January 13, 2024 - Roger W. Lowther
Welcome back to the Art, Life, Faith Podcast, and I’m your host Roger Lowther. This really has been fun for me, sharing conversations in the past two episodes recorded at the GCAMM Conference, the Global Consultation on Arts and Music in Missions, as it helps me remember what I learned and also the people I befriended there. In this third and last episode, let’s do this just one more time, and continue to travel from table to table during lunch time and see who else we can meet.
Hey, Roger. My name is Rob Still. I'm a worship leader based out of Nashville, Tennessee. I lead worship in the Nashville area, most Sundays somewhere. In the last 20 years, I've been doing a lot of short-term missions trips where I'll go and either lead worship or I will teach on songwriting and Biblical foundations of worship. I taught for over 10 years at a school of worship in Romania, teaching basic Biblical foundations and songwriting. Next month, I'll go to Greece. I'll lead worship for a missions organization called SIM for their global leadership development track, and then I'll go to Romania after that.
Awesome. What brings you to GCAMM this week?
I'm so glad you asked. I just finished my doctorate with the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies because I just wanted to become more well-informed about what I was learning and speaking about in terms of Biblical foundations of worship and that kind of thing. Some friends told me about GCAMM, and I feel like I've found my tribe. I didn't even know this kind of thing existed. From a distance, I knew something about maybe ethnodoxology or ethnomusicology, but not at this level. It's amazing. It's inspiring to be here.
Awesome. It's great to meet you.
Who are you?
Hi, my name is Mike. Originally, I'm from South Korea. I've been involved in ministry for Afghanistan for last 20 years.
Wow. What do you do now?
Me and my wife, we produce Afghan worship TV content for the Afghan Church. Afghan Church is a real thing. It exists and keeps evolving, especially in their refugee settings. They have freedom of religion, like in Turkey or other places. So, the Afghan Church is growing right now. As an ethnodoxologist, we support those churches in our capacity.
That's awesome. Thank you so much.
And who are you?
I am Hoiling Poon from Hong Kong.
And what do you do there?
I teach in a Bible seminary in Intercultural Studies, and I'm an ethnodoxologist.
Okay, and so what does that mean?
That means I'm a catalyst and encourager to encourage people and churches, Christians, to discover creativity in their life, and also encourage them to use their heart languages to know God and worship him.
And are you an artist yourself?
I'm a singer, and I'm a worship artist. I'm open to all kinds of arts.
Oh, great. Thank you.
And so who are you?
My name is Janice.
And where do you live? What do you do?
I live in Thailand as a missionary, and I'm doing arts ministry in Thailand.
What kind of arts ministry?
Normally, I will teach the kids art. And also, I will host some art workshops in the church, like art meditation workshops for the church members.
Are you an artist yourself?
Before that, no.
Okay. Yeah, that's great.
I don't have artist background, but during the COVID time God gave me to see that I have that kinds of talents and can use it to my ministry.
That's great. It's great to meet you.
Thank you. Thank you so much.
So please tell me what you do.
I am a world arts advocate, ethnodoxologist. Currently, I'm in a PhD program in world arts.
Awesome. Can you tell me where you were working before?
I have worked in North Africa. And then also in the Middle East.
Awesome. Thank you.
So, tell me about yourself.
My name is Chris Gasler. I'm an ethnodoxologist and used to work in Cameroon with SIL. Now I'm covering all of Africa area and doing that from the United States, which makes no sense.
Wow. What did you do in Cameroon?
I did a lot of songwriting workshops and various arts advocacy things, but songwriting workshops is the biggest thing that I did, the most common thing.
Awesome. Are you a singer yourself?
I am not a singer. I have a strange musical background. I used to be a trombonist.
Okay, so you are a musician.
I am a musician.
Great to meet you. Thank you.
And how would you introduce yourself?
My name is Mary Hendershott, and I'm here in the Dallas area as well at Dallas International University and with SIL.
And where were you before doing what?
I worked in Burkina Faso for about 26 years in surrounding countries.
Okay. And what did you do there?
I was there as an ethnomusicologist and an ethnodoxologist.
Which means what? You were helping people get worship music in their own language?
