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Inshallah singers holding candles

Singing Our Song: The History of Inshallah

“Inshallah is born out of a desire to connect with people throughout the world and experience something of their story through their songs. It is our hope that their songs will shape our prayers and inform our actions.” (Debbie Lou Ludolph, director, Inshallah)

A Beginning

“Go home and sing our songs. This is one way that our story will be told.”

While leading worship on a Waterloo Lutheran Seminary study tour to Palestine and Israel in 2007, a local woman handed a book to Debbie Lou Ludolph that, without exaggeration, changed her life. It was a slim volume of Palestinian worship songs.

“Go home and sing our songs,” said Hannelore, a new friend that Ludolph made during the pilgrimage. “This is one way that our story will be told.”

Hannelore’s behest coincided with the urgent message from Bishop Munib Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land: "Tell our story, pray about it, get your news from reliable sources, vote accordingly, and come back to visit us."

During their tour of Palestine, Ludolph and the seminary group experienced the power of praying together songs for justice and peace from around the world. Upon returning home, they formed Inshallah to continue this powerful singing experience and to respond to the call of Bishop Younan and Hannelore.

The name Inshallah means "God willing" in Arabic, and is frequently used in everyday conversation to express hope and faith in God walking with us on our journey (see Eastern Synod Companion Agreement with ELCJHL). It serves as a reminder that the Inshallah experience began in Palestine. Today, Inshallah continues the ministry of singing prayers for justice and peace, telling the stories that are generously shared with them, and responsibly confronting conflict and violence in the world after consulting reliable sources.

With a grant from the Global Hunger and Development fund of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), 20 singers gathered once a week in the fall of 2007 to continue to sing together the songs they had begun singing in Palestine. This group included community members, seminary professors, and students from the seminary and Wilfrid Laurier University. Most of them were Lutheran. In their first season, Inshallah sang at Eastern Synod gatherings and held special events focused on telling the story of our brothers and sisters in Palestine.

Over the years, Inshallah has acted in the spirit of what was asked in 2007 and worked to raise the profile of situations facing our neighbours in the Global South by learning the contexts of their songs. Singing and praying are not seen as simply ends in themselves, but as steps towards meaningful and thoughtful action. As you will learn through the Inshallah story, singing global song has also invited us to look at our own context (globally and nationally), and at our relations with local First Nations and new immigrant neighbours.

Finding Our Song

“What is your song?”

In Inshallah’s first year, Pablo Sosa, a renowned Argentine theologian, musician, and composer, was invited to the seminary to work with the new Inshallah choir and teach the broader community about Argentine song. Enlivening and inspiring, Sosa pushed members of Inshallah by asking, “What is your song?”

From here, a new stream emerged in the work of Inshallah. Led by learning the songs of others around the world, the choir became aware of the need to contextualize their prayers in their own global context. They began searching out songs of faith written by Canadian composers. When the need arose, Inshallah members and friends began composing music that would speak to their own longings for peace and justice, need for grace and forgiveness, and joy at working together for a better world.

Inshallah’s prayers take the form of songs from all around the world – songs that they would not be able to brave without the help of friends in the community who have taken the time and courage to teach songs from their original homelands. Among these friends are Florence Juma (Kenya), Mei Sum Lai and Smile (China), Elba Martel (El Salvador), Jin Ju Park (South Korea), and Rodny Said (East Jerusalem). The choir has also learned indigenous songs from Mino Ode Kwewak N’gamowak and Muslim songs from Dawud Wharnsby (Muslim singer-songwriter).

By the time the Kanata Centre opened in 2009, through the generous contribution of a fundraising concert by Paul Helmer and Sebastian Meadows-Helmer, Inshallah found they could not look for their song in Canada without confronting their own colonial context. The location of the seminary on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishnawbe and Neutral Peoples brought to the fore the relationship between Inshallah and their First Nations neighbours. Singing together for justice, exchanging stories and confronting their own complicity in the oppression of First Nations people has profoundly shaped the way Inshallah sings for justice throughout the world.

Inshallah Today

Today, Inshallah consists of 130 members who meet each Tuesday to sing prayers together. The choir includes students, faculty, staff, parishioners and community members from all walks of life. As the choir has grown, Inshallah could not function without the tireless work of many volunteers who organize music, people, events and research.

Singing together has made Inshallah into a family that has found singing to be an act of solidarity when events of loss or violence have happened in the greater world or in the Inshallah community. They have been united in diversity, engaged in worship, and have continually had their worldview challenged and shifted. They have sung together and held awareness and fundraising events for various causes. They regularly sing with neighbours in Kitchener and Waterloo, learn new skills through workshops, and have travelled throughout Canada and the United States to sing and learn from new friends. Mostly, Inshallah comes together on Tuesdays to bear witness to what the Spirit can do when we raise our voices.

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