The Baptist hospital where my family serves in Sub-Saharan Africa has a decades-old tradition called “station meeting.” The doctors, their families, and any visiting medical volunteers gather together every Thursday night for a shared meal, Bible study, and to sing hymns. It’s the music in particular that makes the evening the highlight of our week. It lifts our spirits when we praise God with other believers who are literally from different nations, tribes, and tongues. It is one of the ways God sustains us week by week as we seek to carry out his mission in our home away from home.
The great missionary and apostle Paul knew the value of music in our spiritual lives when he exhorted the Colossians to “Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you . . . singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16 HCSB).
So, we asked some of our missionaries around the globe to share the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that have been meaningful to them as they serve overseas on mission. The responses we received reflect the diversity of the body of Christ. Here’s what we heard, along with some reflection as to why these songs are important.
“Halleluhu (Praise Him)”
lyrics: Psalm 150, music by Migedem
Mission seeks to lead others to know and worship God, specifically those across cultural, linguistic, political, and geographic boundaries that have contributed to their spiritual isolation. This song helps me meditate on the greatness and worthiness of the One who sent me, the One whom I declare. The different language reminds me of my connection in the same body with those who speak differently. This song’s chorus uses my Western heart music to connect me to God, but I can also stand united in worship with others using the heart musics represented in the body of Christ—past, present, and future.
—Bethany Singer, North Africa and the Middle East
“Thy Mercy My God”
words by John Stocker, music by Sandra McCracken
Without thy sweet mercy I could not live here;
Sin would reduce me to utter despair;
But, through thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And he that first made me still keeps me alive.
—Madeleine Arthington, Central Asia
“Come Holy Spirit (Uthando)”
Uthando lwakho luyaphila (your love is alive).
Umbuso wakho uphila (your kingdom is alive).
This is a part-English, part-Zulu song we recently started singing in my South African church’s worship services. Most Sundays we sing solely in English, but occasionally the worship team incorporates other South African languages. I love to see the church embrace the diversity of their “Rainbow Nation” (so-called because of the myriad cultures, ethnicities, and languages here). It’s also a beautiful reminder that one day we’ll be worshiping with “every nation, tribe, people, and language” in the throne room of the Lamb.
—Melanie Clinton, Sub-Saharan Africa
I can see it coming,
I pray I don’t go blind,
In the middle of our reckoning time.
I listened to this (along with “Keep Your Eyes Open” from the same album) on repeat throughout my time in South Asia. I was experiencing the rush of finally making it overseas, coupled with the sudden, unexpected, and, at times, crushing weight of responsibility that accompanied my task. The song recognizes that, though we look forward to the final reckoning, today is a reckoning of its own and largely defines the words we will hear on that final day. It’s a call to stand firm and stay focused.
Plus, my heart breaks every time the harmonica comes in at 3:13.
—Jaclyn Parrish, IMB
“มอบให้พระองค์ (Give it to God)”
words and music by กิตติคุณ พรสุวรรณ
Everything that I have
Everything that I am
I give you, God
Everything I do
I have been honored
I put my face before you, God
I offer all that I have
I offer all the life remaining
Give it to God
I surrender my heart
I’m willing to do everything
I heard this song at church many times before I knew what it means, but even then, it moved my heart. A few years ago, my husband taught me the words. It’s such a beautiful, simple song of surrender.
—Kara Blakeley, Southeast Asia
“Man in Black”
by Johnny Cash
I wear the black for those who’ve never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said.
I was privileged to be born into a land of plenty. I had access to western comforts, education, easy access to the gospel, and I’ve never gone without. But this song reminds me that I have two choices: use those advantages to benefit myself or use them to build his kingdom. I have a purpose in life, I like being reminded of that.
Live in dark places, walk with those who are suffering, give hope to the hopeless. This is the way of Christ.
—Jeremy Taliaferro, Sub-Saharan Africa
“Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah”
This song inspires nostalgia and is always a reminder of my early days of living overseas. As I gathered with a small group to worship in song and the Word, we sang this song as if we were on the brink of Canaan. It’s a memory full of emotion and has since been a reminder of that day and of the simplicity of the task that we seek to be part of, to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
—Silas Maclean, Southeast Asia
“Boldly I Approach (Art of Celebration)”
When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The great I Am the Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally.
There are times I’ve battled fear, guilt, and anxiety. This song reminds me I can boldly approach his throne. He fights for me, and he is my shield.
—Caroline Anderson, Southeast Asia
“Worth It All”
I first heard it about ten years ago when I was a single missionary, struggling with my identity and the reasons God had me where he did, when he did. This song still reminds me to keep my eyes forward and lean into the One who holds me, determines allotted periods and the boundaries of my dwelling place (Acts 17:26), and is truly worth my everything.
—Libby Donaldson, Europe
“Te Deum (God We Praise You)”
words by Nicetas, music by Arvo Pärt
Heaven and earth are full of your majestic glory.
The glorious company of the apostles praises you.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praises you.
The noble army of martyrs praises you.
The holy church throughout all the world acknowledges you.
One bit of music that has been spiritually meaningful to me has been “Te Deum” by the modern Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt. Pärt’s rendition of this ancient hymn combines Byzantine polyphony with modern-day minimalism for a work that is simultaneously old and refreshingly new. Historically, the composer of “Te Deum,” Nicetas, bishop of Remesiana in the early fifth century, composed this piece as a defense of the divinity of Jesus Christ in opposition to the heretical teachings of the Arians.
Today, I listen to it as a reminder that the faith we proclaim has a long historical witness, as a charge to defend true Christian belief, and as an expression of worship to God that is both doctrinally sound and aesthetically uplifting.
—Trevor Yoakum, Sub-Saharan Africa
William Haun lives in northern Ghana in the heart of the ancient Mamprusi kingdom with his wife and their two children. He’s known locally as the “Sulimiinsina’akyinnaaba” or “young white men’s chief.” He loves learning Mamprusi proverbs, history, and folk tales, and using those to communicate his faith effectively.