I was going through some old journals a while back and came across a little green notebook that made me smile. It was full of French choruses I’d learned during my years in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), West Africa. I began flipping through the pages, trying to remember the tunes that went with the words. Several of them I still knew.
I’ve always loved to sing. I grew up, walking down Main Street to our church every Thursday after school to attend choir. I moved on to the church youth choir in high school and college, sang in quartets or small groups for special services. Music was a big part of my family’s life, with each of us five siblings being drawn to a different genre of music. As the youngest of the brood, I liked them all, being very eclectic in my taste, as evidenced by my playlists.
When mission service took me overseas, I took my music with me, first on cassettes and then cds. Music is a good way to learn a new language, and when I joined the local Baptist church in Ivory Coast, I also joined the choir. Why not? I was just doing what came naturally.
Yet, I didn’t look very natural in this choir — I was the only pale face in the group. No matter, I had my matching African print dress made and enjoyed every moment singing praise to God in French.
I came back to America humming French tunes.
Then God called me to the Arab World.
While in seminary in Texas, I joined a small Arabic-speaking church. No big choir here, but we did sing in Arabic. I’d been studying the language and trying hard to learn. It’s definitely not like French.
Wanting to contribute to the service, I learned a hymn in Arabic and hesitantly sang a solo one Sunday for the native speakers in our midst. That song caught the attention of the pastor, who would eventually become my husband (another story for another time).
Once the barrier was broken, I kept singing in Arabic and even began playing the piano for the church.
Thirty-plus years later, I think about all the songs I’ve sung in choirs, with children, or at home in languages not my own. I guess you could say, I can sing in tongues.
Grief took the music away for several years, but I’ve gradually seen it slipping back into my life. I hum a tune, sit down at the piano, or sing along in the car. Yet, even though firmly planted on American soil, my songs still come out in French or Arabic, reminding me of God’s grace and the beauty of song in the lives of His people, now matter what language they speak.
When Jesus is in your heart, he gives you a new song to sing. That’s the beauty and uniqueness of life with Christ. No other religion or faith has that. I’m just glad he understands the songs we sing, whatever the native tongue may be.
There within my heart’s a melody. Is there one in yours?
Grace and Peace