December 13, 2023 - Roger W. Lowther
Welcome back to the Art, Life, Faith Podcast. I’m your host Roger Lowther, and I’m excited to continue our discussion from the last episode, giving a little peek into some of the conversations and relationships that were happening at the GCAMM Conference this past September in Ft. Worth, Texas, the Global Consultation on Arts and Music in Missions.
Let’s pick up where I left off last time and continue to mosey on through the cafeteria with mic in hand while everyone is eating their lunch and just see who else we can meet.
Well, we're here in the lunchroom of the GCAMM Conference, and I am standing here with Robin Harris. Robin, please tell me, what you do.
One of the roles I have is co-founder and president of the Global Ethnodoxology Network, or GEN, which is how people connect together between conferences like this to be encouraged, to find resources and training, and networking in between conferences for people who love arts and mission. That's what the Global Ethnodoxology Network is.
Great. So let me emphasize that point. GCAMM is an event, but GEN is a network. It's about relationships, right?
Right. That's right.
Okay. So what is GEN? Where is it going? What are you hoping for in the future?
We're celebrating our 20th anniversary this year. So we were founded at GCoMM in 2003. And so we're celebrating 20 years, and we started as mostly, I would say North American missionaries who had a vision for doing arts and mission in a culturally appropriate, culturally sensitive way. Where we are going is now totally global. Many of our members, maybe even up to a third of them, are from the Global South. They're members from all over the world doing arts and mission in their own contexts, and so we're not where we started. It's very exciting. We have a very globally diverse board right now, and in addition to that, we have a consortium of about 15 or 16 people that we call our Global Advisory Council. And many of them are here at GCAMM. They're from a bunch of regions around the world. They're actively doing ethnodoxology in their context, and they are leaders, and they own this movement. It is great to see what our global leaders are doing.
Okay, so this is awesome. Who would you recommend join GEN in the future if they don't belong to it yet?
People would enjoy GEN if they want to do arts in their context in culturally appropriate ways. So maybe you're in a multicultural church and you're having challenges actually including everybody. Maybe you love artists and you're in a context where artists are marginalized, or you want to reach cross-culturally to other cultures in your context. GEN can help you do that in a really great way. We have trainings. We have networking. We have forums where people can ask questions. And so the best way to connect with us is through our free newsletter. You can go on to the site, worldofworship.org, or you can do worldofworship.org/newsletter, and that'll take you right to the newsletter. It's free. It comes out once a month or every six weeks.
This is great. What I've been hearing people saying in conversations around this conference is that it really is changing. I think before Global Ethnodoxology Network, that movement seemed a little narrow, like it was only for ethnomusicologists in very rural parts of this world. But now it's much bigger than that, right?
Exactly. That's also reflected in our core values. We recently did a whole set of...wrote up the core values that have really emerged from the movement over the last 20 years. We realized as we were writing out those core values that it's definitely not just music. Oh, my. No, it's not just music. It's all the arts. In fact, those are emphasized more in GEN than in a lot of places, to be very honest. It's not just rural contexts. We deal a lot in training people how to do these kinds of things in urban contexts as well. Thank you for mentioning that because it really is more than just rural, cross-cultural missions. That's a strength of ours. We're really good at that, and we have a lot of specialists in that. But the world now is multicultural, and it's urban, and we need to know how to address cultural issues in the arts for those contexts as well
Thank you, Robin. Thank you for starting this organization. I'm so excited to be part of it. It's meant so much to me, but we really appreciate all the work you do.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Yeah, so tell me, who are you?
I'm Debra Kim from South Korea, and I'm the director of Arts in Mission Korea, which is a mission organization that mobilizes and trains Korean Christian artists to encourage them to use their artistic talents for God's kingdom in cross-cultural missions.
And how many people are in this network?
You know what? So Arts in Mission Korea was started in 2013, which means it's been 10 years, but it's still very new to Korean people. You know, it's not easy to spread the word, but now a few people notice that art is important and the arts can be used in the mission field. Because you know what? God is beautiful, and the gospel is beautiful. And so as Christians, we need to spread the word and we need to glorify God beautifully. And art is a language of worship. Art is a great instrument for worship and evangelism.
Thank you very much.
And what is your name?
My name is Joy Kim.
And what are you doing here?
I work with Proskuneo Ministries, and now I'm attending GCAMM.
What is Proskuneo Ministries?
Proskuneo Ministries is based in Atlanta, Georgia. We've been developing resources and gathering people to worship together, gathering different peoples from different cultures and languages to worship together. And we have a multicultural worshiping community in our town.
I happen to know that you also do a lot of traveling with Proskuneo so that other churches can be exposed to multicultural worship.
Why is that important?