In their own language, using scripture as a base, and did songwriting workshops, and also did seminars for different arts.
Great. Thank you.
Hello. So it's very good to meet you. What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Mani.
I'm from Hong Kong.
And what do you do in Hong Kong?
I'm a worship pastor in a church and in a university, and I have a ministry about emotion, mental wellness care.
Okay. And why are you here at GCAMM?
I want to explore more about arts and music in mission.
Awesome. Well, this is definitely the place for that.
Good to meet you.
I love that.
Hello. How are you?
So what is your name?
My name is Stanley Amukwa.
And what do you do?
I'm a pastor with an organization known as Christ is the Answer Ministries, CITAM, way back in Nairobi, Kenya.
So you came all the way from Kenya for this event?
Yes, I came all the way from the way Kenya.
Why would you come all this way for GCAMM?
In 2018, GCAMM was held in Kenya at Brackenhurst, and I was able to participate. And in participating, I was greatly blessed and also enriched. And so with that in mind, I had no choice but to come again for the same.
And so what is your involvement in the arts?
I'm a pastor, as I've said, I'm a pastor of a congregation of about 2,000 people. And one of the things that I believe in is that in the service, there are two things that people come for. People come for a worship, WOW worship, and a WOW word. So the two go hand-in-hand, worship and the ministry of the word. And when I attended GCAMM in 2018, Ron Man's lecture really impacted me. I actually borrowed the lecture notes, and I've been using them to train my worship team, my worship leaders. And so with that in mind, that's how I'm involved. I'm not a worship pastor yet, but I'm the senior pastor and being the senior pastor, I oversee the ministry. And of course, with the preaching schedule, I preach every Sunday, I need the worship team to complement what I do in the pulpit ministry.
That's amazing. For you to have that commitment as a senior pastor, a huge church with all these responsibilities, and you come all the way here to learn more about how to encourage the artists in your church. I love it. Thank you.
Well, I think we’d better stop there. There’s so many more cool people to talk to, but I can’t get over that last conversation. Isn’t that amazing? A pastor of a large church, with so many responsibilities, was willing to fly halfway around the world, literally, to care for the artists in his church. I’d love to see more and more pastors attend events like these.
Well, there’s two people that I had a longer conversation with that I would love to share with you. First, I would like to introduce you to Jill Ford.
Well, I'm sitting down here with Jill Ford, who is working with All Nations Christian College in the UK. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Yes. So, I have heard through GCAMM conferences over the past, many times, people talk about All Nations, and this glow comes in their eyes like, “Oh, All Nations.” Can you tell our listeners what is All Nations?
Oh, I'm glad there's a glow. Yes, so All Nations is a cross-cultural mission training college based in the UK. We train and equip men and women for effective participation in God's mission to his multicultural world. And we love to train people for all areas of mission, particularly in the area of integral mission, helping people to be rounded and grounded as they move into missions in whatever sphere that might be.
Awesome. Now, where exactly are you located in the UK?
Yeah, we're actually located in the county of Hartfordshire, but we say to people, North London, because we are actually only 45 minutes from central London.
That's easy to get to.
Yeah, and close to three airports. Heathrow, Luton, and Stanstead in particular, so very easy to get to.
Okay. And do students at the college come from England only or are they broader?
We're international, inter-denominational, and intercultural. We have people coming from all over and from different cultures and different denominations, which is really exciting. Our current student body is probably more predominantly UK and Europe-focused due to the many challenges of Brexit and international visas and those kinds of things. But we do have quite a proportion of capacity for international students, and we do always encourage those as well. But there are more and more challenges coming about for some of our international students to actually come in person to all nations. But we do have opportunities now online for people to access our curriculum.
Well, I know that you are turning out a lot of missionaries because some of them are coming through Japan. I mean, just recently there was a couple that came through, and they were thinking about missions, and they were not from the UK. So, I know it's international. Tell me more about what you mean by this holistic approach. Why would an artist want to come to All Nations and be trained in missions?
