Heart languages soar with songs of faith in Nepal
Apr 18, 2014

WELCOMING WORSHIP Santali Christians perform a welcome dance to the tune of a song they wrote at a music workshop. The welcome song and dance is a fixture of Santali culture in Nepal. Workshop participants only had a few days to write, rehearse and record songs. Many had never heard Christian music in their own language or used their people group’s cultural style to worship. BP Photo by M.B. Harris/IMB
KATHMANDU, Nepal (BP)—Emotion was palpable amid cautious but fervent prayers as Nepalese women dabbed tears with their shawls and men let intense worship furrow their brows.

One man lifted his shaking hands in worship during the music workshop in Nepal.

“If you’ve never worshipped from your heart tongue, I want to give you an opportunity to now,” workshop leader Deepak Nepali* told the participants.

For many, it indeed was such a moment to worship Jesus in their own language in a land where Nepali is the official language in schools, the workplace and churches.

As languages came to life in prayers and praise, high notes of traditional Tibetan songs revealed a heart yearning for God. The almost-forgotten languages found breath in the lyrics that participants jotted on notebook paper. Traditional drums pounded praise for the Savior.

International Mission Board ethnomusicologist Ethan Leyton**, who helped coordinate the four-day workshop last fall, said it was history in the making, as 16 people groups composed 120 songs in 18 languages.

“[God] wants everyone here to use their mother tongue, the language of the heart, the language they pray in, the language they dream in, the language they talk to their family members in,” Leyton observed.

Passionate instruction

Deepak Nepali is passionate about music, language, culture and passing this fervency on to his countrymen.

Deepak hopped from one foot to his other at times, leading the group in singing, “I need Jesus, you need Jesus, Nepal needs Jesus.” He bounced his way over to less-enthusiastic participants and, with his energetic facial expressions, succeeded in eliciting a smile and wholehearted participation.

“How often do you use your mother tongue?” he asked two young men from the Tamang people group. 

“When we are out cutting grass,” they answer, laughing. The men soon found that they could talk with God and praise Him in a language that had been beyond the bounds of worship for many years.

“We’re here to write new songs, but we’re also here to start a new history,” said Nepali, whose teaching varied based on the audience and what he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him to say. 

He broke with his plans and spontaneously opened the floor for believers to pray in their heart language. In Nepal, like many places in Asia, believers pray out loud and all at once.

“Even if you don’t have the vocabulary, ask the Lord to release that and give you the words,” Nepali said. 

Unity in diversity

Churches had encouraged the sole use of Nepali in worship as a way of unifying the people, Leyton said. For the most part, churches in Nepal do not encourage incorporating other languages or traditional instruments into worship services. “The church was the place you can feel equal,” he said.

Leyton and Nepali were nervous about bringing different people groups from different castes together for fear it would become divisive. It did not.

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