Petro Olemusere, Maasai StoryRunners® participant, tells his family the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Bringing God's Word to People One Story at a Time

words by

Mike Chapman

photos and videos by

Ted Wilcox

Saved Through the Jaws of a Lion

Maasai warrior Yohana Sabaya hated Christians.

One day, 10 years ago, Yohana and a few friends approached a small church in the northeastern Tanzanian village of Meshili, searching for young Christians to fight. A pastor intercepted them and prevented Yohana and his friends from entering the church. Frustrated, they decided to go and fight a lion instead.

The next morning, brandishing spears, shields and bush knives, the group set out to find a lion. When they did, Yohana’s friends ran away, leaving him to face the lion alone. He stabbed at the lion with his spear, but the lion leaped on him, mauling his arm as he defended himself.

Lion Serengeti Tanzania Many experts estimate that Serengeti National Park hosts the world’s largest lion population, around 3,000. Maasai herdsmen sometimes must defend their livestock from lion attacks.

The Maasai tribe is a tall, proud people from one of the last great warrior cultures. Clinging to their traditions in the face of change, these semi-nomadic farmers and cattle herders roam the East African countryside that straddles Tanzania and Kenya, between Lake Victoria and Mount Kilimanjaro.

They live in circular houses built by the women, made of mud, grass, wood, cow dung and, more recently, modern materials like tin, which is used in the roofs. The men build fences and sheds for their animals.

Maasai society is patriarchal: Male elders lead the community; men typically speak for women and make decisions for their families. Boys and girls are raised together until early adolescence. Teen girls help with childcare and housework, while boys guard the cattle and protect their families and villages from wild animals.

When Yohana arrived at the hospital more than 24 hours later, he couldn’t believe he was still alive after his encounter. Lions had injured or killed several Maasai he’d known. How had he survived?


“It was just me and the lion, so I knew that it was God himself who had saved me.”

 Yohana Sabaya

After three months in the hospital, Yohana sought out a friend, an elderly Christian man, who mentored him, teaching him about God and leading him to become a follower of Jesus. Within two years, Yohana became a pastor in the town of Arkaria. “My great desire,” he says, “[is] to tell others about God, who healed me from the mouth of a lion.”

Pastor Yohana once faced off against a lion.  Now he and his fellow pastor friends face a different kind of challenge.


“Maasai people are Oral Preference Learners. They may have a Bible, but most won't read it.”

 Todd Kerns, StoryRunners Director of Story Strategy
Maasai in traditional dress near the Serengeti National Park A Maasai herdsman in traditional clothing and carrying a staff walks past a herd of giraffes.
Home village of participants Pastor Elisha Laizer and Petro )in blue Pastor Emmanuel Laizer also serves as a Maasai translator with the StoryRunners® School of Storying. Here, he cares for his family’s cattle in their boma, a typical Maasai family compound.

A New Strategy

To help meet this need, StoryRunners®, Cru®’s oral storytelling ministry, teamed up with Cru’s church-planting ministry, Global Church Movements. Together, they’re resourcing local African churches so that people like Yohana can “provide the Word of God through oral Bible stories that are easily transferable in a culture where they learn through the spoken word instead of the written word,” explains Mark Steinbach, director of StoryRunners.

StoryRunners hosts four-week Schools of Storying (SOS) all over the world, where local pastors and church members gather to develop 42 Bible stories in the language of different people groups. Each story produced is biblically faithful, orally reproducible, naturally told and appropriate to the local culture.

Petro in his home village.


While attending the first Tanzania School of Storying, Gideon Mzonya, national director of Cru’s LIFE Ministry (as Cru is known in Africa), realized the potential of the storytelling approach. “Those coming to develop the stories can also be equipped to do evangelism and start churches,” he says.

Gideon recruited 10 recent Tanzanian college graduates — five men and five women — to attend the School of Storying and be developed to become SOS trainers themselves. They formed what’s known as the “A Team.”

In February 2022, with help from American StoryRunners staff, the A Team led Yohana and 19 other Christians through the first Maasai SOS. This hands-on experience prepares the A Team to lead more independent training of its own, according to Mark Steinbach.