Okay. Yeah. What All Nations is really good at training people in is a head, heart, and hands approach. Our curriculum is really focused on making sure that you have the head knowledge of theology, you have the heart of engaging with personal and spiritual formation, and then you have opportunities in practice-based ministry, whether that's with local church, community projects, or personal research projects that you may want to have a practice focus. So, there are opportunities throughout our curriculum that enable that roundedness for every person who attends All Nations. However, there is also opportunity to develop areas of interest. So whether that's an area of interest in the world like Japan, or whether you have a certain skill set that you come to All Nations with. So you may come as a doctor, a nurse, a community development worker, and then you can carry that learning on within the particular context of mission. So you can do leadership, you can do development, community transformation. And of course, if you're creatively minded, then we have a range of arts modules, and so people can begin to engage a number of different arts disciplines. If they come with some skill already, they can grow in that further. If they come with some skill that's untapped, one of the things that we love at All Nations is we're opening up opportunities for people through the curriculum. And we have found a number of students who have actually found their creative voice once they've come to All Nations. And seeing then, again, as an opportunity to go, I've always thought I was an artist. Let me have a go. I always thought I was a playwright. I always thought I was a musician. Now I can see how that gifting that has been dormant or untapped can be used in the context of mission.
Yeah. What I think I've heard from a lot of people is there's this image too that, okay, if you're going to be an artist and a missionary, that means, like in a concert, that you have to play really well and then give your testimony. Or you have to paint pictures of a cross or something like that. But when people talk about All Nations like, no, no, no, no, no…there's so many ways we can work creatively, artistically to share the gospel. And that holistic approach that you're talking about is, I think a lot of people need training in that.
Yeah. I mean, I can give you an example of the modules that we offer, and that offer obviously that holistic approach. For instance, you can train in the area of performing arts. And so, one module you could perhaps do to understand how to devise educational theater for a range of different contexts or communities that you might be working in, and how to engage some of the more difficult issues with people through community-based drama. Another performing arts module we do is actually creating and designing workshops both in the community and the church context. And so, again, these are means of creative engagement with others, but they're completely missional because it's also helping people to take, for instance, scripture and scripture engagement ideas into both church and community settings, where they can explore that and expose people to the gospel for the first time just through a creative arts workshop. We also run…
Is that also tied in with the Arts for a Better Future training?
There's some overlap, yeah. Obviously, Arts for a Better Future, which is a partnership course that we run with the Global Ethnodoxology Network. We've been running that since 2011, but that's a partnership course with a...that was a designed course outside of the All Nations curriculum, but we've embedded it in, we've had it accredited as part of our curriculum now. Yes, that has its own seven-stage model and is taught quite intensively, and anyone can come and do that. That's the other thing about our modules. You don't have to be a full-time student at All Nations. You can come and access a lot of our curriculum as a one-off module. Some are online, some are—you have to be here in person doing it intensively.
I didn't know that you all did that. I need to learn more about that.
Yeah. We are looking to make our training as accessible as possible for people at the moment, and really wanting to mobilize local church too. For instance, this fall I've got two ladies. Having seen a student run a workshop in the church that they attend, have now got interested in doing arts and community module with me this term. They're coming in from the local church, because they see that this has engaged both their church community and the wider community in a way that has allowed for dialog, it's allowed for creativity, it's allowed for relationship building. It's really exciting. And those things are all aspects of mission.
Oh, definitely. I mean, that's the key word I would say there is a lot of artists just don't know, How does what I make build community? How does that build relationships? They need to see that modeled for them. They need to learn about what is possible. That's not really taught in the art schools or the conservatories.
Yes, that's right. I know people are very focused literally on their arts discipline and perfecting their craft. But actually, yeah, this is probably, I use my words carefully, but it's a healthy approach because you see your art form and your places and your gifting within the context of others, within the context of God's family, within the context of the wider community and mission.
Very well said. Okay, so what are the challenges for people coming out of All Nations? What trends do you see happening now in the world today?
