Featured Ethnodoxologist: Elsen Portugal

Name: Elsen Portugal

Organizations/Affiliations: GEN Board member; Wycliffe Global AllianceGospel Light Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR; SIL Brazil; Junta de Missões Nacionais (Brazilian National Mission Board) – JMN; Horizontes Latin America; Ph.D. Candidate at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute.

How did you get started in ethnodoxology? 

I had been involved in missions and in music in sort of a parallel fashion. It had  always been a puzzle to me that God had given me abilities and training in both music and missions, but that they were expected to be in their own categories most of the time. It "just so happened" that in early 2011 that I attended a Wycliffe Total It Up meeting in Dallas and discovered the application of arts in missions through Brian and Robin's presentation on ethnoarts. It truly changed my perspective of the interaction of artistic expression and mission, and it opened my eyes to the holistic and purposeful character of God's gifting for accomplishing His mission. Since then, I have had training at GIAL (now Dallas International University) to become more involved in the field, particularly in Brazil, and have seen that God is opening wonderful doors to expand His Kingdom through communicative local arts.

What has been one of your favorite moments in ethnodoxology?

One of my favorite moments in ethnodoxology was an interaction in July 2017 with an indigenous people group in Central Brazil. Together with another colleague, I held a “Music in the Bible” Seminar for their musicians, and led a “Music Creation” Workshop for about a week. The joy of observing and hearing these Christian musicians’ delight as they understood the dimension of the arts and music in the Bible, and what that meant for their culture, is almost beyond description. This is an experience that I have had before, and will hopefully have many times over. They will, together, become a grand collection of favorite moments.

What do you hope will be different in 25 years through ethnodoxology?

As the field of ethnodoxology expands and takes its rightful place in missions studies, it is my hope that the importance of the expressive arts of the multiple cultures around the world—for the communication of the Gospel message, for discipleship of new believers, and much more—will be understood by all agencies and institutions of higher learning that prepare those who go out to minister. One of the key elements which reaffirms my calling to be involved in ethnodoxological studies is the very presence of the arts in acts of revelation in the Scriptures. God revealed Himself often, not only with the spoken prosaic language of the people, but also through artistic forms. This form of communication models to us the particular importance of artistic expressions of worship and Gospel proclamation which can and should exist in our ministries. This vision, I hope, will be shared by the church at large in the near future.

Read more

Featured Ethnodoxologist: Robin Harris

Name: Robin Harris

Organizations/Affiliations: President, Global Ethnodoxology Network (GEN); Director, Center for Excellence in World Arts at Dallas International University; Arts Consultant and member of the International Arts Leadership Team with SIL International

How did you get started in ethnodoxology? 

During our decade of work in Siberia, I observed that in our multiethnic church (Russian & Sakha), only one of the ethnic styles of worship was being used—the Russian style. That’s all the people that started the church knew to do—it was the only model they’d ever seen. When I read the July 1996 issue of Mission Frontiers, about the importance of heart worship for all peoples, I realized that the marginalization of Sakha arts and culture in the church was something that I cared about. As a result, I decided to study the music and arts of the Sakha people and encourage their contextualization for the life of the church. Now, protestant Sakha churches in Siberia are making great progress toward integrating their Christian faith and their Sakha identity. It’s a very complex road for them, as Sakha identity has always been tied to their traditional religion, but I’m impressed with how far they’ve come, and it’s a delight to see the churches thriving.

What has been one of your favorite moments in ethnodoxology?

Can I tell about two short ones? One of my recent trips to Siberia held one of those favorite moments. I attended the Sakha church and heard about the Christian summer festival that they had just held the week before. The festival featured 22 baptisms, ethnic Sakha games and food, and their favorite ethnic round dance, ohuokai, to celebrate the baptisms. After investing so many years in the Sakha church, this kind of report makes my heart sing.

My other favorite moments are when I’m teaching the Arts for a Better Future (ABF) workshops and I see people come in with little or no experience in doing ethnodoxology. Then, during the course, the lights come on for them, and they fall in love with this new way of working with communities—learning about and promoting the use of local arts to meet the community’s goals for themselves. I love watching people get excited about actually doing ethnodoxology in their communities!

What do you hope will be different in 25 years through ethnodoxology?

My vision is that in 25 years, the “Find it – Encourage it” approach to the arts (ethnodoxology) will be the “default setting for Christians encountering the arts cross culturally, rather than the traditional “Bring it – Teach it” approach that we’ve seen in place for centuries. In other words, it will be normal, rather than the exception, for people to seek to understand and appreciate the arts of other cultures, encouraging their contextualized use in Christian expressions of worship around the world. My long-term vision is expressed best in the new GEN vision statement: “GEN envisions a future in which communities of Jesus followers in every culture engage with God and the world through their own artistic expressions.” In 25 years, I’d be delighted if ethnodoxology was not a new, strange idea for people, but rather a normal, accepted practice. GEN is making great steps in that direction, as we all work together to spread the news, to further develop this discipline through developing ethnodoxology-related training programs, and to produce publications like the ones listed on the “What is Ethnodoxology” page of the GEN site. I think it’s quite possible that if we all pull together, I’ll see this vision happen in the next 25 years.

Read more

Featured Ethnodoxologist: Belinda Kuhn

Name: Belinda Kuhn

Organization: University of the Nations

How did you get started in ethnodoxology?
Serving with YWAM in East Africa and Eastern Europe I recognized the desire among other cultures to release their own songs and expressions to their Heavenly Father. I began learning their songs and this encouraged them (and me) to do more and more.

