The Universal Language

Time Frame: 2002

A choir from Tanzania touring and performing gospel music in Iowa is featured. Originally aired in 2002.
Living in Iowa
IPTV, 2007

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Morgan: The value of international cultural exchanges was brought home last June when a church choir from Tanzania came to Iowa to perform. Each day opened the singers' eyes to the differences between their lives and those of their hosts. But each day also brought the comforting realization of how alike both parties were in their faith.

Morgan: It's a beautiful June evening at the Clinton, Iowa, band shell. Tonight's audience has a rare opportunity to hear something unique, gospel music sung by a choir from Africa.

Janet: The first time I heard the choir sing, there were tears in my eyes, because it was reality for something that was dreamed.

Morgan: The "Voices of Pare" is a choral group from the Pare diocese in Tanzania, located near Mt. Kilimanjaro in eastern Africa. The singers range in age from 17 to 34 and are guests of the Evangelical Lutheran church's southeastern Iowa synod. The synod's dream to forge a relationship with its companion church resulted in this 20-day performance tour by 15 Tanzanian men and women.

Moses: It's a traditional music from different tribes in Tanzania, but especially from our Pare tribe.

Raymond: Of course, all our songs here enable us to praise the word of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us. So all our songs praise him.

Morgan: Janet Heinicke is one of the individuals responsible for bringing these artists and their music to Iowa.

Janet: The emphasis has been on building bridges of friendship and understanding, not only about culture but also about the life of the Christian community in Africa as well as here.

Morgan: The choir's tour began in Des Moines and continued throughout the southeastern Iowa synod, with stops in Ottumwa, Pella, Burlington, Maquoketa, Clinton, Davenport, Iowa City, Tipton, and Cedar Rapids. During their travels, the choir experienced a different way of living than they have known, different right down to the roads they traveled.

MMoses: You know, there is a very, very great difference from our country. For example, the area where I'm living, we don't have these good roads. We have bumps and corrugated roads, so it is just a new experience. You know, we are living in a third world country, and to have this opportunity to visit this first world country was very special. A golden opportunity, I can say.

Janet: We want to establish friendships between Christians in two very different cultures to discover what is common in our faith. There is great joy in discovering that. We hope we will learn from our Tanzanian guests, because they have much to teach us about that which is important and that which is unimportant.

Morgan: So what do Christians from a third world country have to teach Christians in progressive America? The answer is in the music and how it connects people, regardless of significant cultural and economic differences.

Thea: What surprised me was the fact that they knew the same hymnal we had, and they had the numbers memorized. The hymn numbers were memorized. Try this, try that... And they sang their favorites and they were the Christmas hymns. They sang them in Swahili. They sang some in English. They sang some in parts, and they were curious. We made music together. It was fun.

Morgan: Carol and Clifford Rask from Maquoketa served as home hosts during the choir's visit to the Clinton area.

Carol: It's like these voices don't need a piano or an organ to sing. They sing so beautifully and music is such a part of them.

Morgan: What was clearly not a part of the visitors' lives was a life full of the material goods Americans enjoy. That fact was not lost on the Rasks. Indeed the visit underscored what they and most people already know: There is more to life than things, and there are other people and cultures in this world.

Carol: I think you do think -- you realize that we could get along perhaps with a much simpler lifestyle.

Clifford: Aalso, I think it reiterates that we are a rich nation and we should be helping out more than we are there, sharing and things then too, but too many of us like to live to the most extreme, forgetting that there are other people, because they're not visible to us every day.

Morgan: For their part, the Tanzanians learned about one of the foundations of America's economic success, the American notion that time is money and that being on time matters.

Moses: We learned much about very important things. Sorry I forgot to mention it, it's just the matter of keeping time. Yes, we were informed even before we left home that you must be very serious about that. But our hosts told us, they say, "We can leave about ten minutes from now." So, now, it's just okay to us that we know that we must keep time when we want to do anything.

Morgan: Both the Tanzanians and Iowans came away with a deeper understanding of their differences and a greater appreciation for the power of music. It was through the music that the differences seemed to dissolve.

Janet: One of the wonderful things to watch is how responsive this group of singers is to its audience. The audience is warm and enthused. The singers are warm and enthused. It's as though I can look in your face and you know I'm looking at you. So you sing a message back to me, and then that makes me want to sing or speak a message to you. It's wonderful to see that happen, to see that there's no distinction in race or economic background or cultural differences. Those are unimportant. In that sense, music is indeed the universal language


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