Adventures in Storytelling Evangelism: “The Story of a Nail”

The cover of a well-used copy of “The Story of a Nail” curriculum, n.d. (Small Collection 113).

Storytelling is a ubiquitous tool in evangelism efforts—The Archives’ collections are replete with examples of evangelists, missionaries, and lay preachers wielding the power of simple narratives to explain the Christian gospel. While the most famous example of storytelling evangelism might be The Jesus Film (1979), sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, many parachurch organizations have developed their own curricula for communicating biblical stories or theological concepts with dance, music, puppets, posters, flannelgraph, mime, and more.

This May, the Archives features “The Story of a Nail,” an evangelism kit using a simple narrative and illustrations to present the story of the crucifixion. Originally developed for radio broadcast by Bob Pierce, founder of both Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision, “The Story of a Nail” was later published as a pamphlet with eight illustrated panels. The pamphlet includes tips and techniques for presenting “The Story of a Nail” to Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible School audiences, and other groups using the “flash card” method to match the colorful panels to narrative cues. Presenters are encouraged to memorize the KJV scripture verses in advance and to maintain eye contact throughout the story.

The pamphlet relates the “true story” of missionary Hubert Mitchell and his attempts to communicate the gospel to the Kubu people of Sumatra in 1937. Likely published in the late 1950s, the text exhibits the paternalistic attitudes of its day, describing the indigenous population as “primitive” and “uncivilized” people, “extremely shy and isolated but quite peaceable.” Alongside the narrative, the pamphlet also includes a brief profile of Sumatra, describing its climate, flora, fauna, and indigenous cultures in idyllic terms, and mistakenly locates the island “300 miles due east of Borneo” rather than west.

Pic 1
Illustration panel no. 1 from the “Story of a Nail” curriculum.

Presented as an inspirational example of God’s goodness and provision, “The Story of a Nail” is not only an example of effective evangelistic storytelling used in children’s classes but is also illustrative of how many mid-century American evangelicals imagined  global missions efforts. “The Story of a Nail” pamphlet cover states the curriculum is “produced in the interest of missionary education,” and the curriculum underscores the difficulties of cross-cultural communication but also perhaps reinforcing an idealized and simplistic view of postwar Western missionary “success” on the global mission field.

“The Story of a Nail” narrative text and accompany images are presented in full below.

Second page.01
Second page.02
Third page.01
Third page.02
Pic 8
Illustration panel no. 8.

“The Story of a Nail” is held in Small Collection 113.  The Archives holds other records relating to Bob Pierce’s ministry in east and Southeast Asia, including his controversial 1961 Tokyo Crusade, in Collection 318: Papers of L. Nelson Bell, Collection 221: Ephemera of Campus Crusade for Christ, Collection 165: Records of the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies, Collection 338: World Evangelical Fellowship, and Collection 48: Records of Youth for Christ, USA.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s