Tuesday, 18 June 2013

sing me a new song

"Sing me a new song." 

We heard these words often at La Casa Grande. The children there LOVE to sing, and love to learn new songs. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that every child there (including the 2 year olds) knows about 60 songs off by heart - church songs. Quite possibly more. And anyone, from the toddlers to the teenagers, can be called on at any morning devotion to choose and start a song for the group. Same goes for praying. Any of them can be asked to pray before the meal, and they all do it. There's no such thing as saying "no" to this request.

telling a story at morning devotions
Because it's expected - that anyone can sing, and anyone can pray. 

Our 2 children are not used to being called on in these ways, so there were stunned looks when they were asked to lead a song or pray in front of the whole group at La Casa Grande. I usually intervened and helped them out, but these experiences gave me pause. They made me wonder (again) why we don't expect more of our children.

Zoe already wrote about the expectations for doing chores and being involved around La Casa Grande, and this is another example of the children's involvement.

I think that sometimes in our circles, we don't want to embarrass someone or put them on the spot by asking them to pray out loud or lead a song - even adults. But this is a foreign idea to people in Benin. While Zoe and Eden were embarrassed to be asked to do these things, their Beninese friends were asking them to do them as a sign of honour, respect, and inclusion. To deny would be to imply we didn't want to be included.

It's a stretch for me too, praying out loud. Especially in French. :)

During this past month, our children have learned more about prayer. They thank God for the new experiences of every day. They pray when they are worried about their parents not being able to flag down a taxi in time to get us all to the Paris airport. They prayed at Ouidah, the slave port in Benin, pleading with God that this type of tragedy will never be repeated. They prayed when they were feeling sick on a bumpy car ride to Cotonou. They prayed that they would somehow see their friends from La Casa Grande again.

When our friends dropped us off at the Cotonou airport, they sang us a song. At our farewell evening at La Casa Grande, they went around the circle and each of the 31 children said something in appreciation. Many of them sang a song - some were solos, and some started songs and the others joined in. These children have the language, even the 2 year olds, to bless others. They said things like "May God bless you, and may God accompany you in your journey home."

Singing is part of every day, from morning devotions, where 3-4 children are called on to choose and start singing a song, to singing while you are doing chores, to singing in their bunks at night. One of the sweetest sounds I heard in our time in Benin was the singing that came from the girls' house at bedtime: beautiful, pure voices joined together to thank God for the day, mixed with the sound of crickets. And still, if I pause for too long to think about it, I get all choked up.

Our friends in Benin sing all the time, and they pray all the time too. Before leaving on a trip, you pray. When you get back from a trip, you pray. When we visited a hospital in Benin that was started by Mennonites, we prayed for the ongoing work of the hospital. Before someone speaks at morning devotions, you pray. After someone speaks, you pray. After a visit at someone's house, you pray. You can never pray too many times in the day in Benin.

And honestly, when you've driven on the roads here, you can see why you pray then thank God for a safe journey. But it makes me think about the control that I think I have - how I don't pray before I drive somewhere in Canada because I think I'm in control. This "pray every day, pray all the time" kind of mentality orients your day in a different way - towards God, towards something bigger than yourself.

I've put together a few snippets of music - some at different church services, some at La Casa Grande children's home - for you to hear a bit of Beninese singing.


  1. I'm really drawn to this practice -- making praying together more central to our expression of faith.

    It has been interesting to observe that Thursday morning prayer at church hasn't resonated with the congregation at all. When I was talking with someone who grew up in the Mennonite church recently, they explained that spontaneous prayer isn't really part of the culture. Suddenly it made more sense.

    If I were to vouch for this culture of prayer, one of the 'selling points' is that I think it can be a fantastic mode of faith formation for both our kids, and for ourselves as adults. One cannot help but share in a very real way your faith when you pray with someone. And perhaps it exposes that I am a bit of a 'heart' Christian -- someone was also recently explaining that some Christians are more 'head-ey', others more 'heart-ey', others more 'hands-on' and others more 'mistical'. I think I enjoy that deeper level of intimacy with my brothers and sisters that comes from praying together.

    I recall when I first joined the church, that I found pastoral prayer at the front of the church strange. It seemed like they weren't spontaneously praying from their heart, but were instead reading something off of a page. I really missed the feeling of prayer from my home congregation.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts here, Daniel. I too have experienced different denominations and various varieties of "prayer culture." There were aspects of the prayer culture in Benin that I really liked, but one thing I found distracting were all of the words. Maybe this is how I'm a bit more of a "mystic". I like some pauses or silence. Prayers in Benin were often loud too, with "my God, my king" inserted anywhere that there could be a pause. So that's just a style difference. But I really did appreciate this emphasis and expectation that everyone can pray, everyone can sing. And that they're both part of our everyday experience.

    2. And about your "praying from the heart" comment - that's definitely what they're doing in Benin - praying from their hearts.

  2. Wonderful, especially the dancing in the first song. I think if I learned to dance like that I wouldn't need to go for massage appointments to loosen up my neck and shoulder muscles!


    1. Indeed! It's quite a workout. :)