February 2009

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Singing Salvation Songs

by Sue Hall

Music to Fill Your Soul

How is the emerging church in this vast and diverse area of Africa engaging the musical soul of the women, men and children who love Jesus or who need to hear his story? Songs, poetry and other arts penetrate the heart of a people and individuals, with the potential to draw them to faith, or send mixed messages, which can drive them away. If Christianity is represented as a foreign religion by imported art forms, the gospel may not truly be good news in a local context. However, a song or a poem in the African context may be a way of presenting a message that would be offensive if spoken directly.

In a village in northern Ghana, a hundred Muslims came out to dance and sing along to the catchy Dagomba tune:

“This is the time when the kingdom of God is near,” sang the leader.

The rest of the group, Muslims included, picked up the refrain: “Repent and believe the good news.”

The local baamaya tune carried words from the Bible, which were written by local church members as a worship song. But the powerful message, celebrated in the open air with a local dance and musicians, reached out to the neighboring community that would never attend the little village church. Pastor Moses stood up to share a brief encouragement to his fellow Dagombas who are there to find out about Jesus, the one who brings God’s Kingdom near to us. Then the musicians launched into another spiritual song, calling and responding across the village square. On Sunday, a number of curious villagers turned up at the church to see what was happening. Tapes of Scripture were shared, a young woman read from the New Testament, the choir repeated some of the new Bible songs and a short drama put the sermon message on forgiveness into a locally-relevant situation about co-wives. The village guests left humming the songs, pondering the drama and considering Christ. Local art forms and music open the door for salvation messages to be effectively shared.

Something Good in the Church

As a minority in most parts of the region, surrounded by many who follow Islam or traditional African religions, new followers of Jesus can have a hard time becoming disciples who really know the Bible and live a life transformed by Christ. Music and art forms like drama and chanting can be powerful discipleship tools for young Christians. West and Central Africans prefer to receive and process information in non-written ways. In cities and in rural areas alike stories, conversation, songs, dramas, poems, dances and proverbs are deeply rooted in local culture. Local artwork on walls, CD and cassette covers, calendars and fabric prints are all creative ways to share and develop the good news message for a local audience.

Worship is something that should be intimately connected with the deepest part of our nature, being an offering of all that we are to the God who created us. Frequently foreign music styles (from neighboring Christian groups, or cultures even further away) have been introduced to new churches, and believers learn to worship in a way that they think is acceptable to God but which does not touch their hearts. Discovering that God desires for them to “sing a new song” from their own identity and culture to express their faith and worship is life-transforming. Rap, antelope horns, kundi harps and keyboards can all be employed in God’s praise, to the joy of His people. “I didn’t know that I should be able to understand what happens in church!” is a frequent response to new locally-created ways of worshipping Jesus. Blending traditional sounds with the new flavors of globalized music, in unique ways in each culture, leads to unique reflections of the God who created such beauty and diversity in the human world. As humans, our worship can only be partially appreciative of God’s nature, but cultural variations highlight different facets of His beauty.

All the Arts and So Much More

Of course, a great local-style song doesn’t stand on its own. It needs to be sung by a person with integrity, and shared as part of an eye-, ear- and heart-catching presentation of the good news. Artists who produce and share Christian messages need to have testimonies not only from their lips or paintbrushes, but also through lives lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, transformed to holiness that can be recognized by people around.

Let us pray and work so that God in Christ alone will be glorified among the peoples of West and Central Africa as a new song rises from their hearts, hands and lives!

From the Editor

by Keith Carey

One of the attributes of love that God teaches us is an ability to see the potential in fallen mankind. Christ looked at Peter, a loud-mouthed fisherman, and saw the “Rock” who would stand firm in His faith. God sent His angel to Gideon, a fearful farmer, and called him a man of valor.

Likewise, we can look to the peoples of Africa and see people anointed by God to glorify Him through art. Though we have used music as a theme in one previous issue, it only highlighted one facet of their unique talents. In this issue we will also talk about other forms of African art such as sculptures, paintings, jewelry, or dance.

Though some of these talents are now being used to glorify false gods, the Holy Spirit can use these same talents to glorify the One True God. Let us pray for His glory to be increased as we pray for these people who hold so much potential.