Well, back to my reflections on preaching Noah cross-culturally at TriEak Parmeshwar Mandali (TPM), the Nepali-speaking church that I pastor in the Chicago area. This is part 4, if you’re counting.
If you remember, I preached through Noah over the course of 2 Sundays. We used improvisational drama to aid our story-telling during the first week. However, I knew that we would need to do a quick recounting of the story during the second Sunday as well. I want to share today how we did that and a couple considerations.
I began my preparation by looking at the Chronological Bible Storying version of the Noah story in Nepali that has been produced by Orality Strategies. At first, I thought I would simply play the MP3 of this story for the congregation as a quick way to review the narrative. However, as I looked at the Orality Strategies (OS) version of the story, I noticed some potential trouble spots.
The first is that the OS version doesn’t say anything about Noah’s faith. I understand that this is in keeping with the Genesis version of the story. However, I think that a fuller Biblical understanding of Noah requires us to at least mention Noah’s faith (Heb. 11:7). Plus, I feel the concept of faith needs to be emphasized as much as possible. This is perhaps not a concern particular to Nepalis, Hindus, or South Asians; but it is easy for me to imagine someone listening to the Noah story for the first time and assuming that Noah was chosen because of his sinlessness.
To remedy this, I edited the text of the OS Noah story to include a sentence that (translated from Nepali) goes something like this, “In that generation there was one man who had faith in God’s name. His name was Noah.”
The second issue revolved around the issue of “eating blood.” You may not remember, but towards the end of the Noah account in Genesis, God grants that Noah can eat animals just as he had previously been able to eat plants. However, God gives him the command that he shouldn’t eat meat with its “lifeblood still in it” (Gen. 9:4). Interestingly enough, the composers of the OS version of the Noah story decided that in summarizing four chapters of Biblical text that it was important to include this command. Well, they’ve not actually included the command, but interpreted it as, “When you kill them for food, do not eat their blood.”
Believe it or not, this can pose a significant problem in your Bible storying to Bhutanese and Nepali peoples. The subject of eating blood is actually a point of tension and controversy between Nepali Christians and Hindus. Some Hindus use blood to make a kind of soup in generally believe that it is good for your health. On the other hand, I’ve heard Christians claim that this is a Satanic practice that one must give up in order to follow Jesus. Knowing that this controversy was real, I decided to remove the line about not eating blood from the summary we used. I felt that, in all likelihood, if I left it in, that would be the only issue people wanted to focus on and we would miss the larger and more significant points of the Biblical story. I thought it better to save the “eating blood” controversy for another time.
So, my revised version of the Noah story is here. Please note that I’m not revising the Bible, I’m revising a summary of Noah’s story for chronological Bible storying. If you don’t know the difference between storying and reading the Bible outloud, I suggest taking a look at this site.
Let me close by articulating clearly an important lesson in all this. As you communicate the story of the Scripture to your friends from other cultures, take time to carefully and prayerfully consider how the story will sound to them. This will be challenging to do, but it is essential. It isn’t always a bad thing for the Biblical story you share to be heard differently that you expect or for certain themes to resonate with your audience in surprising ways. However, you want to be careful that God’s word and spiritual truth are not being lost in translation.
A friend of mine once told me of an experience he had of sharing about the “Parable of the Sower” in an African agricultural context. He spoke of the seeds falling on different kinds of soils and producing different results. The women who were listening completely missed the point of the story, “Well, isn’t that just what happens when you send a man to sow the seeds? He’ll never be careful, just throwing seeds all over the place!”