In a nutshell, I think that the churches have been worshiping in their own ways, but in multicultural context, where we actually do life together and we worship together, but then we are struggling, especially the churches in the US, are struggling to find what is our own expression of worship made up of a lot of different cultures and languages, and what is an honoring way to bring all these different expressions into one space of worship for a community. We've been experimenting with different stuff, but we believe that not just the context of ourselves, like multicultural context, calls for new expressions, but also we want to honor different come-froms of our people in our worshiping community to be able to express themselves in worship. So we've experimented with different creative elements of arts, and we learned songs from one another and wrote songs together, and are still on a journey to find what would be the songs and arts that bring us together to worship together in unity and diversity. I see that a lot of neighborhoods are becoming multicultural, so we like to share what we are learning from our own journey of building worshiping community.
Well, that's awesome. I have certainly benefited from seeing your worship in unity and diversity. So, thank you so much for what you do.
There were so many cool people there, and I hope that you the listener get to meet some of these people in person. Maybe you can come to the next GCAMM event whenever and wherever it is. I have many more conversations to share with you, but I want to stop there for a moment and sit down for a longer conversation with one person, Héber Negrão, who is an ethnodoxologist from Brazil. And he is a member of the board of GEN, the Global Ethnodoxology Network. And he really has some interesting insights into what it means to be a missionary and an artist in the world today. So, let's have a listen.
Okay, I'm sitting here with Héber Negrão, an ethnodoxologist in Brazil. And can you tell us more about who you are?
Yes. I've been working with ethnoarts ministries in Brazil since 2006, 17 years now. I am a member of EMLA (Evangelical Missionary Linguistic Association), which is the Wycliffe organization in Brazil. I am the arts coordinator of EMLA. Currently, I am taking my PhD studies at Dallas International University, a PhD candidate there in World Arts. I'm part of GEN. I’m a member of the board.
Okay. Now I have two questions. First, what is your art in particular?
I'm a musician. I studied violin since I was seven. I did the whole degree, but not the college one, just the mid-second level.
Do you sing as well?
I can sing. I'm not particularly great at it, but I don't lose the pitch, at least.
Okay. All right. You are a board member of GEN. What's GEN?
GEN is the Global Ethnodoxology Network. It's a group of more than 300 members that use local arts in the context of worship. They use arts of people from different parts of the world to engage with God, to worship him, and engage with the world. Basically, that's what GEN is about. It's a group of people that like and encourage the use of local arts to engage with God.
Okay. What does that look like in your context in Brazil?
Yeah. In Brazil, we have a lot of indigenous people. We have around 344 different people groups in Brazil, and their culture is completely different than the Brazilian majority culture. The language is different, and the arts are also different.
Yeah, it's a big country.
It's huge, yes. In my ministry, I encourage local leaders, church leaders, from those indigenous people to use their arts to worship God.
I've met some of the leaders here, too, I guess, who are helping you in that or who are working in various parts of Brazil?
Yes, they work in Central Brazil, and I'm located in the northern part of Brazil. But I've been doing ministry in Brazil in very different places, so not only one.
All right. What trend do you see? A lot of people talk about the Global South, how Christianity is moving into the Global South. Can you talk about that?
Oh, yes, of course. The Global South is a phenomenon that is happening where the gravity center of Christianity is switching to the south. Today, there are more Christians in Latin America, Africa, and Asia than in North America and Europe. By that, because of this phase of Christianity is changing, it also affects how church is engaged in missions. So before, you had “From the West to the rest.” Now, with the center of Christianity being more the Global South, there is a tendency or trend to understand that mission is now from the south to the north. Many missiologists says that now the Christians in the south are re-evangelizing Europe, for instance.
And Japan as well, by the way. There are a lot of Brazilian missionaries in Japan.
Yeah, I know one of them. So that's the major concept based on this change in the Christianity center.
What do you think about that? Is all the responsibility now put on the Global South?
There is an issue with the pendulum effect. The pendulum effect is when someone takes the pendulum to one part of the range, and you lose that pendulum, it doesn't balance. It's just goes all the way to the other side. In this case, the pendulum effect is people on the Global South saying things like, Okay, now the time of missions in North America and Europe is done. Now it's our turn. That's our responsibility to go and reach the world for God and stuff like that. But that's not how it is.
It sounds exciting, though.
It is. It is for some people, but that's not how God wants to do it because the mission is not for the church in the northern part of the planet or the southern part of the hemisphere. It's for the global church. So ideally, because we have a huge representativity of Christianity in the South, it can be done “From everywhere to everywhere.” Not anymore “From the West to the rest,” but “From everywhere to everywhere.” Us from the Global South, the church from the Global South can collaborate, can be partners with the Global North—Americans or European missionaries and churches—to accomplish the task. Some people tend to give this huge emphasis on the church and the Global South saying, “Okay, don't bother. We got it. We got this. Now it's our turn.” There's no such a thing in God's mission. The mission is God's, but he invites his church to be part of the mission, not his global church. His church, period.
