opera
There is a great need to deliver Gospel grounded Bible learning that is free or extremely cheap. It shouldn't involve travelling long distances or days away from home. It needs to be relevant, and not focused on reading and writing, internet access, or a computer.
"God's Way" is an interactive audio drama, using mobile phone. It covers the whole Bible through familiar characters who experience life issues that illustrate Bible passages and stories. It's like a radio soap opera that also teaches God's Gospel. Each episode presents a key point in the Bible and is followed up with interactive questions and helpful explanations. It's fun and engaging, and will keep people coming back.
"God's Way" matches the oral culture with the available technology of Global South Christians. It is popular, accessible and affordable.
Engaging. We all love stories, and it's a particularly natural format for those in a strong oral culture. God's Way would sound very much like a radio soap opera, with the proven dramatic devices used to help the audience learn. Further, it's a social activity, completed in groups. There are game elements included also with the quizzes and the potential for recognition and reward for groups achieving high scores.
Oral culture fit. The drama requires very little literacy to participate. Indeed, a story is a natural way for this audience to learn. Our research has shown that soap operas are very popular in places like Africa, across gender.
Format fit. If we want to teach the big story of the Bible, it's natural to use narrative to do this.
Technology fit. It fits with the technology learners have access to. The majority of poor Christians in the Global South already have a computer: the mobile phone. This is indeed a personal, mobile, and networked computer, as they have unrestricted access to it, they have it wherever they go, and it connects them to the world via a two-way communications device. Combining this radio broadcasting, This opens up exiting opportunities for education, given the right format.
Flexible configurations. The drama and panel audio can each be distributed via different channels: mobile voice network, radio, web, and MP3 players such as MegaVoice. Broadcasting the 5 minute episodes on the radio while podcasting the panel for those interested may be a cost-effective format. Using the mobile voice network, while incurring higher variable costs, would be a low cost of narrowcasting where there is little internet access.
Low production cost. Audio is much cheaper to produce than video, which lowers the upfront costs (and thus risks), as well as lowering the barriers to translation into other languages.
Culturally neutral. Clothing, skin colour, housing, etc., will be visually inserted into the drama by the listener's imagination. This makes the drama usable across cultures.
Multitasking. The drama can be listened to while walking or cooking. This would be welcome by those poor people with less control over their time.
Equips leaders. Church leaders could be equipped by providing extra support and interaction when a church engages as a whole. Although the drama can benefit individuals, this could be particularly effective when a church engages as a whole. Indeed, we hope that individuals on the ground who engage with the drama might be the catalyst for their church partnering as a whole.
Martin Olmos is the Educational Technologist at Moore Theological College, in Sydney, Australia. He developed the initial concept and brought together a team to develop it. He has several years' experience in designing technology to support learning. He is passionate about using technology in innovative ways to provide theological education to christians in developing countries. He was awarded the 2008 Platinum IMS Learning Impact Award, the top ranked entry across the world. He has been researching the potential of mobile phones for education for over five years. He is an author of several academic papers in his field, with educational analytics as one of his interests. LinkedIn Profile
Dr Joe Radkovic was a CMS missionary in Kenya for over 10 years in Korogocho, a large slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where he set up a maternity clinic and taught theology to the local pastors. Prior to Kenya, he worked as a doctor and managed a medical practice.
Tim Roediger is our web developer and gamification expert. He is a Moore College graduate and has won several awards for his games.
Special thanks to our pilot episode actors (in order of appearance): Samuel Gates, Ruth Lee, Luke Foster, and Harry Martin.
Why would this audience listen to God's Way?
God's Way would be captivating entertainment. Life is tough for our intended audience, and a good story is a temporary way out. The format itself is very common in developing countries, popular across ages and gender. Further, Christians will desire to learn and grow, particularly if done together as a church. We just need to remove barriers and provide a format that is accessible to them. Lastly, God's Way would teach the Bible very differently to what they would usually hear, and simple curiosity combined with the joy of seeing the Bible come together would be compelling. When done as a whole church, learners would gain a level of recognition in their social context which they would value, even if not a traditional or formal 'credential'.
Although it may seem quaint to wealthy and sophisticated consumers of media in the west, audio has a number of advantages. It's much cheaper to produce, is more culturally neutral, it allows multitasking, and it can be delivered over a number of channels. Critically, it is cheaper for the audience to download over the web and can be enjoyed on the technology they have access to – the mobile phone. In the long term, however, there may be potential for a video dimension within God's Way's transmedia strategy.
God's Way would be produced in simple English, with voice talent specifically performing to a global audience. This is a great start, with translations done as feasible. There is a huge audience who can understand English in developing countries. Indeed, it is the official language in several African and Asian countries. Popular entertainment in particular is commonly heard in English, and many listeners would be keen to develop their understanding of it.
Having said this, we would be keen to translate God's Way where feasible, as it would certainly be an improvement for the audience. This could be done in stages. The panel discussion could be produced locally, in the local language, and play a contextualizing role. Simple adaptations, such as tweaking names and using local voices, would be helpful without a full translation. Lastly, the low production costs of audio make a full translation more feasible.
Isn't this 'second best' to a proper Bible course, such as Moore College's Introduction to the Bible or TEE?
This audience has no access to a traditional Bible course, due to poverty and lack of literacy. We do see God's Way as a pathway to more formal learning, but the first step must be achievable and affordable. Our vision is that, over the long term, a culture of biblical education would develop in a context where enrolling in a course is not even considered at the moment.
Can you really have entertainment that is educational?
Yes. We have researched this area and we're confident it can be done, although we see it as the pivotal question in this project. Our team includes an educational technologist with training in education theory and a media producer with much experience in telling stories to communicate biblical truth. The BBC has produced a number of educational dramas for UK and foreign audiences over many years. The Sabido Method has been used for years by the Population Media Centre to educate audiences on tough issues.
God's Way isn't meant to replace more formal theological education. Rather, it provides a first step in a pathway towards it.
Lastly, drama may indeed be the best way to change attitudes and learn a new way of seeing the Bible, which is needed more than mere factual knowledge.