As a person who has music deeply intertwined with her daily life, I am fascinated by music of other cultures and by extension, how people of various cultures worship the Lord Jesus through song.
Worship through song is a common yet intimate way to express one’s relationship with God. Music creates a special connection from our hearts to God which enhances our worship.
In Ephesians 5:19-20, Paul instructs the people to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In a world with ever-evolving cultures, customs, and people groups, this idea of “making music from (the) heart to the Lord” therefore has important relevance towards the contextualisation of worship in the mission field.
I had gone on several short-term mission trips where I got to experience the different ways in which people of other cultures worship God. However, it was during a trip to Nepal that I had an experience like none other.
In Oct last year, Methodist Missions Society (MMS) gave me the opportunity to attend the Annual Meeting of the Methodist Church in Nepal held at the Wesley Bardan Methodist Church in Kathmandu. I was excited to be travelling to a new place to see how God had been building the church there through MMS.
The opening hymn during the service was a Methodist classic – ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing’, translated into Nepali.
This was not unfamiliar to me as many Methodist hymns have been translated into various languages around the world. The praise and worship segment of the service, however, was what had a deeper impact on me as the leaders led the congregation in local Nepali worship songs.
I learnt later from one of the missionaries that many of these songs were actually written by early Nepali Christians in the midst of severe trials and persecution.
Since I could not understand the lyrics, my ears struggled to grow accustomed to the language and the people singing around me, while becoming more attuned to the music alone.
Within a few moments, I found myself being moved to tears just by the melody of the song. The rise and fall of melodic cadences sounded to me like a lilting cry and praise, from the hearts of people in struggle, to the One who loves us unconditionally.
In a situation where I expected to comprehend nothing, the Lord spoke so profoundly to me just through music alone, transcending the barriers of language, I came to realise that His ways are truly higher than ours.
Upon reflection, I was in awe of how God had used the early missionaries to build bridges between cultures, enabling the people to worship in their own unique way.
The blend of western instrumentation with traditional Nepalese melodies was evident of the locals’ ability to incorporate the Christian faith into their own culture, and further adapt their music and worship to cater to the increasing number of young believers in their churches.
While accepting Christ may have alienated them from their communities (due to Nepal having been up until fairly recently, a Hindu Kingdom), the Nepalese believers had found a way to retain their identity and culture by incorporating their rich musical heritage into their worship of the Lord.
This encounter I had with God and His people has inspired me in my journey towards becoming a missionary. I have discovered the merits of different cultures and importantly, how these may be used to enrich one’s personal relationship with Christ.
The gift of contextualisation therefore, makes worshipping the Lord vibrant, special and most significantly, something that Jesus followers everywhere around the globe can relate to. This is indeed a great testament to our God, the God of all Nations!
Rasanya Gnasegaran –
is the Admin Executive and Personal Assistant to the Executive Director of the Methodist Missions Society (MMS). She worships at Toa Payoh Tamil Methodist Church.
Photos courtesy of the Methodist Missions Society