Imagine if someone from a more advanced culture came into your place of worship and said, 'The organ is of the Devil, your four-part harmony sounds like animals, and the way everyone sits still holding a book has got to go. Here, take this gourd rattle with feathers and this nose flute. Stand up, shake your shoulders, and sing this song about how God is like a ferocious puma. We'll teach you how to worship God.' "

Paul Neeley, a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators among Ghana's Akyode people, explains how similar scenes have occurred in reverse as Christian missionaries have come into contact with people groups throughout the world. "Missionaries often burned traditional instruments in public and banned traditional tunes from church services because they were felt to be too associated with the culture's pagan beliefs," says Neeley. "But they were in effect communicating: 'Your culture has no value.' " This also arrested the spreading of the gospel. "Many in those cultures saw Christianity as something foreign, not theirs," says Brian Schrag, a Wycliffe missionary among the Mono in Zaire.

Today a group of missionary ethnomusicologists is reversing that approach to indigenous music. Building on pioneering efforts of a generation ago by Vida Chenoweth, marimba virtuoso and former Wycliffe missionary in Papua New Guinea, significant evangelistic breakthroughs are occurring using indigenous worship songs.

Reconnection, not translation A few years ago during the dedication of the first Scriptures translated into Sabaot, the language of people on the Kenya-Uganda border, a group of Sabaot dignitaries stood solemnly at the rear. These vips had been suspicious that translation efforts would undermine their culture. Near the ...

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