PART 2: Anatomy Of A Story
This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on telling our missions stories. For Part 1, click here.
Last week, we talked about why it’s so important to tell our missions stories to all who will hear. This week, we will look at the anatomy of a story. It might have been six months, a couple of decades, or even a half-century since your last English class, so this writing review is for everyone, not just the life-experienced ones.
Anatomy Of A Story
A story can be broken down into a fairly simple format: a beginning, a middle and an end. And most missions stories can be told/written in 3-4 paragraphs, allowing each paragraph to hold one of those three segments.
The beginning sets the stage and paints a picture in the mind of the reader. It includes the main character with a name (or names), if possible (whenever it doesn’t bring any security risks to the community). Next, include the location: the nation and community where it took place and whether it was a home, church, street, school or a heart etc. - even include the condition of this space in a handful of words so that readers/learners can visualize it. The beginning also introduces the “problem to be solved,” the character flaw to be overcome, a previous mindset that is about to be turned upside-down by the Holy Spirit, a malady that someone is suffering, or a roadblock facing the community. But don’t give it all away yet! Just give us the “before” picture.
The middle builds up the action. Here is where you show the complications of the problem. The history or the explanation of the thing that seems insurmountable. (i.e. prayed for years; no history of Jesus in their life; location, distance, or transportation issues; things that kept going wrong; or how entrenched in a mindset one has been over a lifetime and what it might cost a person to change.)
The ending brings resolve. Show the reader how God came through in the specific ways that were meaningful to the main character(s). (God is always going to be the ultimate main character who receives glory in a properly built story, even if He was not introduced as the main character earlier). There is always something to be learned from a story, so make a clear connection after the healing, the mindset-change, or whatever resolve is involved in your story. If you need an extra paragraph to bring in that element, go ahead. You can think of it as the old-fashioned “moral of the story” paragraph. (Just don’t call it that!)
Sometimes, if you have waited to tell a story for a while, you may be able to make bonus connections for your reader, similar to Paul Harvey’s “the rest of the story.” That is always a fun addition to see how God is continuously at work in the earth and is building on the previous things we have learned and experienced. If you want to call them testimonies to Christianize this storytelling experience, go ahead. It only adds to the experience when they are retold. Stories build relationship.
Verbal Processors & Story Writing
Many people are verbal processors. Those of you who know that you are might find it helpful to whip out your smartphone (or cassette recorder, if you’re really old school) and record yourself telling the story you want to share out loud. Transcribe the recording and then edit out any extra information, putting the information in the correct linear order if you forgot some detail and added it later.
Multiplying The Storytellers
Teaching your team members to write their story begins before you all leave home. Hopefully you are teaching cultural differences and awareness, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading, sensitivity to local people’s needs and other team member’s needs. Adding a single element of becoming aware of what the Holy Spirit is doing in one’s own heart can make a huge difference in how quickly one becomes aware of changes occuring in life and perceptions.
We know God is always at work in a culture and in individuals. Taking the time to remind your teams and yourselves of that Big Picture view of God’s unfolding story and connect it to the close-up view they will be experiencing before they leave for a mission trip is an easy way to increase sensitivity and awareness. For the discipleship that happens on these trips, the exercise of recognizing and recording stories of what God is doing is not only a form of worship, it is a long-lasting feature that provides evidence of growth. When we record and share those things we have learned with others, the growth factor continues to bear fruit.
Now hopefully we are all beginning to see how easy it is to share our stories. In Part 3, we will provide some practical tips, exceptions-to-the-rules, and some topics to practice your skills.
Kim Frolander started attending Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. She spent two years as a volunteer/missionary in Jerusalem, Israel, and upon coming home, she trained with Bubba Justice and led missions at IVC for 3.5 years. Now she uses her experience and degrees in research and writing, (formally known as English and History) for curating resources for Vineyard Missions. She has authored eight books and recently founded a non-profit ministry, the Ruth Israel Initiative.