Thursday, July 24, 2014

God's praise in a new form

Since arriving in Kenya, we have been adjusting to life here.  We are re-learning how to cook, speak, drive, shop, greet, hike, study, and so many other functions that were second nature back in the US.  One of our favorite new "functions" is our praise time in the morning in language school at Brackenhurst.  We always sing in Swahili, and until recently, our only accompaniment has been a drum (ngoma).  We also have some Korean classmates.  You should hear the blend of Kenyans, Americans, and Koreans singing Swahili words in English hymns to God.  Check out the video of this.

Sometimes, our morning praise time includes some of that Kenyan praise music.  But more commonly, we use European hymns that have been translated into Swahili (Kiswahili, for you purists).

Here is Amazing Grace, in Swahili:
And here's the translation of the first stanza:
In the grace of Jesus, I am saved; I was lost in sin, blind in soul.

You might say that some important phrases were literally 'lost in translation.'  And you'd be right.  But that's no fault of the translator.  Swahili commonly requires more syllables than English to convey the same information.  So when fitting the words into the song's meter, the translator had to truncate. In order to keep the tune and meter, we finish with words that seem less profound, less lyrical.

Some of our instructors are also prominent singers in their local church's choir.  But don't think of this choir as a stationary arrangement of robed Southern Baptists.  Oh, no.  Their music is festive, responsive, active, harmonious, and thoroughly wonderful.  When our Kenyan instructors give us original African hymns, with words and music not wedged into the grid of European hymnody, oh, how much more appropriate!  Responsive, joyous music with complex rhythms and harmonies.  That's how Swahili music is supposed to sound!

We do love singing tunes we have known for years.  The Sunday before we left the US, our wonderful Church blessed us by singing "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms."  We especially love this hymn, because we get to 'act up' in church (we lean when singing "leaning").  And a very neat thing happened here.  On our first day at Language School, we were very happy to recognize the same tune, this time with Swahili words. 

As we integrate into Kenya, we are trying to keep in mind that we can't wedge our American expectations into Kenyan life.  Those expectations often will not fit, and may produce awkward, truncated relationships.  We need to be ready to stretch and grow and find new, fuller ways of living.  Dwight Gradin taught us a quote:  "Learn a new language; grow a new soul." 

Kiswahili at Brackenhurst

Here we are at Kiswahili (the Swahili language) School at Brackenhurst, near Limuru and Tigoni Kenya.   After landing in Kenya June 12th, our hosts the Steurys, Manchesters, and Vanderhoofs helped us find the stirrups and ride.  They took us to buy phones and food and study materials and pick up the delayed luggage from the airport.  They fed us and held our hands.  And we are very grateful for their expert guidance.

Then three days later, they dropped us about an hour north at Brackenhurst Conference Center, where we checked into freshly renovated rooms and continued learning how to live in this country.  Our language course started on June 16th.  We have completed two weeks and are surprised at how much we have learned in a short time.