Hymnal Hope: Songs that Saved My Life

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Hymnal Hope: Songs that Saved My Life

Kata lweny ger chutho; kata kuyo thoth             Though severe the conflict and the anguish deep,
Kata temruok duon’g machiengni hingoi              Though the trials heavy that may o’er you sweep,

Ruoth ni buti pile nomiyi teko                                   God is always with you, giving strength to bear
Mar loyo temruok duto mabironi.                            All the heavy burdens when they shall appear.

Ne ler Yesu, kaka rieny maler                                              See the sunlight, shining bright and clear

   Ler mogwedhi, mariembo luoro                                           Blessed sunlight, drives away all fear;

   Ng’i wang’ Yesu, mudho noringi                                Look above you, clouds will disappear;

   Gen Yesu kende nikech en machiegni.                              Put your trust in Jesus, he is ever near.

 These are the words from song number 177, Stanza 3 and refrain- in my Wende Nyasaye Luo Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.  The English version of this hymn is ‘Light Beyond the Shadows.’

Singing the words of this song in my mother tongue; the Luo language has given me comfort and strength these past few months. This hymn has consistently reminded me that despite the current darkness in my life and the world, looking at Jesus’ face, makes all fear and darkness flee because he is the ever-present Light.

For the past 12 months, I had been having a valley experience. I lost my job, lost my relationship, was deep in debt, and in the process lost my mind.  In the beginning, I tried to get myself out of it by my own strength. I borrowed proverbially from Peter to pay Paul, then borrowed from Pam to pay Peter, but the cycle of debt continued and I sank even deeper. I didn’t tell people that I was unemployed but kept up pretenses. I immediately got into a relationship with an unbeliever and fell into fornication. All this time, I wasn’t praying, wasn’t reading the Bible, but still went to church.

One Saturday night, reflecting on the message from church, I realized that I was living the life of a hypocrite and I felt like the worst sinner in the world. I quickly fell into a depression. For weeks on end, I didn’t leave my house, didn’t receive phone calls but occasionally replied to text messages to assure people that I was fine ‘just busy with work.’ In my house all I could do was cry; the condemnation and guilt weighed so heavily on me that I started having suicidal thoughts. I didn’t think I was worthy of living. I rationalized that the world would be better off without me since I wasn’t contributing anything to it anyway.

All this time, I didn’t dare to face God.  I had broken off the romantic relationship I was involved in, told my family that I was unemployed, stopped borrowing money, but I still couldn’t bear to face God. I knew that I had disappointed him and felt like there was no forgiveness for me. I had made peace with suicide. A few days later when I was doing the dishes, it was my first time talking to God after a long time and I casually said ‘Lord I know you don’t mind if I kill myself, right?’ I wasn’t expecting an answer. But immediately a song came and impressed itself so heavily in my mind; a song by Kirk Franklin that said ‘No matter what may come my way, my life is in your hands.’ I knew that God had answered me. My life was not in my own hands, my life was in God’s hands.

I left the dishes and started crying. I felt God’s acceptance and love, but I still felt much shame that I couldn’t pray.  What I did was look for my Luo Adventist hymnal. I had the English one too, but singing the hymns in my mother tongue felt so reassuring, so freeing. It was all that I could do back then.

I would wake up in the morning and sing song number 228;

ee angeyo ng’a mataya, kang’ado namno mar chandruok. Yembe kudho apaka ger, ka yesu telo duto ber.

In English the song is titled ‘I Know Who Pilots Me’ or sometimes ‘When Angry Waves About Me Roll’ and goes;

 ‘Yes, well I know who pilots me, across life’s ever-troubled sea; The winds may rave and waves may swell, While Jesus pilots, all is well.

This song reassured me of God’s leading, for he was, and continues to be, my Pilot.  No matter how rough the ocean is, he remains my chart and compass.

 

When I sang song number 149 days later, I choked and could not finish it. The words of the song in stanza 2, gripped me; Rangano pod oyawore, ni jo maricho duto. Madongo gi matindo be, magombo yudo waruok., Ng’wono maduong miworo ngang kaka rangano yaworena. Ni an, ni an, oyawore ni an.

This song is called ‘The Gate Ajar for Me’ and the words were;

That gate ajar stands free for all Who seek through it salvation;

The rich and poor, the great and small of every tribe and nation.

O depth of mercy can it be, that gate was left ajar for me?

For me, for me? Was left ajar for me?

Could I dare to believe that God still had the gate ajar for me and that I was free to enter? This news was too good to be true. I lay aside the book and started nursing hope.

The next day, I randomly picked up my hymnal and opened it to song number 184. I had sung this hymn for many years at church, but on this day, it changed my life;

Kata abed jaketh maduong                                                               Chief of sinners though I be,

Remb yesu nochwer ni an                                                                 Jesus shed His blood for me.

Nothona ni kik atho                                                                     Died that I might live on high

To adag kode polo                                                                               Lived that I might never die

Asiki but jawarna, an ngate to en ruodha                      As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine.

When I finished singing, I felt the healing power of God. I felt the Holy Spirit minister love and forgiveness to me. I finally got on my knees and prayed, weeping and confessing my sins, I asked for forgiveness and felt a great weight lifted off my shoulder. I was at peace.

God spoke to me through the hymnal. Psalm 100:2 says ‘come before his presence with singing.’ What I did not know back then was every time I opened my hymn book and sung; I was actually coming before the presence of God. And in his presence; ‘He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock That shadows a dry, thirsty land; He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covered me there with His hand.’

2020 has been a difficult year so far for me. For a lot of us. With the pandemic, the closure of churches, job losses, death, racial unrest, and so much uncertainty, there is a lot of fear. But I have found confidence, I have found hope, but more than anything else, I have found Jehovah Shalom—God’s peace has surrounded me, and I have seen miracles and wonders that I believe I would not have seen if it were not for the pandemic. God has provided for me, protected me, forgiven me, and he loves me.

God’s living word—the Bible, prayer, the Sabbath school lesson, and my Wende Nyasaye Luo Adventist hymnal are the anchors that I hold on to, in these turbulent times. But the turbulence is only outside, for inside, I am safe, dry and at rest in Him.

I am thankful to God, for the blessing of these hymns that have ministered to me and continue to do so, not only in times of darkness but in rejoicing, in triumph, in grief, and the different nuances of life.  This morning I woke up singing song number 262 in my Luo hymnal; which is ‘On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand, And cast a wishful eye, To Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.’

Heir of the Kingdom, do not slumber. Wake, arise, and gird on thy armor! Maranatha!

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About the author

Adhiambo Ochieng

Adhiambo E Ochieng is a Christian woman living in Kisumu, Kenya. She writes poems and sometimes stories about God's love. She hopes to one day be a teacher of the Word of God.