Earlier this year, a team of Proskuneo went to South Sudan to serve and walk alongside the Church in Wau. One of the goals was facilitating and leading worship across generational, gender, and tribal gaps.
I was in charge of putting songs together for our trip to South Sudan. As one who has never been to South Sudan, but has experienced a lot of Sudanese culture here in the U.S… I knew I would need help from Abraham with the song selection. When we sat down together to discuss songs, I really didn’t know how much of an influence Arab culture and music was in South Sudan. Our first goal was to have a mix of Arabic and English songs that were mostly familiar, with a few new multilingual songs.
But as we dove deeper into the heart of worship for South Sudan in that season (considering the past wars between tribes and the instability of government), as well as the bigger vision of every nation and tribe bringing what it has to God in worship, we realized how valuable and important the heart songs passed down in tribal languages were.
There are over 64 different languages being used in Wau alone (which is more than a majority of places in Africa). Yet even with that diversity, tribal songs are not really expected in larger gatherings of worship. In fact, the majority languages of Arabic and English most often take precedence over any other languages present when worshipping God together.
A couple years ago, Abraham had taught me a song called, “Arroboya” in the Moro tribal language. I mentioned it to Abraham while we were planning songs, and his eyes got big and he smiled at me. He said, “Oh, you’re going tribal now?!? LET’S DO IT!” We brought that song along with the list we had already compiled: songs that a majority of people there would know, and some they wouldn’t, including Arab styled songs, popular African choruses, some songs in English, an original Korean song, and a couple multilingual songs we created.
When I first led “Arroboya” during a morning training session, many people in the room gasped. Some started yelling joyfully, dancing, and singing really loud! “A white girl from the U.S. is not just singing a song in English or a song in Arabic, but is diving into the heart and village languages in our country. Languages that only exist in Wau, South Sudan.”
That night many of us were on stage leading worship at a revival open to the whole city of Wau. I led the song, and as I began there were dances breaking out. Women running to the front and forming dance lines, yelling at the top of their lungs, jumping up and down. Josh and Jaewoo being pulled down from the stage to dance and worship. It was beautiful. That moment gave a release, an acknowledgment, a celebration, a permission almost.
During tea time the next morning at the house where we stayed, we started singing songs together and every tribal language present in that circle was added to the song spontaneously. It was beautiful to watch and to see the richness that was always there being surfaced, released in worship, freed to adore God in a deeply spiritual way with core heart languages. Those moments expressed not just differences but also a unity that freedom and honest humanity can offer. I am grateful for those moments.
I am also grateful to God for the power of A SONG. The power that one song, from one place, in one language, from one tribe, to one God can have on an entire diverse city of people. I am grateful for the beauty of our differences and complexities of our humanity… the complexity of our healing…. the complexity of our unity.
My prayer is that we all are able to see more possibilities PAST and WITHIN our cultures to worship and commune together. My prayer is also that we would have the courage to GO THERE with God, each other, and ourselves as we dive deeper into who we are, who He is, and what that means for our world.
[written by Grace Funderburgh]