No Longer Lost in Translation
For almost an hour, I sat listening and crouched cross-legged in my dimly lit room as I listened to Himaya on why it is so important to have worship music of their own. Himaya is a team of Ilonggo musicians creating worship songs for the last 6 years in Ilonggo’s mother tongue - Hiligaynon.
Himaya are empowered to compose songs that come from their experiences and can resonate within their cultural context. As today’s storytellers, they are on a mission to share and spread God’s word using local musical compositions, sending the message that Christianity isn’t monocultural. Local worship music—music written in the local style with lyrics in the local language testifies to the reality that biblical faith can be expressed within local cultural forms.
Here are three things I’ve learned about the value of local worship from my encounter with them.
1. Local Worship Music Incorporates Local Movement
When Himaya started out as a four-man band, there were no worship songs in the local language yet, but their music drew a crowd. People were surprised to hear new songs in the Hiligaynon language and the group was welcomed because the music expressed the people’s shared experiences, struggles, and hopes. People who don’t want to come to church, when they hear music, they want to come.
2. Local Worship Music Can Introduce People to the Gospel
I asked how many songs Himaya has composed, and Mitz answered casually, “around twenty.” Their work testifies to the power and potency of worship music in the local language. We had the chance to listen as Mitz sang to us one of their songs, and I knew it was history in the making. His Hiligaynon words found breath in the lyrics he once jotted on notebook paper, but it wasn’t just the language that made these songs their own. They made the words come to life in prayers and praise, the notes of traditional songs revealing hearts yearning for God.
3. Local Worship Music Conveys Meaning in the Heart Language
Benny and Mitz sensed the Lord calling them to compose songs in their heart language. Heart language is a person’s preferred way of communicating—it’s the language you think in, dream in, and use to talk to family and friends. They began writing music using their language’s cadence, tune, and rhythm. When they first played some of their songs in front of other Ilonggo believers, it struck a chord in their hearts. Language is central to a person’s identity. Language is crucial, not just in communication with one another, but in our communication with God. Benny and Mitz showed that it’s more meaningful and dynamic to worship God in the language of the heart.
More than just creating music, Himaya demonstrates the dynamic interplay between language and faith, and shows the importance placed on the singing of these songs in keeping alive the culture embodied in their local language. Music transforms hearts as people express heartfelt worship to their Creator and surely, God takes pleasure in every tongue worshiping in their own language.