The Guitar on the Mission Field

This week we are continuing to explore the global revival across the Muslim world.
Check out Part 1 of this series last week.

Imagine you are with a pioneering team of missionaries in a remote country. Your team has been laboring faithfully among this ancient people, who have never heard of the name of Jesus. Praise God that after several years of work, a number of natives have embraced the Lord!

These new believers ask you whether you can play a worship song for them. Your eyes dart over to your beloved old guitar in the corner of the room. The guitar has accompanied your team on so many lonely, frustrating nights, reminding you of home as you faithfully plowed ahead in your work.

What do you do?

This is a slightly modified version of a scenario that is presented in a popular missions class. It illustrates two different approaches to missions work.

Many of us have gone ahead and played songs with our guitars. But there are a number of drawbacks to doing this, which may not be obvious at first – even if the songs are sung in the native language, with melodies familiar to the locals.

The introduction of the guitar – a foreign instrument – could signal to these new believers to look to the foreign mission to guide their worship. Could new believers who are called to create worship music feel inadequate and discouraged as they struggle to obtain guitars, much less learn how to play them? What if these new believers plant new churches in the neighboring villages? Where would the new congregations find guitars?

Introducing cultural elements of Christianity – even ones as innocent as a guitar – could make it more difficult for new churches in a different culture to multiply.

In recent years, more local believers have written their own worship songs and choreographed their own worship dances. It could take longer for an indigenous body of music and dance to be created. There could be dissatisfaction, even complaints, as worship services continue without much artistic input. But a native, homegrown expression of worship will eventually come, and the wait is worth it: in the long run, this is more sustainable and conducive to multiplicative growth.

The example of music here illustrates the importance of helping build up a church that can continue to grow once the foreign mission has left. After all, it is not the goal of the missionary to stay forever, but rather to introduce the Gospel, protect and nurture the budding church, impart the correct “DNA” into its core, support as long as needed while allowing locals to take ownership and leadership.

Another aspect where it is important to “stay local” is the matter of native (heart) languages, which The Tide continues to stress on the field.

Our history books contain the familiar story of missionaries attempting to assimilate natives into foreign cultures, and extracting converts from their local communities to worship in foreign churches. While these efforts resulted in spiritual fruit that we are thankful for, it was rare for indigenous, self-sustaining movements to have sprung from them.

Examples of the importance of heart languages are commonplace. The Navajo were resistant to conversion for centuries, but when the effort was finally made to translate the Scriptures into their language, hearts were touched and many came to faith.

Across the world, the Sylheti people of modern-day Bangladesh, an unreached people group, were engaged by a team of missionaries over a century ago. Women on this team were able to form relationships with some in the Muslim community and discovered that, in their homes, the Sylheti people did not speak Bengali like the rest of Bangladesh. They reported this to the mission headquarters back home, who reportedly did not believe them. The Sylheti people remained untouched by the Gospel for many more decades.

Many heavily persecuted peoples today are forced to learn the trade language of the majority population. They are grieving as their way of life disappears. These peoples may feel a barrier if the Word is only available in the language of their persecutors, as they may wrongly associate Christianity with oppression and colonialism. Making available content in their heart languages, to help dispel some of these myths, is a worthy investment.

Whether the listener is persecuted or not, the intense emotional and even spiritual experience of hearing God’s Word in one’s heart language has transformed countless lives around the world. Just as the Lord undoubtedly communicates in heart languages in dreams and visions, likewise we too have began to strive to learn and communicate in heart languages on the field.

It is a massive effort to learn and translate the Scriptures into thousands of different languages across scores of unrelated language families – some extremely difficult and spoken by only a few hundred people. The outpouring of love from this ongoing effort is undoubtedly a key factor in the ongoing revival across the Muslim world.

May all those who have yet to hear the Good News have an opportunity to hear.

Stay tuned for more on this series, where we will discuss locally-led discipleship and discernment and conclude with the foundational work of prayer!