Yeah, I agree. All right, so what trends do we see then in ethnodoxology? Would you say the Global South is taking on this...is it known what that word is, “ethnodoxology”? Is it a concept that is recognized?
It's growing. It's growing the awareness of using the local expressions of arts and different people groups in the South. It's growing because it's a new concept. You see, the Global Ethnodoxology Network was founded 20 years ago, and it's still a new concept. So many people and mission agencies and churches may be practicing ethnodoxology without knowing, but because the discipline or the field was starting to be developed and structured just for a few years ago, we'll still have a lot to accomplish in the Global South. But yes, I would say it's a growing awareness in Brazil about using local arts and local expressions of arts to worship God.
In this network, GEN, do you see that as growing, as being a worldwide network.
Yeah. Today in GEN, we have representatives from 80 countries in the world. It's a lot. We have a good representation of the Global South communities. But still, we have North Americans in the board, for instance, but we also have Africans, Latinos, Asians in the board. That means that this expression of the polycentric mission, the polycentric mission is that one that goes from everywhere to everywhere. There's multiple centers of mission, not only North, not only South. This expression of polycentric mission, we can see in the GEN board because it's not anymore a group of North Americans thinking of mission or mission and arts and mission for the other parts of the world. But we are thinking together and helping each other and strategizing together. With this ethnic variety and different nationalities, we were thinking GEN to reflect that polycentric mission.
Yeah, personally, I've really benefitted from the GEN network. But I want to ask you, why do you think people listening, should they join GEN? Why should they join GEN?
They should join GEN because with the globalization, we see a huge influence of the West in churches and missions and media and movies. The globalization came to make everything look like the same, like the West. God created the world in a slightly different way.
With this huge cultural variety, here are lots of different cultural expressions. Ethnodoxology seeks to encourage these multiple expressions of faith in different parts of the world. Because the arts, our identity, are the most different things that we have that God gave us, and we can respond to him according to that gift of beauty, of cultural diversity he gave to us. So that's why GEN matters.
Okay, so but is the Jenn network particularly for artists?
I would say GEN network, you don't have to be an artist to be part of GEN. But it's important that you have arts dear to your heart and your work, because when we talk about the outcomes of why GEN emphasizes and produces and encourages is an artistic expression. You don't have to be an artist, but if you work in a multi-ethnic community or in a community different from your own, then GEN will help you to see artistic traditions of that community, and will help you to use it or identify what you can use and what you cannot use. But automatically, the decision comes from the people, of course. But being part of GEN, you receive the tools to engage with the arts of that community. You can do that not being an artist. You just need to be a curious person to go ahead and ask good questions to understand how the arts work and encourage them to use it.
Yeah. We were just both sitting in a seminar by a man named Juan from Spain, and he was talking about how the arts are God's secret weapon for the world in missions. I think a lot of people think of the arts as something outside, like something periphery, not something core to our identity. But everything you're talking about nations praising, tribes praising, whether they realize it or not, the arts are core to who they are. To be able to encourage that, support that.
Yeah. In GEN, we say and we understand that arts are a powerful means of communication. Because we are Christians, we always are looking to communicate something. We want to communicate a message that can transform anyone's life. If we use the arts, local arts, the correct means of communication, that message will be not only understood, but will be received as for their own. It's much better than if you try to bring the message of the gospel in a foreign vessel. You see? It will be something that not... It's something new. It's something from the outside, but maybe it's not for the people. The people may not receive that as something for them. If you bring that powerful message in a way that people grasp that and accept as their own, Oh, this talks to me. I can hear. I hear this song since I was a child. Or this is the drama that my people used to practice to perform. I see the Bible stories in this drama. It make things personal, cultural, and appropriate for each people group.
Thank you. Well said. Thank you for sitting down and taking this time to talk with me.
Of course. My pleasure. Thank you very much.
As we close, I want to play a song for you performed by IziBongo, one of the featured worship teams at the conference. A lot of what I was taught as the foundation of Western Classical Music can be played on the piano. Yet, this piece cannot. In fact, those notions of major is happy and minor is sad is completely turned on its head by what sounds to most Western ears as pretty atonal. It’s very interesting to give you a translation of what’s being sung. The meaning is, “It’s God’s word that makes us so very happy.”
[Music Plays – "Pahpam Jarkwa"]
Thank you for listening. As we say in Japan, “Ja, mata ne! See you next time.”
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