The Power of Storytelling
by Brooke Luby
*Joshua had a flashy bright blue shirt that made him stand out from his friends. He was HIV positive, like the rest of the 13 kids he lived with, but it didn't stop him from running around, popping balloons, and constantly grinning. Years earlier, his mother was in the final stages of AIDS. She couldn't get treatment, and soon the pain became unbearable. She set fire to herself-burning alive in order to escape this world. He was three years old at the time.
*Pria looks like a Bollywood version of Shirley Temple with her bouncy black curls and infectious smile. She is six years old and the size of a three year old. When she was only two, her mom didn't want to take care of her and her brother anymore, so she decided to starve them.
She locked them in a mud hut and left them alone for weeks. They managed to survive on leaves that blew in under the door, and mud that washed in when it rained. Pria still goes by the nickname "baby" because of her size when she was rescued.
As I sit in these children's homes in India listening to these incredible stories, I feel humbled and honored. I am amazed God would choose me to be the recipient of the redemption and grace showing in these kids' lives.
The greatest gift anyone can give you is their story. In our Western "what's marketable" mentality, we immediately want to package up stories and sell them to people. That is what I am facing in India. I am here to learn people's stories, write them down, and hope that they will provide the spark needed to light a fire of public generosity.
But what if I can't convince anyone of anything? Does that mean I am a failure?
I came to India to try to change things. What I didn't expect (as in every other journey) was how much these stories would change me.
If our intent is to change people through our art, maybe we have it wrong. Maybe true art never has an agenda. What if people getting motivated, awakened, or stirred out of their apathy isn't my job? What if it was a side effect of a greater reality happening?
Perhaps the point is the storytelling, period. It is sacred by itself. The act of speaking out names and life events validate their existence. Putting them on paper says that they matter.
"The time is coming when everything will be revealed; all that is secret will be made public. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!" (Luke 12:2-3)
I believe storytelling is much more than an ancient art around a campfire, or a group of kids in a circle at the library. It is eternally important; it is spiritual warfare. The act of daring to speak out truth by putting it on paper is a brave one; it is lighting a candle where there was only darkness before. In doing this, we bring the kingdom of Heaven to Earth.
In the kingdom, shouting from a sunny rooftop what was only whispered in the darkness is poetry. It is aligning yourself with God's heart; it is entering into a battle you know you will ultimately be victorious in.
Storytelling also does something to the storyteller. If you allow it to get under your skin, in really hearing of someone's tragedy, you are in a small way entering into their suffering with them. This is what Jesus did. In the same way, you get to hope with them and rejoice in their victories. I have found myself trying to avoid this in India. Some of the stories are just too painful. But I think in avoiding it, we miss out on life, because we avoid the beauty within the redemption. In the end, we always cheat ourselves when we attempt to avoid suffering-it is futile.
Madeleine L'Engle says it best in Walking On Water, "The artist cannot hold back from entering into another's pain. It is impossible, because writing, or any other discipline of art, involves participation in suffering, in the occasional stabbing of joys that come from being part of the human drama."
The redemptive lives of Pria and Joshua may never be best selling books. But now, because you have read this, one more person has entered into their stories. As any good story, it spreads and multiplies one person at a time, through a whisper in an ear, a chat over coffee, a shout from the rooftop. Light enters into dark corners, truth beats deception, and what was unknown is suddenly known.
What stories are hidden behind those old eyes?
That face, scarred by burns?
If I could decipher your foreign tongue, I would.
If I could open your heart and read it like I book, I would.
What brought you here, to this time and place,
To intersect your life and mine?
Have you ever found love?
What are your dreams, your hopes?
How do you see the world?
In a moment, a flash, a look, a nod,
Tears flowing at the same time
I know, perhaps beyond all differences
We are made of the same ingredients,
Just slightly re-arranged
Maybe 8,000 years from now
We will be neighbors
Then we'll sit on my front porch, drinking wine
And I'll finally hear your story
(*Names have been changed)