Monday, March 11, 2013


Uduhenzagire, mana!
Turaguhimbazaa, mana!

(Bless us, O God!
We need You!
We love You!
We worship You, God!)

As a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, the music of the global Church is an integral (and now expected) part of my course of study.  In our very first class session with Dr. Hawn, we started learning to sing the faith in Swahili, Shona, Zulu, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.  Thus, when I received the opportunity to serve as a Music and Worship Intern for New Day Upendo, a micro-community meeting at  and engaging with an apartment complex in Dallas where many African refugees are placed upon arrival to the United States, I felt like I was going in with an advantage. Sure, there would be things to learn, but hey, I already know 10+ songs in a variety of African languages, and  we could at least start there while I build relationship and learn from what they've been singing.  

Well, I learned a couple things very quickly: 
1. There are a few songs that seem to have traversed the African continent and have probably been translated into almost every language.  Just because you know that song in Shona (Zimbabwe), does not mean they use the same words in Kenya.  

2. A lot of what I had been exposed to is either in Shona or Zulu (South Africa).  The majority of the people I serve are not from Zimbabwe or South Africa.  If I wanted to sing something and have it understood, it was time to learn songs in Swahili and/or translate songs into Swahili.  Not being a Swahili speaker (let's face it, I'm not a great Swahili singer), I often find myself running up to my friend Peter and asking, "How do you say 'always' in Swahili?"  [If I ever go to Africa, I may not be able to say much, but I've got "Daima tunaomba (Always, we pray)" and "Hakuna Mungu kama wewe (There's no one like Jesus)" down!]

These two lessons were really just the pre-requisites for the real course I was about to learn in what I will call "the hospitality of song."  But, more on that in a moment.  As I was starting to feel comfortable with translating and learning songs, and mixing the languages we sang in our gatherings, we had two women and their children start coming to New Day just a few days after their arrival in the United States.  These dear women speak very little Swahili, even less English, and their dominant language is Kinyarwanda.  Thankfully, we have a few people in our community who can understand and translate between English and Kinyarwanda, but this language barrier has at times provided a new challenge for many of us.  One particular evening, we did not have anyone in the room capable of translating the lesson into Kinyarwanda, and a man walks in who heard us singing and wanted to see what was going on.  None of us had seen him before, but in he walked, and he turned out to be a fluent speaker of both English and Kinyarwanda.  He was willing to translate for the women, and even participated in the discussion himself.  It was such a beautiful moment of seeing God provide.

As a leader of song, I now have the challenge of finding songs in Kinyarwanda, which absolutely is not going to happen by looking at publications in the United States.  I mean, let's face it, Swahili is at least an option on Google Translate, Kinyarwanda isn't.  So, Peter starts experimenting with adding Kinyarwanda to some of the songs we sing.  Then, last week, Peter remembered a song he learned in Kinyarwanda, the song that I posted at the top.  After spending a week singing the song at any opportunity--in the car, the shower, while shelving books (quietly)--I taught the song to the community yesterday.  Somewhere along the way as I learned and became familiar with the song, it also seeped into my spiritual bones.  It started to gain meaning beyond what the words actually say.  Then, to hear all of us, people of many languages, ages, experiences, and cultures,  come together and sing in a language few are familiar with so that we could sing in solidarity with our was beautiful.  I realized in that moment and upon reflection that they shared something with me of such worth I can barely describe it.  They shared with me the language of their heart, and they let me take it in as my own heart song. I was presented by Peter and these women a song that Means deeply, and in teaching it to me, they offered me the hospitality of song.  They invited me into their musical and linguistic home, and continue to allow me to stay a while to rest, to learn, to grow, to cry, to shout, to be. I am speechless and overwhelmed at the depth of such hospitality.  Praise be to God.  Amen.