TOKYO, JAPAN (ANS) -- Who would have believed that "Sister Act," the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg "on the Run, Disguised as a Nun," would inspire the formation of some 30 Japanese Gospel choirs.
And if that wasn't enough to take in, they are run by Ken Taylor, a Filipino-born former night club entertainer who found Christ and became a musical missionary to Japan.
I caught up with Taylor (no relation to Ken Taylor, translator of "The Living Bible") during a recent visit to Tokyo and he agreed to talk about this extraordinary phenomena that is sweeping across the normally sedate country.
He told me that when "Sister Act," the sugary farce featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer hiding out in a convent, enlisted as the convent's new choirmaster, who then taught the nuns to sing slightly modified versions of songs like "My Guy" (now "My God") and "I Will Follow Him," the musical style caught on like wildfire in his adopted country.
But Ken Taylor, a jazz musician, began by sharing a little of his story.
"My wife Bola, a professional singer, and I, used to be professional entertainers in the Philippines where we were both born and raised," he said. "Somewhere in the midst of our entertainment career, God sought us and saved us both.
"My conversion happened after I was invited to a Bible study in Manila in my mid-twenties and, during the study, the Good News of Jesus Christ was presented. I figured, at the time, that I was a good guy and that I didn't need the Lord, but boy, when the speaker shared a couple of passages from the Bible and I figured at that time that I was a sinner and I was in dire need of a Savior, I accepted Christ that night."
<>Shortly after this, Bola, also gave her life to Christ, and their life took a different direction when they moved to San Francisco, where they got married. <>"We started a family and began the American dream," Taylor continued. "We were new immigrants into America and started our dream where she had two careers. We wanted our home, a car, and we were in a little church where we were growing in the Lord."
Ken said he then began to seek God's guidance on their next step, and that resulted in short-term mission trips to Japan.
"So we would go to Japan and do evangelistic concerts," he said. "Yes, we would play jazz, but it would be about Jesus. During one trip in 1992 that lasted 14 days, we did 12 concerts. It was then that we were first introduced to the dire need of the gospel in Japan and saw the oppression here with less than one percent of the people embracing Christianity."
Taylor said he couldn't shake God's call to Japan and finally, after going to seminary in the US and being ordained, the family finally made the move to Japan in 1997 under the covering of a ministry called World Venture. "We came here with the idea of being involved in helping global churches, yet with a focus on innovative and creative music ministries," he said. Little did he realize at the time, that "Sister Act" and its sequel, "Sister Act 2," was going to change his life and the lives of countless Japanese.
"Japan is a nation of fads," said Taylor. "In other words, the pop culture here will pick up anything that is new. And what becomes new spreads like wild fire. Whether it's a new pair of shoes or the new fashion sensation, everyone picks it up. "So when 'Sister Act' came here, they started watching the movie and saw Whoopi Goldberg singing 'Oh Happy Day' and taking those old hymns and making them 'Black Gospel,' the people really liked it. So what happened was the businesses in Japan, who are quick to adopt these fads, started offering Gospel choir lessons. It was not the churches, but the community centers that had these choirs.
"So here were non-Christians in Japan saying that they wanted to sing just like the nuns in the movie. So they began taking Gospel music lessons and, in fact, the first choir that I started began after I was invited to teach in a community center, about ten years ago." I asked Taylor if they sang in English or Japanese, and he said it was in English. "It has to be just like the way they imagine it," he explained. "You can't fake this; you got to do the real thing. You've got to sing gospel and 'Black Gospel' to be very specific. So that's what we've been doing.
"There was a boom about fifteen years ago, but I've taken the strategy and I'm partnering with churches so that these churches are really now starting new communities of 'not yet Christians,' who join a choir community in that church, and they're singing Gospel." <>He said there are now 30 of these "Black Gospel" choirs in Japan, so I asked him to explain how they can sing Christian lyrics, but not yet be believers.
"Well what we do is we ask a church to host a choir and we will take that new community, who pay to come to the church to learn the music in ten workshop lessons," he said. "So they come into a choir to learn Gospel music, but really its church because we're singing songs about God and there's prayer. We tell them the meaning of the songs. In fact the only two text books we use are the lyrics and the Bible. "So we tell them that all our songs come directly from the Bible, so if we sing, 'Oh Happy Day. Jesus washed my sins away,' we'll stop after we have learned the song, and the pastor will come in and say, 'What is sin?' and then ask them to turn to Romans, chapter three and then add, 'let's see what sin is.' And there it is, and there they are learning the Good News.
"So there's fellowship and if you think about what's happening in these workshops, it's really church already. They're experiencing more than just singing Gospel; they're experiencing relationships, fellowship and they are experiencing God in a tremendous way.
had so many of these
'not yet believers' who have
said at the end of one session that, for some reason that
they don't understand, something has moved in their heart. They say
that they feel like the stress has been taken out of their life and
they feel so much happier. All I know is the Holy Spirit is working
their hearts." [Not that different from the early church: "The
disciples were first called Christians at..."]
Ken said that many of the choir members have eventually accepted Christ into their lives, got baptized and joined their local church as members. "These new communities are like a church plant within an existing church. It's just been a wonderful phenomenon that we've been experiencing."
Ken Taylor revealed that there are about 600 members in the 30 or so choirs and twice a year, many of them come together to do a joint concert under the name of The Hallelujah Gospel Family."For many in the audience, it's the first time they have heard the Gospel message, so it's truly pre-evangelism. But, to the choir members that have been with us for a couple of years, they are ripest to receive the Lord."
"We read in the Bible that 'where no one will praise me, even the rocks and stones will.' In Japan it's non-Christian Japanese praising him. And, in fact, it's so wild that God is using these 'not yet Christian believers' as they sing and invite their friends to the concerts. In fact, I believe that God is using these non-Christians to witness to their non-Christian friends and relatives who are watching. It is just so wild.
Ken Taylor concluded with a prayer request for his adopted homeland.
"We really need prayer for Japan," he said. "Please pray for the Japanese people that they would come to know Jesus. Pray also that there would be a revival here; that the Spirit of God would be able to move and that the oppression that is here would be lifted. We just want what God wants, which is to see more and more Japanese come to know the Lord, because I know they will then make a great impact on the world."
For more information, go to www.kenandbola.com
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.