“Come, children, join and sing”
Many years ago, CEF worker Etiny Thole, had a vision of a throng of children standing on a stage singing praises to God. As a child growing up in Mzuzu, she remembers her grandmother teaching her hymns in Tumbuka in her home every evening.
Now as a children’s worker, Etiny recognizes that children in Malawi know so few worship songs, they sing the same songs over and over, and many of these songs are not Scriptural. She sees that teachers have no resources to help them discover new songs, and appropriate songs to fit in with their lesson. For many years Etiny has wished there was a book with all the children’s songs together in one place, in Chichewa and Chitumbuka, so that they can be understood by children in all parts of Malawi.
Ruth got to know Etiny at the start of 2015, as CFCM supports Etiny in running the Bible club at the Mphemba Reformatory Centre. They soon discovered a common interest, not just in bible clubs, but in using music to help in children’s ministry. One week, on the long walk to Mphemba, Ruth asked the others for help translating a children’s chorus into Chichewa so she could teach it to the children. After this, Etiny shared with Ruth her desire to see a book just for children, with songs in Chichewa and Chitumbuka, on all topics relating to the Christian life, and firmly based in Scripture. Ruth also shared her desire to see new Scriptural songs created, by Malawians, for Malawians, and also the need for songs to be written down – not just the words but the music also – as the songs get corrupted as they are handed down orally.
Since then, Ruth and Etiny have met every week to work on creating such a book. Existing Chichewa and Chitumbuka children’s hymns have been put together with newer children’s songs from the West which Etiny has translated into Chichewa and Tumbuka.
Ruth has run several song creation workshops specifically to create new songs for children, and individuals who have written their own songs for children have been invited to contribute their songs to the book. The finished collection holds just under 170 songs, each in Chichewa and Chitumbuka, and in English if the original language was English. Every single song has been transcribed by Ruth into staff notation using the Sibelius computer program. For every song, a relevant Scripture text has also been found so they can be cross-referenced.
The book will take its title from one of the songs: “Ananu Ziimbani” which means “Come children join and sing!”, and perfectly sums up the desire of Ruth and Etiny. The translations have been checked, and Ruth has started to prepare the layout of the book. A young professional photographer is helping with the design of the cover. Etiny and Ruth are still seeking a publisher in Malawi, but are prepared that they may have to fund the first print run of the book before a publisher will catch the vision and take over publication.
The problem is how will these songs become known? Very few people read music in Malawi, people learn orally. So Ruth is now going round Sunday School choirs from many different denominations in Blantyre to teach each choir their own set of 8-10 songs, concentrating on the newly composed songs and the newly translated songs. The plan is for Calum to record all of these groups when he visits next February so that CDs can be made. Then when the book is published, they will bring all the choirs together for a big launch event in Blantyre, where each choir will perform the songs they have learnt. For Sunday School teachers, Ruth will offer to run a workshop to help the then learn the new songs, and learn to read music at the same time.
Etiny’s vision seems set to become a reality, and her longing is to see “Ananu Ziimbani” launched not just in Blantyre, but also in Lilongwe and back where it all started for her – in Mzuzu.