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Christian Reggae: Interview with Jo-Ann Richards

Jo-Ann Richards Goffe is a singer/songwriter, lecturer, author, ethnodoxologist and global minister of the gospel. She is passionate about culturally relevant expressions of worship and has helped to facilitate this not only in her home island of Jamaica, but also in places like Burkina Faso, Peru and Panama, through the ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Jo-Ann is a trained teacher of Spanish & English (Shortwood Teachers’ College) with a first degree in Theology and minor in Guidance and counseling (Jamaica Theological Seminary), and a second degree in Ethnomusicology (Bethel University/Music in World Cultures).

In addition to being Founding Director of CREW 40:4, Jo-Ann is Arts Catalyst Coordinator for the Caribbean on behalf of the Lausanne Movement, and a member of the Faculty of the Haggai Institute. Jo-Ann is currently a member of the First Missionary Church in Kingston, Jamaica. She married artist Marcel Goffe in December 2015 and they now serve together as a team.

DCM: How did you come to know Jesus?

I have been attending my home church (First Missionary Church in Kingston, Jamaica) since before I was born! My parents were members, and I went to Sunday School every Sunday, and very actively participated. At about age 5, I asked Jesus to be my Savior.

DCM: What led you to be making music and helping churches?

My first experience in songwriting came when I was a teacher at a private elementary school in Kingston. Each month, we chose a value to highlight. As the new music teacher, I suggested that in order to help the children to internalize the values, we could teach them a song about it. The first value was 'RESPECT'. I searched everywhere and couldn't find an appropriate song for these K-6 girls, so I ended up writing one. After that, I had to keep going!

A few years later I read an article in a missions magazine written by Wycliffe missionary Jack Popjes. It was about how he invited ethnomusicologist Tom Avery to help him reach the Canela people by writing Scripture songs in their own language and music genres. He reported that when the new songs were introduced to the people, it was like pouring gasoline on a campfire! Instantly I wanted to get involved in this area of ministry.

As God would have had it, I ended up studying ethnomusicology at Bethel University in Minnesota and serving with Wycliffe first in Burkina Faso, and then in the whole Americas Area with Costa Rica as my base. My assignment in Burkina Faso was to work with church musicians, helping them to write new songs for church based on the Scriptures, using their own languages and music genres. Gradually, I began to realize that I was helping them to have something that my own people in Jamaica didn't have - a solid collection of indigenous worship songs.

DCM: I've started listening to several of your songs from both your albums (and my favorite so far is "Luk De"). What do you feel reggae music and culture can uniquely teach the Christ-worshipping world?

I'm happy your favorite is 'Luk De'! To answer your question I will first quote the President of our leading evangelical theological institution Dr. Garnett Roper. He said "the Caribbean culture that was spawned in resistance has through reggae music given to the world a language of resistance against domination and injustice. The message of the Gospel using the potent vehicle of protest that reggae music has become can have enormous impact in conditions of poverty and oppression."

I wish it were as simple as that though, because one of the hindrances we in Jamaica have faced is that reggae music was born and has been promoted primarily through the religion of Rastafari. For this reason, many congregations in Jamaica have not been comfortable using this genre for worship. However, if we take the time to unpack this, we may find strong implications for an example of authentic worship of our Creator, as well as an image of redemption as what was once seen as music for the worship of another 'god' is now being used to worship the one true God.

  I did not grow up in an environment where reggae music was accepted or encouraged. However, eventually I came to love it. As I pondered the matter, I came up with a possible explanation for the birth of Rastafari. Here was a people for whom worship was not optional. Their very existence demanded worship of their Creator. However, the persons who guarded the doors of the authorized worship spaces demanded that they discard the basic elements of their identity - language and music - before entering. For them, that was not acceptable and went against the very definition of worship, which requires us to bring our real selves before God. This left them with no alternative but to create another religion since the Christianity they were seeing would not work for them!

Jamaica has been known to provide the world with figures such as Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley, who blazed a trail in demolishing the spirit of empire, and empowering people of African descent (Garvey) and even beyond those borders to all people who had been negatively impacted by European colonization (Marley).  As a result, people all over the world identify positively with reggae music. This music can and should, along with all other music, be used to bring people to Christ, and empower them to embrace their own identities in the corporate worship spaces. 

DCM: I love the mission of your organization CREW 40:4. How can churches in America, for example, patronize your ministry?

CREW is an acronym for Culturally Relevant Expressions of Worship, and 40:4 refers to Isaiah 40:4. We are doing our part in anticipation of the day when every valley will be filled and every mountain and hill made low. We see this as representing justice and equality in the earth! Churches and individuals may support us by purchasing the music in the Kom Mek Wi Worship series, subscribing to our quarterly publication the KW Magazine: CREWShall Connections in Faith & Culture, and making contributions to support our ministry through our website  

DCM: Where can people find you and your work (e.g. social media, website)?

Facebook for CREW 40:4, Facebook for Kom Mek Wi Worship, website, YouTube for CREW 40:4, YouTube for Jo-Ann Richards

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