Usually drama is seen as entertainment in seeker-friendly services, for children and maybe to facilitate evangelism.
Few people see the potential of using drama in a sermon or discipleship. It took me some time too. As a child I already loved and was good, at acting. Later I studied at university and became a drama therapist. As a missionary I became frustrated that my Bible studies didn’t seem to touch people’s hearts, which made me start to consider drama as a method to communicate theology.
I reminded myself that I had learned to change people’s lives by drama, so why not use the power of drama to change and deepen people´s faith lives? Oh, what a world of adventure and spiritual discoveries started to open itself when I walked down the path of using drama for teaching, discipling and evangelism!
Mongolia is a shame culture, and the same scenario occurred many times: someone got offended and left the church when a certain sin was mentioned. Small words were seen as pointing fingers and there were many topics not addressed for harmony’s sake; but sanctification suffered. Here drama was a wonderful tool. Because the stage was neutral it was possible to discuss what the people in a play had done and undergone. We used the interactive “forum theatre” to show ungodly behaviour and its consequences, and searched together for solutions to handle situations differently. People talked about the plays for weeks; some came to us afterwards in tears, confessing, wishing to change. Some realized how many decisions a day holds, and that we can honour or dishonour God with those decisions. People from various countries told me that my performances had touched them deeply and changed their views on matters of life and faith.
Why does drama have such a power to change lives? People learn best by experience, even other people’s experience. Drama is visual and therefore is remembered longer, and through emotional identification it touches the head as well as the heart. People love stories - that’s why they tend to remember the illustration from a sermon - and drama tells wisdom without pretending to know better than the one receiving.
There is one limitation to drama. Since it heavily depends on language and cultural associations it works best when done by locals. Therefore, a world tour with my plays would be entertaining but not life-changing. This is why I only perform in my own culture; and most of my work is training locals, and missionaries who work with locals.
What about co-workers? I wish and pray for them. But drama in mission and for discipleship is pioneer work and there are neither role models nor clear job descriptions - yet. Anyone who would love to join me will begin an adventure which includes question marks and uncertainty.
Birte is a drama therapist and the Arts Release drama specialist.