Well, obviously, the challenge of making our training as accessible as possible, we're managing that with offering both residential and online. But obviously you'll understand in terms of the arts, it's not always so easy to be offering all aspects of the arts online, because so much is participatory, so much requires that interface and engagement. That's one of the challenges, particularly in the arts sphere. I think another couple of challenges is the movement of people's accessibility and affordability. So, we're trying to make our curriculum accessible through allowing people to zoom into our global classroom. The affordable bit is still a challenge for some of our brothers and sisters in different parts of the world. And obviously, they would love to have the face-to-face training. So what we're trying to think about is how can our nations be further on the move? How can we have our training as movable? And how can we think about partnering with others? Really also affirming and standing with people who are currently doing some great things in local context, but need some further affirmation. Maybe they need accreditation. Maybe they just need ongoing connection with a place like All Nations to encourage them in what they're doing already. We've got collaboration, we've got partnership, we've got online versus residential. We're looking at just different hybrid forms of delivery. And these are both opportunities and challenges. I think just at the moment we're in this shift. There's a shift going on in global mission, a shift from north to south and Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere. And then there's this shift in terms of the center of missions. And so how do we steward our resources and steward our training as well as possible to benefit as many as possible.
For this changing landscape. But do you see a trend? Are there more artists wanting to go into missions? I mean, obviously after COVID, I'm guessing that it's probably been harder to recruit people.
Yeah, it has and still is. I think people are tentative at the moment. And what we're finding is that short courses lead to longer courses. So, a lot of our, for instance, our arts offerings are on the short side. You can come and do four days, or you can do a days training, and that often opens up the world of both missions and the arts to people. They go, “Oh, this is what it's about. These people are doing it. I could do that. Okay, now I can begin to take a step.” But I think there is this tentative nervousness in a lot of people. And, of course, I think the sector, the educational sector at higher education has been impacted by COVID. So universities and colleges, particularly in my context, UK, they're seeing a problem with recruitment at the moment and also Bible colleges as well. So this is not just…
Yeah, that's universal.
It's universal, and we're all dealing with this. How do we mobilize and motivate others and bring them in? Of course, I think we've got a responsibility to make things accessible, but also help people to see what's possible. Something like GCAMM, where we're here now, is that place where people come and see and taste and go, “Okay, this is great. I want to engage.”
Awesome. Thank you so much. God bless everything that you're doing there.
Thank you, Roger.
And I'll keep telling people about what you're doing.
Thank you so much. It's been a blessing to be with you.
Now there’s one more person I’d to introduce you to, Nancy Nethercott. I’ve known Nancy a really long time, since my very first year in language school. She used to live in Japan and has been a huge encouragement to me over the years. More recently, she led a worship workshop for us, which was really well attended, just over 100 people were there, and we got excellent feedback about her time with them. Now she travels all over the world as a speaker, trainer, encourager, and pastor.
Let me just tell a quick story about Nancy. I remember one time we were riding in a taxi after an event, and I was dead tired. I was not in the mood to talk to another single person, and yet in that moment, Nancy shined. She engaged the taxi driver in conversation, in her perfect Japanese, encouraging the driver and everyone else who was in the car. She just really is a natural and such a kind person. Anyway, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to share her with all of you.
Okay, I'm sitting here with Nancy Nethercott at the GCAMM Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. I want to take a little bit more time with you, Nancy, because I think you have a really interesting story to share.
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me to be able to share.
So, yeah, first of all, let me ask you what your background is. Where did you serve?
Yeah. I was a missionary in Japan for almost 30 years with The Evangelical Alliance Mission, mostly involved in church planting.
Otherwise known as TEAM.
Yes, TEAM. I was involved in church planting, pretty classic church planting for the first 15 years, and then moved into working with artists and created a group called CAN, Christians in the Arts Network. I had a lot of interactions with artists. During that time, I received my Doctorate of Worship Studies from the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies, and was also working with pastors and worship leaders in churches.
You're helping plant churches, you're working in the arts, you're loving artists. How did that lead to... Well, first of all, why are you here at GCAMM?
Yeah, I found my people in a group of artists who love to use their arts in missions, their creativity in missions. I'm here at GCAMM to learn and to grow and to network to be better at what I already do.
Well, that's why I'm here, too. I love the community here, the people that I get to meet. This is really life-changing in so many ways.
Conversations are rich. And they help form us. We form each other by the things that we share.
Because we all get so drawn into our specific context. But to be able to see the bigger picture of what God's doing around the globe through artists and missionaries is amazing to me.
