I recently spent time with Hank, a returned tentmaker from North Africa with a passion for music. During his time there he realized that new believers did not have home grown worship music, but were importing modern western songs with a very different style and beat compared to their heart music. It just sounded wrong.
He shared a story of another tentmaker who had been asked to teach his new underground church worship songs from the west. The tentmaker was horrified at this idea, since his vision was to plant a church of the culture, not a western import.
He had suggested to the musicians of his house church to set psalms to their traditional style of music. Thus a series of scripture centered songs, with a culturally relatable music style, was born. The new believers “owned” their songs which reinforced to them that the music of their culture is approved by God.
He also emphasized that bringing songs from the west was a form of imperialistic arrogance that led the host nation believers to think that their music was second class and not worthy. Hearing this made me cringe.
His suggestion to new tentmakers going to unreached areas was simply to learn the host culture music style first and then adapt scripture to this music and enjoy making beautiful God honoring songs together.
Hank is now researching ethnomusicology with the intent of teaching the new church of North Africa how to develop and compose music that is culturally acceptable.
This brought back memories of our time as tentmakers in Taiwan, when I wrote a song for the new believers in our home called “We ask for Taiwan, in Jesus name”. It inspired the young new believers to not only pray but also to see that their culture was valuable and loved by God. Years later, this song is being sung as a prayer for their nation.
By Ari Rocklin