“Oshe Baba Oluwa” is a song that came to us from our ministry to Francophone-African immigrants. The song is simply a song of thanksgiving: “Thank you, O my God, thank you!” Thanksgiving seems like a simple theme, but in the context of the lives of the immigrants in our congregation it takes on a fuller meaning. These brothers and sisters have become part of St Louis as a result of wars and the economic distress that follows. The U.S. is a place of refuge for a lot of their troubles, but here they find new trials of unemployment, ethnic oppression, cultural shock, and language barriers. To be able to express gratitude in the midst of all these troubles gives a new perspective to what it means to sing these words.

When we first learned the song, the Africans would sway along with the music and when the chorus came, they appeared to bend over and shake their booty in time with the rhythm. This was kind of confusing at first. Trusting in their judgment, I just went along with it. Later, one of their leaders explained that it was not a “booty shake” but a bow. They would bow low while continuing to sway as a physical demonstration of submission and reverence. It’s best to not read my cultural values into another community’s expressions of worship but indstead, ask them to interpret its meaning.

We first learned the song in Yoruba, French and English. Eventually, some of our Liberian folks translated it into Grabo. Then one weekend, a retired missionary who had served for years in Hong Kong suggested that this song would work great in Chinese, so we added that verse in the next time. This song is incredibly flexible! There is really no limit to the number of languages that can be added. Our Father is the God of all the nations, and we all come before him with thanksgiving.