Shortly before the plane started its descent, a flight attendant told us to look left. To our delight, we clearly saw the white peak of Mt. Everest standing above the clouds. Moments later we landed in West Bengal, high up in the mountains of northern India and not far from the exotic city of Darjeeling, to begin one of the most memorable recording projects yet.
The team comprised of three HSI members joined by a church planter serving in South Africa, and her “spiritual son,”, now pastor of a fast growing South African church.
Our local coordinator was, an Indian church leader whose parents pioneered the India Evangelistic Crusade (IEC). The IEC had a remarkable beginning following a vision showing the face of Jesus lifting up out of the Himalayas and a voice saying, “I have many of my people hidden away in these mountains. Who will go to them?” The parents, newlyweds at the time, responded. That vision kept them strong through decades, resulting in 155 churches and 9,000 known believers, including nine orphanages and fifteen schools.
Our HSI project began when an invitation to go up into the mountains to record the unique worship songs sung in the IEC fellowships, was received.
Upon arrival, two rugged vehicles took our team of five and our precious cargo of digital audio and video recording equipment up the Himalayas to our first stop, the village of Tagdah, the location of the Joybells Orphanage.
The orphan children’s beautiful singing at 5am shortened our first night of sleep. We immediately discovered the monastic-like schedule of the orphanage, blessing the start and close of each day with times of worship. The children sang their Nepali dialect worship songs in near perfect unison, even when the songs were richly ornamented.
The church building on the orphanage grounds became the temporary recording studio with blankets and curtains providing sound insulation (typical for most HSI recording projects). When the recording sessions began, the children sang with abandon and ease. Capturing the vocals went quickly, which were accompanied by simple drumming, guitar and various local instruments. The children then changed into their dance outfits, moved into the courtyard, and the audio team became a video team, taping several beautiful dances.
Besides the children, the HSI team also recorded some adult worship from the area. One of the IEC pastors, with a team of musicians, walked several hours to get to the orphanage for their recording session. Knowing that HSI was also video-taping, the team wore their national dress for the recording session.
The team moved to other parts of northeastern India, recording various people groups associated with the IEC. In nearly every place, locals welcomed the team into the village by dance and procession, and then foot washing and water sprinkling—rituals of the area.
One of the recording sessions included the Oraon people who originate from Africa. Our South African team member and pastor was deeply moved as his common heritage was expressed in their drumming, dance and singing. He also had the joy of leading seventeen people to make spiritual commitments at one of the meetings.
For several hours the team then journeyed into a remote part of the Himalayas to visit the Lepchas, the original inhabitants in this part of India. Nepalese, brought in by the British to work the numerous tea plantations, had displaced the Lepchas. Some unique moments of audio and video were captured as the believers, using handmade stringed and rhythm instruments worshiped and danced, surrounded by the majestic beauty of the mountains and valleys.
Next, the team traveled through the forest on acutely forbidding roads to the northeastern state of Assam, a place that has experienced much hardship and oppression over many decades. Some people stared curiously as they saw their first black African and their first white persons. In at least three remote villages, the team comprised the first foreigners ever to visit there.
Over several days recordings captured village Christians rejoicing in the Lord through their indigenous song and dance. The suffering and difficulties experienced by these people have produced deep expressions of total abandonment in worship to God who has become their life and sustenance.
The final people visited were the Totos, also located in a remote region in close proximity to the country of Bhutan. When they were oppressively cast out of that country, the Totos were almost killed to extinction. They now number about 1,200 after diminishing to a low of 460. We were honored to meet several of the new believers and were able to record a few of their recently composed worship songs.
Because the team was working in such remote parts with no electricity, capturing audio through the laptop computer and digital accessories, all running on battery or external battery units, was a bold experiment. In turn, the battery units needed recharging through the night when the team returned to their base of operation. We were ready to use the vehicle battery, if necessary. Amazingly, there was enough power to get the tracks recorded without a hitch!
In all, the team recorded 24 tracks in nine dialects, including Nepali, Talmang, Lepcha, Oraon, Rabha, Santhal, Bodo, Assamese, and Toto. It was significant that the Himalaya project included both audio and video as each group provided authentic, ancient forms of music and dance, complete in their natural mountain environment.
As we departed the Himalayas, towering Mt. Everest stunned us yet again in all its awesome majesty—the backdrop in understanding what we had just experienced. We had been privileged to uncover a mostly hidden part of the world where people not only have learned to live in the mountain heights, but have also learned to express humble, abandoned worship that ascends to the heavens. From the high mountain ranges of the earth God has indeed raised up heights of global praise.