Changing the World One Song at a time

This week, I was able to step out of my normally scheduled program to be the chaplain for the ELCA/Global Mission Annual Musician Training. This is a once a year event where musician educators come together, to share, to learn and to be feed. It is one of the most diverse and ecumenical spaces that I have had the privilege to occupy. The gathering includes musicians that represent in their ethnicity most of the world: African, Asian, European, Indian, and Latin American. It also includes people from denominations and faith traditions other than Lutheran.


For me this is a group that represents what the kingdom of God looks like. It was an amazing five days. The keynote speaker for the event was Daniel Onyango, a community activist from Kenya. He works and lives in one of the major slums in Nairobi Kenya. He brought with him his love for his people, his passion for justice and his skills as a musician. The gathering was blessed beyond words by his presence.

Some of the people in the room were not church musicians; they were people who hold justice and love in their hearts and were there to sing, listen, pray and join in the spirit filled way that this event comes together. They were there to take back what they saw and heard so that they might be able to live out and be about the love of God that was evidenced in that place.                                                                               img_5608

All of this is possible because of the love and commitment of Rev. Sunitha Mortha who works in Global Mission as an educator for mission. She heads the Mission Formation team and is tasked with teaching the principle of accompaniment during events of the ELCA and spaces she is invited into. This group of glocal musician educators assist her in this task. This beautiful woman is all about mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, empowerment and sustainability. She walks it, talks it and lives it. This space is a space of accompaniment, justice and love.

I was also privileged to preach at the pre-event with a group of musicians called “the core.” These are the musicians who lead and teach the rest of the participants. Below is the sermon I preached.


I will not forget what I have seen and heard and how I have been strengthened in my work and witness by these amazing people and this event.


Out of West Africa

I am taking a break from my conversation about race and posting sermons to write something that isn’t exactly work related. Yet, in a way it is. Because of this family, I was able to say, long before taking a call to be the Area Program Director for West Africa, that I was familiar with West African culture. Anyway, here goes.

In June, I was in New York City. I was there to attend the concert of a dear friend held in a wonderful venue, Jazz at Lincoln Center. The view was spectaculor.10488050_10204171743683222_1015058927789807878_n

This friend was born and raised in Togo, West Africa. The concert was dedicated to his father Papa Marc a music teacher, who also worked for the Peace Corps in Togo. In his work as a teacher and a worker for the Peace Corps he touched countless lives.(Including the life of a colleague of mine who was in the Peace Corps in Togo in 1978). My friend credits his father for raising him to be the man that he is and infusing his life with the love of music. He wanted to give this concert while his father, who is now 87, is still alive.

He told the gathered audience that he wanted his father to see what happened with that first piano lesson he gave to his son. The results, I am sure his father would agree, are amazing. This friend has been teaching music for over twenty five years. He has taught in schools and played in churches. He is a very talented musician and for this he credits his father.

You should see what he can do with children… he motivates them, helps keep them focused and brings out the best in them. What he does, is pure magic. One of his students now graduating from high school attested to this. She said that if it had not been for Mr. John she would not have progressed and she was grateful. This student is one of many who is now going to college to pursue a career in music. I have been watching him do this since 1998 and his talent still blows me away.

My friend was nurtured in West Africa, his talent was born in West Africa. I have seen talent like his as I travel. In Sierra Leone I met a young church musician who stirs up his choir to sing wonderful praises to God. In Cameroon, I have heard voices that sound like angels singing. In Senegal, the creative artistry of the people is evident everywhere. I have been priviledged to see the great gifts of God in my friend and many others.

I am so blessed to be westafricabound.

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