Earlier this summer, I was privileged to work with a group of migrant Nigerian women and their babies in Morocco. Their personal circumstances were overwhelming. They had traveled to Morocco under the failed promise of opportunity to work in Europe to help support their families back home. After torturous travel, they arrived to learn there is no ready passage across the open water for illegal immigrants whose means of support is begging on the streets.
I could detail the horrors of human trafficking, but surely that can remain implied. My point is to emphasize the importance of story, ageless encounters with the Creator of the universe that assure every generation. During my time with these young women I focused on Genesis 21:1-21 and the story of Hagar who along with her son Ishmael was forced out of their home and into the dessert. They were given basic provisions, which seemed to soothe Abraham’s conscience, but did not sustain them for very long.
The women completely resonated with the feeling of Hagar being alone in the dessert and crying out to God asking that she not have to see her son die. Hagar’s story was in large part their story. They loved acting it out as bibliodrama and the most dramatic of all was the woman who portrayed God. Her voice was warm and powerful as she instructed Hagar to open her eyes and see the well that would refresh and sustain them. She knew the experience first hand as she too had been in a dry and desolate place and felt the power of God helping her to survive.
As these women acted out the scripture, they embodied the story. They experienced the have and have not dichotomy of Sarah and Isaac vs. Hagar and Ishmael. They embraced the fact that no matter what happens between people, God cares for all people, including them. They were eager, adamant in echoing this point and were steadfast in this knowledge.
Likely, I did the learning that day. The women seemed well acquainted with the care of God despite the abuses of life, even if the names of Hagar and Ishmael were unfamiliar. They loved sharing their story through Hagar’s and returned to the church on Sunday, despite inconvenience and challenge, to reenact this story for the congregation. They knew they could minister through this ancient story they had claimed. Sharing the story allowed them to share their story. Likewise, all in the congregation had reason to see where they fit as well.
When you think about preaching, think about what story will help people connect to God’s love for them. Storytelling is gospel preaching in the finest tradition of an expert Galilean preacher who was known as quite the storyteller. Honor him with the gift of your imagination.