Freedom is coming, Freedom is coming,
Oh, yes I know, oh, yes, I know
Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming,
Oh, yes I know, oh, yes, I know.
Send me, Lord, Send me Jesus, Send me Jesus,
Lead me, Lord;
Fill me, Lord; ...
R/Haleluyah! We sing your praises/All our hearts are filled with gladness.
1. Christ the Lord to us said, I am wine, I am bread,
Give to all who thirst and hunger.
2. Now he sends us all out, Strong in faith, free of doubt,
To proclaim the joyful Gospel.
Translated from Swedish: Gracia Grindal 1983
Text: Anders Mikael Nyberg (1955-) Tune: South African folk
Sometimes one is privileged to see a movement start and something new begin. This happened to me when I was asked by the Lutheran World Federation to translate protest songs that Anders Mikael Nyberg and his group Fjedur had translated into Swedish from the Nguni dialect during a mission trip to South Africa in 1978. It was during the apartheid years. They had worked with black churches there. Nyberg, a graduate of the Royal Music Academy in Stockholm where he had studied choral conducting and composition, began writing down and arranging their songs so they could be sung in Swedish.
Born in Malung, northwest of Vesterås, Sweden, Nyberg had a rich sense of the Swedish folk hymn tradition and had set many for his group Fjedur. These African songs became their main repertoire as they returned to Sweden. The movement caught on. Called “world music” at first, it fed a desire in the West for new sounds that supported people's political commitments, a common thing with every protest movement.
They were asked to sing them at the LWF meeting in Budapest, 1984. Meeting for the first time behind the Iron Curtain, the LWF assembly had to deal with the issue of apartheid, and what the world gathering should say to its South African brothers and sisters, who could be found on both sides of the issue. The arguments were passionate and powerful. (See link to a report on the meeting below.) Whenever newscasts would tell of the fight against apartheid in South African, such songs would be sung as background.
Fjedur added its voice to the debate. And as they did, the delegates picked up their songs and brought them home with them. When I met Fjedur and Anders Nyberg, and saw their effect on the campus ministers, it was clear this would sweep the world. Freedom is Coming, their book of African protest songs with the cassette tape was a hit around the world. Their inclusion in the new Swedish hymnal assured that several of the songs would be included in main line hymnals around the world. The songs appeared at the International Hymn Society in Lund in 1987 and the movement spread further. In 1990 when Nelson Mandela was freed from Robben Island prison, Nyberg and millions of others rejoiced with this music.
In 1995 With One Voice, the blue songbook published by the ELCA, included favorites from the collection. Now, almost every mainline hymnal has several of these songs, especially “Send me Lord/Thuma Mina,” “Haleluyah! We Sing your Praises/Heleluya! Pelo tso Rona” and “We are Marching in the Light of God/Siyahamb'.”
The psalmist asks us to sing a new song in joy for what God has done. God’s works among us are always new. So we need new songs as well as old to tell others the good news. I find it amazing to think of how these characters, and they are that, have been missionaries to the world by setting the Gospel into new songs so young people around the world can hear of Jesus in a musical language they own. God always surprises us.
Anders Mikael Nyberg has continued his work in Sweden and South Africa. He married a South African woman, Jennifer Ferguson, also a musician, once a member of the South African parliament. He composes music exploring folk traditions from Latin America to Bulgaria, as well as Sweden and South Africa. He was among those who wrote the script and helped with the hit Swedish movie, Som I Himmelen/As it is in Heaven which won the Best Foreign Language Film Award at the Academy Awards in 2005. It is the most viewed Swedish movie of all time. He started The Path in 2012, pilgrimages through Scandinavia, walking to old pilgrimage destinations and giving concerts along the way. If you read his blogs you can read of his own experience of realizing the importance of forgiveness, a theme in the movie, in his own life as he faced the consequences of being molested as a child. He watched the South African people as they worked on The Truth and Reconciliation project and felt it spoke to his own situation as well. His mass Himmelen Inom is a standard part of choral repertoire in Sweden today. His CDs and writings can be found on Amazon.com as well as Youtube. (Note to self: always ask for royalties; never a one-time fee!)
Freedom is coming
Emmaus Chamber Choir/Thuma Mina
Spirit of Music Bobby McFerrin in the Marketplatz in Leipzig
Hallelujah! We Sing your Praises
The LWF meeting in Budapest 1984