On our first Sunday in Haiti I noticed the singing -- but everything was so new I didn't have time to think about what made it so beautiful. I nodded in my heart to the testimony of others who have shared their experiences of joining in the songs of worship in foreign contexts: there is a joyful unity in the expression even when the words are not understood. I didn't think much of it but as the week progressed, the music became more astounding.

I realized that though they use hymn books (they all own their own and bring it to meetings along with their Bibles) the books contain no notes, only words.

How do they learn to sing with such amazing harmony? Are they just born that way? Are they that much more talented than we are? Can they just hear with their hearts and sing in harmony? All of them? It didn't make sense that this beauty was common -- an experience shared just because they were human. We don't hear this kind of harmony in our churches anymore. We sing from words on a screen but the harmonies don't just effortlessly fill our worship spaces. How do the Haitian churches learn to listen and harmonize so beautifully?

On Thursday, after Christy and I finished our first session with the pastor's wives, a tall, thin, sharply dressed man showed up in the door of the meeting room with a stack of paper and a pitch pipe. Marie-Lucie told us that he was going to teach the women the song that they would sing together at the big conference in April. I didn't think too much of it as I was grateful to be free to leave, find a drink of water and a shade tree while praying for a cool breeze. An hour and half later they were still singing -- after the 2 hour mark I figured that it was just because lunch was late and they were filling time.
But, early the next morning the singing master came again; this time before our sessions so Christy and I sat through the practice. The singing master had the purest soprano voice I've ever heard in a grown man -- if you closed your eyes you'd picture a member of the Vienna Boy's Choir.  All the ladies sat in the room according to the part they sang. Christy and I seemed to be the only people in the room who didn't know about this plan -- we were sitting in the bass section! For at least another hour the singing master moved from group to group laboriously working with them to get their notes just exactly right. He would sing, they would imitate, he would correct, sing it again, and they would imitate again. Then he'd have two sections sing together, then three. Note by note, line by line. I've never experienced such careful attention to detail in sound. By the time that session was over these ladies had over 3 hours of practice in on a SINGLE song!

Another thing that amazed me -- there were no non-participants. No one said, "I don't sing." No one opted out or sat on the sides. It didn't seem to occur to them that singing was anything other than a learned skill. People didn't wait till the singing was done and then come in the room. No -- the way they called people to meetings was to start to sing -- no one wanted to miss that part and they all piled into the building.

When the general women's conference started on Friday evening the first two hours of the meeting were given to singing. The congregation would sing, led by a worship team. Sometimes they used the hymn book, sometimes they all just knew the songs. Interspersed with the congregational singing, choirs from different churches would take the stage and present a gift in song. Most of them dressed in matching uniform and their songs were masterfully presented.  Every session was just like this.

Sometimes I'm a slow learner. After about the 8th choir the truth dawned on me: these people sing with such beautiful harmony because they work at it! It doesn't just happen. They sacrifice their time to practice. They swallow their pride and accept correction. They set aside a desire for personal glory and instead work together. The result is a beauty in worship that no one of them could ever offer to God alone.

Just before we left I shared this observation with one of the missionaries that has been there in Haiti for 30 years. She told me that when the mission first started, about 80 years ago, one of the missionary wives thought that the people should learn to sing. She added a "singing school" to the Bible college's list of required courses. Each pastor that came through the school learned to sing, and to teach others to sing. There is no such class in the Bible college anymore. There is no need. The pastors caught that dear lady's vision and they have faithfully trained their congregations to lift their voices in song to the Lord ever since. She did not live to see the fruit of her labors, but just as God promised: fruit remains!

If you attend Berean, you need to know that this is the very vision that sits behind the youth choir initiative that begins at 4:30 PM on September 11th. To train God's people to offer their harmony in praise and thanksgiving to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: a gift of beauty and excellence that no one of us could offer alone.  Maybe, just maybe, long after Anne is in glory, the grandchildren of today's Berean youth will be teaching their children to sing and through the beauty of their harmony the manifold wisdom of God will continue to be displayed to the heavenly beings through the Church!

It is no accident that training is required.  
1 Tim 4:7-10
"...train yourself for godliness; for while  bodily training is of some value, godliness  is of value in every way, as  it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is  trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God,  who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe."


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    Team Levanjil

    A written record of the work of God among the people of God in Haiti as members of Berean Baptist Church in Livonia, MI work with the leadership of MEBSH in Les Cayes, Haiti.


    August 2013

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