Every Sunday, Darbichu would go to the church and sit outside to listen to the songs being sung during the service.

He was touched by them, and one day exclaimed, ‘These Christians, when they sing, the earth shakes… It trembles my heart.’ Eventually, Darbichu accepted Jesus as his saviour and was himself able to sing the songs from his heart.

Darbichu was a faithful believer who worshipped wholeheartedly, until his recent death. His testimony was well known in the Me’en community; he usually went to local clinics to preach Jesus, which comforted people and brought many to Christ.

Image of Me’en people dancing Me’en people dancing

Darbichu’s story is typical of what has happened in the Me’en community of Ethiopia. Even before the translation of God’s word had really begun, Me’en people were coming to faith in Jesus through songs with the words of the Scriptures translated into the Me’en language. That continued right up until the launch of the Me’en New Testament in 2019 – and is still happening.

Tefera Endalew, director of Wycliffe Ethiopia, says: ‘In the past 30 years, more than 400 churches have been planted and 95% of the Me’en community have come to believe in Jesus. Most of those changed lives were impacted through Scripture songs.’

Songs for all of life

Tefera takes up the story: ‘The Me’en people are known for their close attachment to songs. They have songs for every season and life experience, and to express their feelings – joy, sorrow, funerals, victories, healings, deliverances, harvest times and so on. It’s common for them to sing loudly wherever they go. So when Me’en people began to come to faith in Jesus, it was natural for them to write songs about Jesus. Since the hearts of Me’en people are open to music, they’ll always listen to songs, including songs about Jesus, even if they don’t believe in Jesus.’

Image of smiling Me’en men

Writing and singing Scripturally based songs became the way the Me’en people heard and learnt God’s word, even while the translation of the New Testament was still in its infancy. Tefera says: ‘During their prayers, Me’en people say, “As the songs say…”, quoting phrases from the lyrics. Before the Scriptures were translated, songs were their main source of learning about God.

‘For example, after the Gospel of John had been translated, one singer wrote a song based on John 14 using a Me’en melody. The people learnt the song and sing it, which helps to keep the passage in their hearts. When they received the translated Me’en New Testament, they already knew most of the passages of Scripture through songs.’

Image of a laughing Me'en man
Using songs for evangelism

But there is another powerful way for the Me’en to use songs. Because songs are so integral to the Me’en way of life, it has given the growing Christian community an amazing evangelistic opportunity.

Tefera comments: ‘For the Me’en people, it’s common to sing loudly anywhere they go. So the believers sing their Scriptural songs in the markets, while carrying wood for construction work, or when travelling to market or celebrations. Others join in and they sing together. Wherever they go, or whatever they do, they sing songs loudly. This attracts many to listen and sing together, and has brought many to Jesus.

‘The fact that the Me’en church uses their heart language and local melodies for their songs, means it’s accepted in the community. The church considers the cultural context, which makes people open their hearts and accept the gospel message.

‘Now that the songs have been recorded, it’s common for believers to play gospel songs in their small shops too, which attracts passers-by to listen and sing together. Many have come to believe in Jesus just by listening to gospel songs, be that in shops or on their phones. Songs are powerful in the lives of Me’en people.’

Image of a street shop in Ethiopia Gospel songs are often played in small shops in Ethiopia

That the Me’en people have been singing God’s word in their language for years has undoubtedly been a key factor in why community transformation accelerated following the launch of the Me’en New Testament.

The songs had laid the foundation, and now the Me’en people are turning to Christ en masse – and in turn taking their message of hope to other communities.

Make way for the King

‘Once, a church congregation was praising God and shouting with joy. There were loud voices shouting “Elilita” – shouts of joy. In Me’en, such joyous noises are normally reserved only for respected people and on special occasions. While passing through the area, a man heard the noise and thought a respected person must have come to the area to be anointed as king. So he decided to see who was being anointed as king – and there he met King Jesus.’

Story by: Jeremy Weightman

Date: 16/01/2024

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