What has been one of your favorite moments in ethnodoxology?
I worked with a Ugandan YWAM music team called “HeartSong” in the 90’s and taught them songwriting principles and vision… they began to write worship songs but also started catching a vision for the power of music to bring Biblical Truth to their people. They started writing very creative and educational songs about fidelity in marriage, AIDS, and male/female relationships.  These songs were well received and they sang in schools all throughout their region.  Many youth came to the Lord and began serving God and remaining true to their spouses.

What do you hope will be different in 20 years through ethnodoxology?
Because I often teach on songwriting for children’s songs, I believe that new generations of youth in places like China, Nepal, Rwanda, Chile, etc., will grow up singing biblical truths about who God really is.  In 20 years (or less!) they will be the songwriters, pastors, and teachers of future generations who are sharing biblical truths in broader circles.

Read more

Featured Ethnodoxologist: Hilary Davis

Name: Hilary Davis

How did you get started in ethnodoxology? 

I first discovered, intuitively, the need for ethnodoxology while living on the Yakama Nation reservation, where I observed the lack of indigenous Christian worship and also the way that artistic expression brought my students alive in a way nothing else did.

What has been one of your favorite moments in ethnodoxology? For years I dreamed of getting Native American students together to write new songs for their contexts and in August 2017 we made this a reality. Students created the album RISE (www.wjefstudio.bandcamp.com) and several months later led worship at the Would Jesus Eat Frybread? conference for a group of 200 of their Native peers. It was a dream come true to hear them collectively singing a song they had written from Ezekiel 37 about the valley of dry bones: "The spirit of life flows through you / and saturates your soul / give thanks for his creation / the nations are made whole..." (a clip of this moment is viewable here with the password "Hilary": https://vimeo.com/247886196)

What do you hope will be different in 20 years through ethnodoxology? In 20 years, I hope that there will be Native American congregations worshiping using contemporary songs they have written themselves (to my knowledge this doesn't really exist anywhere in the continental US). I also hope that there will be a public, national acknowledgement and apology made to First Nations people, and that the art we make will be part of raising national consciousness for such a shift to occur.

Read more

Global Worship Leader App

The Worship Leader App began as a personal response to a local problem. During our 2 year language learning phase, we wanted to create a printed songbook of side-by-side English/Local language songs for our Middle East church-planting team. As a computer programmer, rather than producing a one-off as a document, I compiled a small database of English and local songs and wrote a program to generate a song book. This enabled us to easily add and remove songs, print different versions of the songbook (eg larger print, a chord edition etc) and also create a projection function to display chosen songs using the OpenSong software. The project remained at this level for a couple years.

However, over time I became aware that the project might be expanded to help solve issues faced more widely in our circle and community. When we moved to the Middle East 8 years ago, we had the opportunity to visit a number of local congregations during our language and culture training. Living in a technologically aware city, most services used projectors and PowerPoint. However, many churches entered new songs manually into their system, so typographical errors were relatively common. Although there was a good printed hymnal which collated hundreds of songs, chords and scores, it had been out of print for a while so groups relied on photocopies and scans of it for their meetings. A number of churches were translating songs from the West, however, because each church had written its own translation (of varying quality), when believers gathered together across fellowships, everyone knew a different version. In addition to this, a number of local believers were writing their own songs, but only those on professionally produced albums got known outside of their local church. Any MP3 recordings of worship songs available on the internet were scattered widely so you had to know exactly what you were looking for in order to find them.

Aware of these bigger issues, and after a number of people had shared different ideas to make local worship music more accessible, I decided to develop the initial project further. Around 5 years ago I wrote a small phone app (‘Worship Leader’) that downloaded my initial database, displayed song lyrics and (optionally) chords, and also linked and played any MP3s that we had found and added. The app allowed searching by many different criteria or terms, and it also allowed anyone to submit corrections or new songs which are then moderated. Over time I found a number of people with electronic records of a range of songs, various MP3 recordings, and more recently collections of sheet music that publishers were happy to allow us to import and add into our app database.

We now get hundreds of people a day using Worship Leader, the majority of believers in this country have it installed on their phones, computers or TVs. A number of groups of believers  in smaller towns and cities that do not have anyone who can play an instrument are using the recordings in the app in order to worship together. Previously unknown or new songwriters are sending in their songs and basic recordings done on a phone and they are now gaining exposure in many different churches throughout the country. Churches in the diaspora are also increasingly using these worship resources which were previously nearly impossible to get hold of. We also gather statistics of the number of times a song was viewed, printed and downloaded which allows us to find out which are the most popular songs and themes in different languages and encourage the people who wrote them.

Over the past year or so a number of people from different contexts such as Mongolia, Burma and a number of Central Asian countries have got in touch with collections of songs in their own language that they want to add into the app. As a result of this the app has now grown from 4,000 to songs to having nearly 10,000 songs in 30 different languages. We’ve added in new interface languages such as Russian, Turkish and Kazakh. The app has gained features such as displaying sheet music, tagging songs, a basic projection mode and support for complex languages such as Inner Mongolian. Each language has its own group of editors who are able to update and add new songs and recordings via an interface.

A big issue that we see in our context is local believers preferring to translate Western songs into their language, rather than writing their own songs. Through the app we aim to help local believers to write and record their songs, put them out on the internet and get encouraged as they are used by different churches. By including many original songs from non-Western countries we hope that translations can also move from East- to West rather than purely the other way around.

We’re keen to continue developing the software so that it can bless even more people in different countries and people-groups. If you are interested in doing this and you have access to the text, scores or recordings of songs in your target language group please get in touch with us via the website. If you have suggestions for how to improve the app and make it more useful then we’d love to hear from you too! (https://worshipleaderapp.com)

Read more