What is OLI?

Oral Learners Initiative

How it all began:

“Let’s not ask God to bless what we are doing, rather,
let’s find out what God wants done, and do it with all of our hearts!”

There are moments in ministry when diverse isolated events come together to reveal God’s purpose and plan.  While in Gujarat India I experience one of those Holy Spirit ‘ah ha’ moments.  We had traveled for a few hours out to one of the tribal villages with District Superintendent Dr. Marcus.  Our intent was to help him set up a distribution center for digital evangelism files to be used on the congregation’s mobile phones.  As crazy at it might seem, mobile phones are everywhere, including in the tribal villages of India.  The files would be copied onto Micro SD cards to be inserted into the mobile phones.

Along the bumpy twisting narrow road Dr. Marcus began to tell us about the church we would be visiting.  He had planted the church 30 years earlier and now it was one of the largest in his district.  He said we might want to keep our eyes open as a tiger was reported in the area stealing the villager’s chickens. Marcus now had my undivided attention. He told me of the incredible miracles that had happened in this village.  People had been healed and even raised from the dead.

Then he dropped the bombshell.  Almost all of the pastors in this tribal area had minimal education and some were illiterate.  None of them would meet the educational standards to attend Bible College. I was shocked.  How had they become pastors?  Where had they received their training?  Dr. Marcus explained a very painful process of mentoring and apprenticeship.  He had spent years working with them.  But now, as he was pastoring many miles away, it was not longer feasible for him to travel the great distances each week. Yes, there were strong pastors in this one tribal area, but there was nothing in place to train new illiterate pastors. Unless the Holy Spirit performed a miracle, there would be very few new tribal pastors.

My heart suddenly dropped.  The stories of miracles and church growth among the tribals had lifted my heart, but this news caused me to become introspective and solemn. Then, it happened.  Some would later tease that a bounce in the road lad suddenly jarred my thinking. But I felt the Holy Spirit quickened my mind and in a moment, random puzzle pieces suddenly clicked together. – A similar need had been expressed in Africa – digital files and mobile phones – new OLI missionaries who had a many years experience in Christian education. All of these concepts began to flow together.

This was a global need. People needing pastoral training, but unable to attend Bible College because they were functionally illiterate.  The traditional model of remote correspondence education would not work with the illiterate.  They had to hear the lessons, and not just hear a text read out loud, but hear in their oral tradition of story telling.

Micro SD memory cards could be the solution. After all, wasn’t that just what we were doing with our distribution of digital files on Micro SD cards? What if we combined the concept of digital files for mobile phones with pastoral training courses designed for oral learners?  Suddenly the pieces became a single well knit solution.

Although I knew that this was from the Holy Spirit, I was a little anxious as I shared the idea with Dr. Marcus.  I should have known better.  What the Holy Spirit inspires is God ordained.  Dr. Marcus immediately recognized the implications of  the concept.  His first question was, “Who will create the lessons for us?”  Now the Holy Spirit does not call one to a task without empowering them to accomplish it.

The Holy Spirit had led missionaries Drs. Paul and Barbara Parks to join the OLI team.  Barbara had set up a Bible College in Indonesia and had written many courses.  Hmmmmm.  Could this be the Holy Spirit’s empowerment?

The pieces continued to fall into place.  One week later I was in Jaipur, India with my friend Rajnish Jacob who is the District Superintendent of Rajasthan.  We were there to continue setting up the Micro SD digital file distribution network.  I mentioned to Rajnish the idea that Dr. Marcus and I were exploring.  “I have someone you must meet.”  Rajnish said with a big smile on his face.  The next day I was led into the very narrow alleys of a slum in Jaipur.  This is where the Bhat community lived.  They were the puppeteers and entertainers of the Rajas of old.  Now, mostly illiterate, they were street performers which sold marionettes in the markets.  I was led into a very small room maybe 7′ wide and 10′ long.  This was a church.  Perhaps the only church within a Bhat community in all of India.  Pintu is the pastor of this church.  He is an illiterate puppeteer who loves God with all of his heart.  Pintu desperately wants to learn all he can to pastor his small congregation.  But he is illiterate.
Mixed emotions flooded my heart as I sat and chatted with Pintu.  My heart broke for his condition and poverty.  But my heart soared at his calling and commitment. Through Pintu the Holy Spirit added an exclamation mark to the need for Bible based pastoral training for the illiterate.

Thus was born the vision to create  the Oral Learners Bible Institute.”

“Oral Learners Initiative are doing what is necessary to make sure that this desperately needy part of the global population get to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.”

-by Robb Hawks, Director of OLI

“What an opportunity to tell the story of the Gospel in a manner that                              people can receive it.”

Dr. Glen Burris, General Superintendent, Foursquare Gospel Church

“I am so glad someone is taking the initiative to reach oral learners.”

Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent, Wesleyan

“You are welcome to India.  Even beggars are using their cell phones!”

Dr. David Mohan, General Superintendent, A/G India

“The Oral Learners Initiative that’s bringing the Gospel to people who could never receive it in the traditional way.”

Matthew Barnett, Dream Center 

“The Oral Learners Initiative spreading the Gospel to people around the world.”

Mark Burnett & Roma Downy, Producers “Son of God” Film

“I would like to invite the Oral Learners Initiative to Pakistan.”

Haroon Bhatti, National Leader Foursquare Church Pakistan

“I love what the Oral Learners Initiative is doing.”

Dr. Leonard Sweet,Professor, Drew University 

“But today, the use of a cell phone, so that people can hear the Gospel, respond, and get saved.”

Dr. Elmer Towns, Co-Founder, Liverty University 

“Creative, Integrity”

Dr. Michael Knight, Covenant Community Church 

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