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January 29, 2019

Joyful and beautiful sounds

Written by  John Coats
Children sing and learn rhythm together in the children’s character training program. Children sing and learn rhythm together in the children’s character training program. Photos by Christy Kauffman.

In 2008, John and Debbie Coats started a pilot program for children which focused on character training in a rural village in southeastern Cambodia. The program began with staff members meeting with children twice per week. One session would deal with a specific character trait — like honesty or respect for others — and the second session would include a Bible story highlighting that characteristic. Of course, there was time for games and relationship building.

The purpose was, and still is, to plant seeds of God’s love. The program has since expanded into several other villages and now meets daily for an hour, including Khmer language training and math tutoring. There is a waiting list of children who would like to attend — the growth of the program is limited only by funding and finding staff members!

Fritz and Linda* came from Illinois to help us with the children’s program for the entire month of January 2018. Both are gifted musically and are very good teachers. Fritz is a great guitar player and Linda teaches music for a living. Linda is also a trained elementary school teacher. Their task was to work with the kids and our teachers, teaching them how to sing better.

A land without music
Our part of rural Cambodia has very little experience with singing and music. There is singing at weddings and funerals, but it is only done by a few select “professionals.” However, for the general population, there is little or no singing at religious functions, in schools, among families, or in any other context. Nor is there any teaching of music.

Learning to sing
The kids worship and praise God at every one of our get-togethers but they have had no training. It often sounds just like they have had no training, despite their enthusiasm! Linda and Fritz taught the kids and teachers the basics of singing, starting with teaching them to sing the musical scale and how to stay on pitch together. They also learned several beautiful worship songs.

The kids responded well. They were eager to learn to sing! They loved the beautiful sounds and we saw a noticeable improvement in their singing abilities. More importantly, we also saw an excited new interest in worship and musical praise. It is as if they just realized that not only can worship be very beautiful, but that they can be a part of those beautiful sounds.

John Coats, and his wife, Debbie, are EMM workers serving in Cambodia. John directs a children’s program for holistic development. In Phnom Penh, Debbie has a public health radio program. To support their work, contact Barry Freed.

This article appears in the January/February 2019 issue of Missionary MessengerSign up to receive more inspiring stories like this one in our magazine.