Music on the Mission Field
David’s Harp is supporting international outreach efforts in Latin America and Asia.
David’s Harp is a Recognized Service Organization of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) that is dedicated to spreading the Gospel through music. It brings together musicians from across our Synod in proclaiming and promoting God’s Word faithfully through music, with a focus on reaching into communities and catechizing people of all ages.
While a major emphasis has been on establishing centers for musical development in LCMS congregations and developing print resources, David’s Harp is also having a significant impact on international outreach.
From the beginning of Lutheranism, music was a vehicle for Gospel expression. Martin Luther realized this when he witnessed the spread of his first hymn, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun,” honoring two young men who were martyred for their faith. Since then, authoring texts and composing music has become a major part of Lutheran mission work because texts teach people about Jesus and the music carries those texts into every corner of their lives.
A new Spanish hymnal, years in the making, will be dedicated and distributed this spring. This hymnal will serve Spanish-speaking Lutheran churches in nearly 15 countries, and plans for introducing and supporting the hymnal include offering a website of audio recordings of all the music in the book. The task of providing these recordings was formidable. Enter David’s Harp with its network of musicians, recording studio and professional audio technician. This group of faithful volunteers has been steadily recording and uploading music, ready for singers in Latin America to add vocals. This is a prime example of the way David’s Harp supports mission work through music.
Thousands of miles away in Indonesia, there is another hymnal project in the works — this one for the Indonesian Christian Lutheran Church (GKLI). While serving on the hymnal committee, I was given a beautiful opportunity to spread the Gospel through music while in Medan, Indonesia, for a committee meeting.
The wife of a committee member, who teaches at the Indonesian equivalent of a public middle school, had a request: Would I be willing to introduce and teach some music from this new book to the student body? An invitation to speak the Gospel would be unimaginable, but an invitation to teach music was welcome. In this overwhelmingly Muslim country, music opened a door.
David’s Harp also will assist the Indonesian hymnal project in the upcoming year with simplified accompaniments for church musicians. The GKLI has a strong singing tradition, but musicians typically play by ear. Simplified arrangements will help in learning and teaching new hymns in their congregations.
One of the objectives of David’s Harp is to plant music conservatories, and that objective is going global with a project in the city of Chiayi, Taiwan.
Chiayi is the regional headquarters for the Synod’s team in Asia. The Synod’s partner church in Taiwan, the China Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC), owns a building that provides space for missionary housing, a chapel, offices, a sound studio, a library and guest rooms. David’s Harp is currently developing a plan in conjunction with the CELC to open a center for music in the remaining two floors. This center could serve both the local community and the broader southeast Asia region. Locally, it would serve in much the same way as the music conservatories in LCMS congregations do, by offering private lessons on various instruments and regular opportunities for performances. The objective would be to train musicians while developing relationships with the local community and introducing them to Christianity.
Musicians from other Lutheran churches in southeast Asia also would benefit from training and teaching, but the huge distances pose a difficult obstacle. A center for music could be part of the solution by providing short courses on topics like the art of accompanying the liturgy, utilizing the Hymn of the Day and the music of the great Lutheran composer J.S. Bach. Along with the training, musicians would be able to worship together, encourage each other and form a church music community. Lord willing, one day soon a David’s Harp Conservatory will operate in Chiayi.
“Music and language are God’s gifts to His church, to sing His praise, teach His faith and remind believers that their sins are forgiven and they are right with the Father” (Eph. 5:17–19; Col. 3:16), said Dr. Roni Grad, David’s Harp board member. “Music is in the blood of every Christian and a powerful tool for evangelism.”
Music played a significant part in the Reformation. Luther could not imagine life without singing, and he brought that conviction into all aspects of his own ministry, from writing catechetical hymns to turning to hymns to sustain the faith in difficult times. We are a singing church. It is a part of our identity.
This identity is a profound blessing in missions. Music unites across cultures and languages. It breaks down barriers and carries the Gospel message. Hymnody speaks a common language that binds Christians together around the globe, and faithful hymnals facilitate faithful worship as worshipers receive the gifts of the Gospel: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We pray that the Holy Spirit would keep all of us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
Deaconess Sandra Rhein
LCMS missionary and sacred music educator based in Taiwan.