Thursday, October 6, 2011

Godly Play in Russian

On Sunday I told a Godly Play story for the first time in Russian.  It was such a fun experience for me and an important "practice" session for an upcoming workshop that I will be doing in Irkutsk. Since I know the story like the back of my hand in German, telling it in Russian was actually a bit like writing with my left hand.  I am somewhat ambidextrous and use my left hand often, but writing with it is a different sensation that requires more concentration. And although I speak Russian very often here in Berlin, telling a Godly Play story requires more mental gymnastics than just having a normal conversation with someone.: )

My "guinea pig" was the five-year-old son of my dear friend, Irina, who was visiting from Munich. I told the Parable of the Good Shepherd and he seemed to enjoy the story and understand everything, even though I found out later from Irina that I had mispronounced the word for "parable" the entire time. (Good thing I'm practicing now!) I had to do the Wondering phase in German, however, because my own children had had enough at that point of sitting through something they didn't understand.

When asking for Irina's honest critique afterwards, she mentioned a couple of interesting things.  One was the choice of word for "shepherd". This translation uses a word in the Russian Bible from Psalm 23 (пастырь) that is different from the more commonly used word for "shepherd" (пастух).  Irina brought up the point that the average child on the street would not know the biblical word and might it not be better to use the more commonly used word?  Good question. I'm not sure.  One the one hand, children often hear words they don't know and figure them out from context.  In the Parable of the Good Shepherd, the children figure it out, because of the concrete illustrations in the story. Might not the older, less commonly used word add a bit of mystery to the story?  On the other hand, a primary element in GP is language development.  GP seeks to help children develop a language to express spiritual ideas.  In using an older word for shepherd, one could potentially run the risk of helping children develop a language that is unintelligible to the culture they live in. But my thoughts on this come from one living in a post-modern, western culture and not as one actually living in Russia. I'll be interested to hear what my friends in Russia think about this.

The other thing she brought up was the aspect of GP that seems to disturb many adults: that the storyteller intentionally does not look at the children during the story. The reason for this is to keep the focus on the story rather than on the storyteller. (For some great thoughts on this, see this post at Wonderful in an Easter kind of Way.) Though my friend understood this, she still thought it might be a good idea to make more eye contact with the children as a foreigner.  Since I will be helping to lead the children's worship service in Irkutsk, this is a good reminder that I need to think of a good way to break the ice with the kids before I begin the story.

I'll let you know how it goes with a larger group of Russian children.  I'm curious . . .

Have any of you had the opportunity to tell Godly Play stories in a foreign language?


  1. What a beautiful blog! Thanks for finding mine and coming to visit. No I have not tried much in foreign languages although I did live in Vienna for a while, but there I was just using basic German. My son is in seminary and learning Greek and Hebrew so it is fun to learn some through him.

  2. Thanks, Pamela! I've enjoyed watching you create, too.: )

  3. Thank you for linking to me! :) I love your solution that you would still avoid eye contact *during* the story, but use a lot of it in "forming the circle" before you begin the story. That sounds perfect to me.

    If Russian Christians do use the older word for shepherd when speaking of Jesus the Good Shepherd, then I would stick with it in the story. The GP-USA site says, "Godly Play provides children with a language to help them identify and express their spirituality so it can be explored and strengthened." and again, "The Godly Play approach teaches classical Christian language"

    In fact, my suggestion would be to consider highlighting the difference between the Good Shepherd and the Ordinary Shepherd, who runs away when the wolf comes. Surely you could say that the "пастух" runs away when the wolf comes, but the "пастырь" lays down his life to protect the sheep. Although I could be wrong, because I know no Russian, that would strike me as an ideal solution.

  4. Ladies, I'm joining in the discussion two years later))
    I shared the parable in Russian and that's exactly what I did - used the word пастырь for the Good Shepherd and пастух for the Ordinary Shepherd. It works just great and even 3 year olds can remember the older word. Though modern Russian Bible translations are used more and more lately, I still love the traditional Synodal translation and it is still the one most commonly used. And it uses the word пастырь.