A Gift of Christmas Hymns for the Church in Niger
Tom Johnson has added a holiday side-project to his work in Niger as a development specialist. He is introducing the Nigerien church to Advent and Christmas music in the languages spoken there: French and Hausa.
“I’ve been rushing to assemble as many French and Hausa Christmas carols and Advent-themed hymns as possible into a photocopied booklet to aid worship,” he says.
Tom and his wife, Aïchatou, identified just six Christmas-themed songs in the printed French hymnals and Christian songbooks that they have access to. With a lot of digging, they found another 16 French Christmas songs on the Internet that are appropriate for the Nigerien church.
“The Hausa compilation has gone better,” says Tom. There were already more than a dozen Christmas carols in the existing Hausa hymnal, although many of the tunes are unknown to current Hausa Christians—a situation Tom and Aïchatou hope to address.
Tom discovered more Hausa songs through an Internet search using key Hausa words like angel, shepherds, Mary, and Bethlehem. He also found songs written by Nigerien Christians but likely unknown outside of their local church.
He came across the Hausa equivalents of “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and “We Three Kings” in an old hand-assembled typed hymn book that missionaries had made more than 40 years ago.
Tom and Aïchatou also wrote an Advent hymn themselves in Hausa, to the melody for “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” Due to the structure of Hausa words “it was a painstaking process,” says Tom. “Our efforts paid off when we sang the song at church and received warm applause.”
In recent years, Tom has also been working on a Hausa catechism. “The [Hausa church in Niger] has reached a certain size and maturity after more than 50 years of existence and yet it is missing many locally produced materials to help disciple its members and to foster a theologically vibrant approach to worship,” he says. He is doing what he can to help fill the void.
The Johnsons’ mission partner, the Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger, was founded shortly after Niger’s independence in 1961. It is the oldest and largest Protestant denomination in the Muslim-majority country.