portraits of particpants and A team members Maasai StoryRunners® participants gather in front of Mount Meru. This 14,980-foot dormant volcano is Tanzania’s second-highest mountain after Mount Kilimanjaro.
A team member Joshua leads Maasai participants in Storying A Team member and trainer Justice Kagiti (center in light purple shirt) guides participants Grace (left), Helena (in blue) and Neema (right) through the first step of the story development process. They listen to an audio recording of the Scripture passage two to three times, record the key details and then retell it in a way that it can easily be told again.
Maasai participants training, recording conference School of Storying participants Helena (left) and Suzanna listen to stories.
Maasai participants training, recording conference Participants use drawing and storyboarding to develop a story and learn the process.
Maasai participants training, recording conference Having developed and learned Bible stories, participants Suzanna (left in yellow wrap) and Jack (right in green shirt) practice telling them to one another.
Maasai participants training, recording conference Pastor Yohana Sabaya practices one of his stories with his team.
Maasai participants training, recording conference In a makeshift recording studio, A Team members (left) help a StoryRunners® participant (right) with the process of recording each of the 42 Bible stories.
portraits of particpants and A team members Joshua (left) and Daudi, School of Storying participants, practice the “adumu” — high jumping — to demonstrate their strength and maturity, especially to women.
portraits of particpants and A team members StoryRunners® Maasai participants (from left) Daudi, Ruth, Samweli, Petro and Jack. [Editor’s note: Jack is actually this participant’s first name.]
participants minister and share stories on the street Suzanna (bending down), Sara (in orange) and Helena (in green and red) share a Bible story with a man in the Arusha community, where the SOS training is held.
participants minister and share stories on the street Lazaro (center) and Samweli (right) share a Bible story with a man in the Arusha community.
Arusha culture and views In Maasai communities it is common for older girls to care for the younger children.
participants minister and share stories on the street StoryRunners® participants Sara (right) and Helena (center) share a Bible story with a woman in the Arusha community.
participants minister and share stories on the street Sara (in blue stripes), Helena (left), and Grace (in orange and black) pray over a man in the Arusha community after sharing a Bible story with him.
A stretched earlobe is a symbol of wisdom and respect for both men and women. A stretched earlobe is a symbol of wisdom and respect for both men and women. Yohana explains that rattles and dangles attached to the ears shake during dancing, drawing more attention to the dance.
participants minister and share stories on the street Yohana (center) and Grace (left) share a Bible story with a man in the Arusha community. “Every evening, we got [the] chance to go outside and share with other people,” Yohana says. “I was lucky to share with some people the Bible stories, and they accepted Jesus, and I thank God for that.”

One evening during the School of Storying (SOS), participant Sara Lukas shared a Bible story with a group of villagers. “Why are you telling this story?” said a man listening. “You're a woman, you should stay home.”

Sara, a wife and mother of four children, pushed back against this traditional cultural norm, explaining that women in the New Testament modeled sharing these same stories in their time. Some of the men, including SOS participants, agreed with Sara and encouraged her to continue.

As chairperson of the women’s ministry and secretary at her church in Engekarit village, Sara is a natural leader. She was thrilled to learn the 42 Bible stories and stepped up to guide the five women going through the SOS training. “Now we know how to help many people,” she says. “Elders and younger generations, old men and women, and those who are unable to go to school. Now we’ve got enough tools to help them [with] how to know our God.”

At one point during the training week, Sara called her uncle on the phone. She shared the story of how the prophet Isaiah spoke God’s words to the Israelites saying, “How long will you stay in darkness?” Isaiah quickly followed this probing question with a promise: God would send a sign, a light, a Savior. Sara’s uncle was so intrigued that she was able to share more, and he accepted Christ as his Savior.

She couldn’t wait to finish the program and return home to share her Bible stories with more family, neighbors and local women’s groups. “I know they will receive it,” she says, “because now I know how to approach them.”

Upendo shares her story.
Maasai participants training, recording conference Participants practice acting out the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the end-of-project community ceremony and outreach.
participant ceremony and celebration Participants perform songs and dances for the closing StoryRunners® ceremony.

By the end of the four weeks, the 20 participants shared stories 102 times and 86 people accepted Christ. Each participant committed to start three story groups in his or her home region. Together, the participants set a lofty goal of beginning 60 new Bible studies among the Maasai people, each of which could become a church plant. While leading his church, Yohana intends to plant three new churches in different parts of Maasai territory.

The A Team has since led several other Schools of Storying in Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia.


“We want to see such teams go not only in Africa but to Asia, South America, wherever the StoryRunners want to develop stories.” 

Gideon Mzonya, national director of Life Ministry

Gideon and his church planting team aim to raise up 6,000 church planters for 68,000 churches over 10 years in Tanzania. Meanwhile, the A Team will continue to play its part by training people through Schools of Storying to reach oral learners with Christ's love one story at a time.

Serengeti Safari  zebras Every year, in what’s called the Great Migration, 2 million zebras and 1.5 million wildebeests cross Maasai territory, traveling south across Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Next Steps

StoryRunners® brings the gospel to people in a way that meets them where they are. Consider how God might be inviting you to share God's love with the people in your life.


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