Global hymn singfest to focus on Christian persecution

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Keith and Kristyn Getty. Photo courtesy of Getty Music

Keith and Kristyn Getty. Photo courtesy of Getty Music

(RNS) Thousands of churches across the globe plan to lift up their voices in song this weekend to draw attention to Christian persecution.

But not just any song.

More than 4,300 congregations in 83 countries have registered to sing the little-known “Facing a Task Unfinished” to a familiar tune revamped by contemporary hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty.

The project, sponsored by OMF International, a 150-year-old mission organization once named China Inland Mission, is highlighting a hymn written by Frank Houghton in the early 20th century. Houghton wrote the hymn in the 1920s to urge 200 missionaries to head to China at a time when there was severe persecution against Christians there.

Keith and Kristyn Getty. Photo courtesy of Getty Music

Keith and Kristyn Getty. Photo courtesy of Getty Music

Keith Getty said Houghton encountered “horrific experiences” during his work with the East Asia-focused mission organization and saw hymn writing as a way to cope with the horror. He wrote another hymn, “Thou Who Wast Rich,” after the 1934 martyrdom of two young missionaries to China, John and Betty Stam.

“He believed that hymns could galvanize individuals, could galvanize communities, could galvanize churches,” Getty said.

Now, the Gettys are following that example in a new era of persecution.

“The story of China 80 years ago was very similar to the story that we have in the Middle East now, but I think the most interesting thing is how the church grows in many of these places,” he said, noting how Christians, once expected to be eradicated in China, now number an estimated 80 million.

The Gettys — known most for the popular “In Christ Alone” — are part of a team that added a chorus to Houghton’s hymn, whose tune is called “Aurelia” and is also used in the more well-known hymn “The Church’s One Foundation.”

The hymn begins as Houghton wrote it: “Facing a task unfinished/That drives us to our knees/A need that, undiminished/Rebukes our slothful ease/We, who rejoice to know Thee/Renew before Thy throne/The solemn pledge we owe Thee/To go and make Thee known.”

It features a new chorus, which Kristyn Getty sings on a new recording, accompanied by her husband on the piano: “We go to all the world/With kingdom hope unfurled/No other name has power to save/But Jesus Christ The Lord.”

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Keith Getty said they hope the hymn’s warnings to “rebuke from slothful ease” and “from lethargy awake” will embolden more people to learn about the persecuted faithful.

“I think there’s very much a sense of solidarity,” he said. “We want people to know both the reality of persecution but also the good news that Christianity’s global growth in the last century, the last 200 years, is unprecedented.”

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Video courtesy of KeithandKristyn Getty via YouTube

The event this Sunday (Feb. 21) is the reverse of a traditional hymn sing, where a congregation gathers to sing beloved familiar hymns. In this case, thousands of churches — from Argentina to Zimbabwe — plan to sing this one hymn in as many as 10 different languages at whatever time they gather for worship on Sunday. Some have prepared by learning the song a week before, Getty said; others will sing it for the first time, accompanied by rock bands, orchestras, organ, piano or simply other a cappella voices.

Brian Hehn of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada said the gathering of so many churches to sing one particular hymn on one specific day is unique. He knows of only one other instance, which involved U.S.-only churches. In 2007, more than 2,500 congregations joined in the singing of “Amazing Grace,” timed to the release of a movie of the same title, to draw attention to modern-day slavery.

(Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national reporter for RNS)