Ghana choir

Ghana choir

When you hear the phrase “church choir”  what comes to mind? Large? Traditional? Sings hymns? Wears robes?

What would it be like if:

  • Many church choirs wrote their own songs
  • Every church had 2-3 choirs and and large churches might have 10 or more
  • Choirs expected the congregation to learn their songs and sing along
  • Some choirs sang in a language which is the mother tongue of only a fraction of the congregation and some churches would have several of these
  • Choirs offered support to choir members and others during times of bereavement, illness, unemployment, etc.
  • A significant portion of choir meetings was spent in sharing and prayer
  • Choirs expected that at least some people in the pew would come to the front and dance for joy with choir members during rousing songs
  • In some rural churches, as many as 70% of choir members could not read or write, just like the rest of the congregation

I don’t have to imagine this. I live in it. This us what church choirs are in much of Africa.

Church in Abone, Congo

Church in Abone, Congo

Now, imagine that you are part of a team doing the first translation ever into a language and you are looking for more ways to get this new translation into hearts and minds. A local person suggests choirs, but you still think about choirs the way you did at home. So you reject that crazy idea.

It has happened just like that. Of course, others realized that if choirs compose and sing Scripture songs in the local language, Bible reading and memorization happen. It’s cheap, sustainable and fits the local system.

Being effective when working in another culture means making a conscious choice to call your understanding into question, even for things you know (or think you know) perfectly well, such as choirs.


The 2011 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana was held in late August the picturesque mountain town of Abetefi. (also spelled Abetifi)

Presbyterian church in Abetifi, Ghana

Presbyterian church in Abetifi, Ghana

The opening was a mixture of western and Ghanaian influences. As in many American churches, the songs were projected on a screen, but with two differences. First, the songs were hymns. Second, they were projected in two languages side-by-side: Twi and Ga. Ghanaians have no qualms about mixing pieces of their tradition and culture with other influences and then tossing in a bit of technology to create what they want.

As the moderator ascended the pulpit, a lady in the audience created a disturbance. She called out in a language I did not understand while flailing her limbs. Depending on your world-view and theology you would either say that she was having a mental breakdown or that she was demon possessed. The Ghanaians I talked to offered the latter explanation. Three men started carrying her out the back by force. The moderator asked that the lady be brought forward and he designated three pastors to pray for her. After that the men took her outside.

In a sign of changing times in the oldest continually operating church in Ghana, founded in 1829, the moderator, who was finishing his first year in that office, thanked all those who had sent encouraging text messages to his phone. The way mobile phones have exploded here, it is not surprising that it is in Africa that I first heard people thanked publicly for sending encouraging text messages.

The choir was really great! In another example of mixing traditions: they sang a cappella in classical style but in a Ghanaian language, Twi. You can listen to a recording I made of the choir singing in Twi. I made it on my compact camera so the quality of the recording does not do the choir justice.

My overall impression was of an African church that had made the Gospel its own

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