Yeah, even this morning, I heard stories that I thought I have never heard a story told that way. We were all in awe.
Very cool. Okay, so what do you... I want to ask you specifically. I know you do many kinds of ministries. Actually, okay, tell me, what kinds of ministries are you doing now?
Yeah, so when I teach globally, I teach in the area of worship formation, worship renewal, why do we do what we do kinds of things. Then others invite me to speak in the area of spiritual formation, which I have training in. I'm a spiritual director. I'm an Anglican priest. So, what am I involved in? I'm involved in those things. I'm also the chaplain at the Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Ministry has changed a bit since leaving Japan in 2015, but I'm still very much involved in global ministries and thoroughly enjoy that.
I want to ask you specifically about this ministry you have of, I guess, it's a songwriting workshop? Is that right?
Yeah. So came into that. The first one was in the Philippines and then in Japan, actually, in 2016. Well, maybe Japan was the first one. Some people that I knew, some ethnomusicologists wanted to do a songwriting retreat in Japan. And since I knew Japan and knew people, knew artists, they asked if I would bring people together and facilitate it. That was my first step into that. But since then, I've gone with other ethnomusicologists on trips to Kosovo and Nepal, in particular, Albania, and done songwriting and multi-arts workshops, actually.
Okay, so tell me more about that. That sounds very interesting.
Yeah, it's really fun, actually. Started off with songwriting workshops. My role, when I work with somebody like Operation Mobilization or YWAM, the ones that I've done these workshops with, my role is what they call the Biblical worship trainer, which sounds really interesting. I don't really feel like I may be a Biblical worship trainer, but what it means is that in these workshops, the local people, the on-the-ground people, they know what the needs are of their community. And so, I reach out to them ahead of time and say, What are the songs that your church needs? What are the songs that your community needs? What are the arts? As we've done multi-arts retreat this last spring in Kosovo. What are the arts that your people, what are the themes that need to be represented to meet the needs of your community? It's asking what their needs are, what they want.
Right. Okay. When writing songs, usually the image that comes to mind for most people is like, Okay, yes, we need songs in other languages. That makes sense. Okay, we'll maybe be using different instruments or slightly different styles. But you're talking about something even deeper, like changing actual themes of what the songs are about. Maybe there are songs that don't express what that culture wants to express in worship.
That's right. We had one church, one group in Kosovo, and they didn't have songs of lament. They didn't have songs for communion. They had gathering songs. So if you think about a four-fold structure of worship, you have your gathering, you have Word, you have response and sending as the big components. And response then would be communion. And they had no songs for communion, and they didn't have sending songs. And so, when I structured the retreat and the devotional, so I listen to what their needs are, then I sit with the Lord and with the Bible, and I say, What is it? What is it that you want to say to these people that then the Holy Spirit can use to prompt them to create songs and to create art that will express these themes? So themes of hope, themes of identity in Christ, that we’re children of God, that we’re agents of reconciliation, just all these kinds of themes that have been given to me over the last few years. And then I sit with those, then we go to the workshop, I share a short devotional. And if it's interpreted, then I get about 20 minutes, so about a 10-minute devotional on my part, and they go off and create. And so, yes, working with an ethnomusicologist, that person then is, after I share a devotional, then they help them to create in their own styles, in their own voice, musical voice, using their own instruments. That's not my part.
Do they sometimes have trouble knowing what themes? If you ask them that question, what is missing? What is it that you would want to worship through in song? Do you get any like, “Oh, I've never been asked that question before. Let me think about that.”
Kazakhstan, that was a new question for them. But they came up with hope and unity. Thinking about their culture and what do the people need to sing about. Eventually, they said, give us time. Let us think about that. But then they did. They came back with lovely things.
Yeah. I would assume that part of it, too, is just giving them permission to do that. They're like, Our pastors have not said that we can do this, maybe, or just they've never heard that message before, that it's okay for them to be writing songs. Is that true?
By the time I get an invitation, it's like we want a songwriting retreat or a workshop. By the time I get the invitation, they've already worked through that.
