Sing Praise to Him

By Richard M. Romney

Church Magazines

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South African teens use music to honor Christ at Christmas—and all year long.

Zintle Vuyiswa Njoli, 16, remembers when she was 12 years old and drifting away from the Church. “I was a recent convert, brand new in Young Women. I felt uncomfortable and a bit kept out,” she recalls. “I started backsliding. I was discouraged and I didn’t want to come anymore.” Then music came to her rescue.

“A Relief Society sister came to my house. She knew I loved music, and she gave my mother a stack of CDs with Church music for me to listen to. I couldn’t resist. When I came to a hymn called ‘Be Still, My Soul’ [Hymns, no. 124], I cried and cried. The words said exactly what I needed to hear. After that, anytime I felt upset or disheartened, I would sing those words to remind me to be patient and trust in the Lord. That song brought me back and kept me in the Church.”

Today Zintle is an active, happy member of the Kagiso Ward, Soweto South Africa Stake, joining other youth singing sacred Christmas hymns during seminary. She says music should play an important role in the life of all teenage Latter-day Saints, not only at Christmas but always.

“We read in the scriptures that the Lord is there for us, that when we do what is right, He’ll always be on our side,” she says. “The Christmas hymns reassure us of the same things, and so do the other hymns we sing throughout the year.”

And Zintle isn’t singing a solo when it comes to praising the Lord through music.

With Heart and Voice

Her friend and fellow ward member, Smangele May Dimakatso Merafe, 16, says hymns remind us to be grateful, to live a righteous life, and to share the gospel with others. “There are hymns about every part of the gospel that I love,” she says. “There are hymns about the Book of Mormon, about Joseph Smith, and about prayer. There are hymns about Heavenly Father, about feeling the Spirit, and about the Savior. One of the great joys of Christmas is singing about the Savior.”

She says there are many hymns we traditionally consider Christmas hymns, but that there are many others that could also be sung in celebration. One of those is “Praise the Lord in Heart and Voice” (Hymns, no. 73). “Tell of him in loud acclaim,” it says. “Sing the wonders of his name.” Smangele says that’s a great message for the holidays.

Marching in Pretoria

In another city to the northeast, teens in the Pretoria Ward are also remembering the birth of the Savior with music. Amy Vermeulen, 16; Vuyo Dasha, 18; and Travis Alexander, 17, each play the piano and sing. They look forward to Christmas as a time when music is especially meaningful.

“Worthy music invites the Spirit whenever you listen to it,” Travis says. “It’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas, to worship the Lord through song.”

Amy agrees. “Worthy music is the kind of music that will help us feel closer to the Savior,” she says. “When I play the piano, I’m very picky about the music I play. It has to mean something to me, it has to uplift me, and I like to feel confident that it will uplift others as well. I love to play the Church hymns. They uplift me and bring a spirit into my home that I couldn’t bring in any other way, and my family appreciates it.”

“I’ve seen the influences of both good and bad music,” Vuyo says. “With bad music, you might not think you’re listening to the words, but they are being registered in your brain, and they can play back at times when you’re feeling alone or discouraged and you might think that Heavenly Father doesn’t care. But uplifting music encourages the feeling that Heavenly Father loves us and that He and His Son are always there for us. Whenever you’re in doubt or alone, maybe when you’re in temptation, you will know that Heavenly Father is there and you can hum your favorite hymn to uplift your spirit.”

Amy recalls, “There was one song that I started to listen to. It was like I couldn’t stop listening, I loved the melody so much. But I found out there was a hidden meaning to it and that the song was degrading me. I didn’t feel like a daughter of God. So I stopped listening to that song, and I was able to feel the Spirit again and follow its promptings. I contrast that with a song like a Christmas hymn. I always feel uplifted after I’ve listened to a spiritual song, something that is virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy.”

Travis makes a promise. “I know that if you listen to good music, you will be blessed. You will feel guidance in your life. You will feel the Spirit. And isn’t that what we’re truly here for, to feel the Spirit and be closer to our Heavenly Father?” That’s the kind of attitude we ought to have at Christmas. It’s the kind of attitude we should have all year long.

A Promise Worth Pursuing

Yes, music helps all Latter-day Saints to worship our Heavenly Father, celebrate the Savior’s life, and feel the Holy Spirit. Back in Soweto, it is Zintle who perhaps sums it up best. In her seminary class she is asked if there is a hymn that would describe the future of the Church in South Africa. She thinks for just a moment, then quickly responds, “Hymn number 3, ‘Now Let Us Rejoice.’ It tells us that the Lord is aware of us, that our struggles will be worth it, and that if we remain faithful we will be crowned with the angels of heaven.” That’s a promise worth pursuing at Christmas or at any other season of the year.

(Above) Zintle Vuyiswa and Smangele Merafe say music adds meaning to their worship. (Far left) Vuyo Dasha, Parker McOmber, Haley Westover, Katie Rae McOmber, Travis Alexander, and Kjirsten McOmber sing hymns in Pretoria.

Nativities are by Stephen Kyalo, a Latter-day Saint from Kenya.

(Far left) Michael McLeod wrote a cantata about Christ that was presented throughout the community, while (below) Rugo Nortje and others decided a great way to celebrate was by counting their blessings.

Seminary in Soweto (above) gives Latter-day Saint students another reason to rejoice, and Amy Vermeulen (inset) says hymns embody that which is virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy.

Photographs by Richard M. Romney; nativity photographs by Cody Bell