Organizational Affiliation: Executive Director, Proskuneo Ministries [bringing nations together in worship] Co-founder, Multicultural Worship Leaders Network
How did you get started in ethnodoxology?
Google! Well, my growing up years gave me the interest and the background. Involved in music already from age 4 and active on worship teams at an early age, I became a missionary kid at age 12 when my parents moved to the Dominican Republic to help plant a church. When I was in college, the church leadership asked me to transcribe some of the songs of the church, so the next generation could learn to play them—the older musicians played everything from memory and their skills weren’t being passed on, so I charted everything out and taught the younger generation to read chords. Somewhat unusually, our Dominican church employed typical Latin American rhythms, exposing me to indigenous Dominican as well as some broader Latin rhythms.
Some years later, in 2003, I started Proskuneo, with a focus on multi-cultural worship in 2003, and began looking for connections with others who shared my passion. In 2005, Google searches on words like music, missions, arts, cross-cultural, and multicultural worship kept bringing up hits with Paul Neeley’s name. One time when I was going to be traveling through Texas, I asked if we could meet. Paul graciously drove to the Dallas airport and sat at the baggage claim with me for an hour, providing me with enough connections to keep me busy for years. He also invited me to GCoMM 2006, and I was hooked.
What has been one of your favorite moments in ethnodoxology?
In 2008, I got the chance to work with the Emberá people group of Panama. It all started at a concert at a church outside of Philadelphia, where I’d been asked to lead multicultural worship for a group of all white people. During the concert, I invited anyone from the audience to come up and share something. A young woman appeared on stage, asking to play my violin, and gave this back story: “My name is Kirsten, but people call me Kali because I was a peace corps worker with the Emberá group in Panama. The witness of this community brought me to Christ, and I have returned to the USA to pay off my loans so I can marry an Emberá man. They have asked me to help them 'bring back music,' since their current worship music is all imported and translated, not culturally based. Can you help me?”
Taking her challenge, I posted a question on the GEN discussion forum to see if anyone had already worked with this people group. Through other ethnodoxologists active in the GEN network, I found some people working close by in similar situations and was able to bring eight organizations together to hold the first songwriting workshop for the Emberá. During the workshop, the people shared that previous missionaries had told them that local arts were not acceptable because, in their culture, they only sang publicly when drunk. I had always wondered why Ephesians 5.18-19 mentioned wine and music in close succession, but suddenly it seemed like God had written those verses directly to the Emberá people group, “do not get drunk on wine…but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs...sing and make music from your heart to the Lord”! God used this verse to free many from their fear of the traditional music. One of the local girls, being a “good Christian,” had never heard Emberá music before. When she heard the songs from the songwriting workshop, she started to cry, exclaiming, “These songs are in us!”
What do you hope will be different in 25 years through ethnodoxology?
I’d like to see greater numbers of younger people realize the beauty of their own music and also connect the dots between their passion for crossing cultures and their passion for music. Since the future of the church is multi-ethnic, people need to learn to value their own cultures and be comfortable with crossing cultures at the same time. I’d love to see the church on the front edge of creating some new styles that honor the cultures they come from but also include multicultural elements. What would it look like for an Emberá musician to partner with a tabla player from India and a geomungo player from Korea?