Now, what I've seen in Japan is there are people writing songs here and there, but then there is no way to then spread those songs to other people. There's no worship conferences in Japan. There's no way to get that to disseminate these songs. Is that something that you've had to try to address as well?
Yeah. So the people that I worked with in Japan, they didn't have that avenue at the time since then. So that was 2016. Since then, I have connected or people have gotten connected with another missionary and a Japanese who have a studio. And so, they're actually recording some of the songs and getting them out to some of the local churches. But there is no great way to disseminate the songs. Kosovo and Albania was a different situation because the missionaries that I was working with, they actually had a studio, they have a brand, they have a name, and they also have some well-known, like a well-known rapper, Albanian rapper that works with them. They have somebody who has a name. When they created the songs in Albanian, both from Kosovo and from Albania, we worked in both countries. We came up with about, I don't know, I think 19 songs total. They were able to do a basic recording on the spot and then get it back to the studio, because the missionaries on the ground had created the studio. And then they could bring in singers and perfect it, and bring in instruments, and then they put them out. It's YouTube, basically, or their website. But the churches are singing the songs. And then they also have... They work with a youth arts camp that they do every year, and those songs are being sung there. They did another workshop I wasn't a part of that was creating children's songs. That was in 2019. And when I was just back there this past spring 2023, the kids I was with were singing the songs. So, they are getting them out there into the churches. Of course, it's smaller.
But that's awesome. I mean, 19 songs in one songwriting workshop. How long was the workshop?
Well, it was three days in Kosovo, in Pristina, or outside of Pristina and Peja. Then it was another three-day workshop in Tehrana, Albania. But because they're both writing in Albanian, although a little dialect in Kosovo, but then they cleaned it up into Albanian. They created these songs. They had people who were musicians, and were already some of them writing songs, and then they had people who had never written a song in their life, but got really excited about this. And because I think that was where we had the path of the four-fold structure, and they were specifically writing songs for the four parts of the worship service. And then I was giving them scriptures, like lots of scriptures for gathering and then dividing them into groups. Each group had like two or three scriptures. They would read those scriptures, pray over those scriptures, and then just start talking, listening to each other, and creating these songs. They came up with amazing songs. The Sending, when we celebrated, we have a celebration time at the end. They were all dancing with the Sending songs. It was absolutely phenomenal.
That's awesome. Yeah, I can just imagine. People who don't write songs may not be able to imagine this, but I've been in situations where when you do a songwriting workshop, just the energy of bringing people together, okay, this is what we're focusing on right now, putting everything else aside, that kind of concentration and energy and collaboration is really important with songwriting.
Yeah, and I think like a retreat then you've pulled away from everyday life. It's not like, Oh, every Thursday night, we're going to write a song or something, but you're actually getting to know each other. Collaboration is huge. I led one songwriting retreat. It was here in the US. and had a guy come, a worship leader, and he was writing his own songs, and we forced them to collaborate and write with others. And it just blew it out of the water for him because he realized he needed other people, and his songs were better working with other people. But yeah, that time of pulling away and being present with each other and with the Lord, yeah, and working together on creating, like even arts, like this in Kosovo, this last spring, when they had this huge arts room with every kind of art you could think of, even sculpting different things they were doing down there, and anybody could go down. If you got tired of songwriting, you didn't have to do that as your creative expression after one of my devotional, you could go down to the art room and create. And so then they were collaborating with each other. Another retreat I led was multi-arts, and we had visual arts and creative writing and then songwriting. One woman who was up writing poetry brought her poetry down to the songwriters, and they started writing songs together. It was absolutely beautiful.
Yeah, I love hearing your stories. I get your newsletters, and I'm always following along what you're doing around the world. I'm just amazed. God bless you as you continue doing these things.
Thank you so much. I'm thankful for the Lord's continued blessing on the things that he's invited me into. Thanks.
In closing, I’d like to introduce you to one final song performed by Izibongo, one of the featured worship bands at the conference. You can download this song and their whole album on Amazon at the link I listed on the show notes for this episode.
[Music Plays – "Ameen Ta'ala" ("Amen, Come")]
Thank you so much for listening. As we say in Japan, “Ja, mata ne! See you next time.”
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