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In Mumbai, keyboard lessons become Gospel catalyst

MUMBAI, India (BP)–“I’ve rarely found anyone who said they didn’t want to learn the piano,” the seminary music professor said after arriving in Mumbai, India.

Dorothy Atcheson*, who teaches at one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s six seminaries, led a team of six women into Mumbai’s communities and slums to teach keyboarding and, in the process, share the Gospel.

Atcheson has pioneered a program at her seminary by which non-musicians can teach piano using a resource she developed called “The Keyboard Mission.”

Using Atcheson’s method, students can learn to play simple melodies in three to five sessions, while the words of the songs teach biblical truths.

“By the end of five days, they can play ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior’ and ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children,'” Atcheson said.

She has been using keyboarding as a bridge to sharing the Gospel cross-culturally for several years, including three earlier overseas trips.

The idea for the program came to Atcheson several years ago.

“The president of our seminary kept talking about [sharing the Gospel cross-culturally],” Atcheson recalled. “[The] music [department] was not involved in [that]. So I began praying. The Lord told me, ‘Well, you play the keyboard. Use it …'”

From there, Atcheson wrote The Keyboard Mission, linking musical concepts with biblical truth: As keyboarding teams present the material, they also present the Gospel.

Atcheson had used the material exclusively with unbelievers in other countries, with the team venturing out on the streets and inviting people to take piano. A number of students came to know Christ.

In India, however, the focus changed as church leaders invited various church members to the classes.”

At first, this was frustrating.

“In my mind, we were not doing what we came here to do,” Atcheson said.

However, as the teaching began, the reason for the changed focus became clear to Atcheson, and she modified her original plan.

“Some of our team continued to teach church members, but I selected a few students and offered them two full days of training,” Atcheson recounted. “Then they would be equipped to go to other churches and in turn equip others to do the keyboard ministry.”

Using this reproducible approach, Atcheson hopes that the piano training and, more importantly, the seeds of the Gospel will spread to other churches and eventually to unbelievers.

“The text teaches itself,” Atcheson said, “and the hymns … can explain the Gospel.”

Churches that do not have a skilled musician can use the material for equipping and outreach, Atcheson added.

Pastor Murali* agreed. He leads one of the small churches where Atcheson’s team worked; he now wants those who received keyboard lessons to share their training with others in the slum.

“That is the plan of my heart,” Murali said.

A member of Atcheson’s team, Ann from Goldston (N.C.) Baptist Church, has used the program successfully in a number of other countries.

Ann had never played at all when she went on her first trip. “Now,” Atcheson said, “she’s studying with me at the seminary.”

Agni* is one of the young men in Murali’s church who studied with Ann. Although Agni knew how to play by ear, he wanted to learn to read music, and Murali was confident he could easily pick up the skills.

“We had the most fun with him,” Ann said. “He will sit down and work and work and work. … We’ve already told him that he will one day make a very good musician for his church. It is exciting to see the Lord use someone like [him] … to advance to that degree.”

Another team member, Bekah of Wakefield Baptist Church in Wake Forest, N.C., noted the importance of equipping believers through keyboard training.

“It’s been great to equip a lot of women who haven’t felt they had a place or something of quality to give the church,” Bekah said.

Sabeena* and Rabia* were two such examples. Sabeena is a 17-year-old girl; Rabia, a 57-year-old pastor’s wife. Both studied with Atcheson’s team in Mumbai.

A few days into the training, Sabeena told Atcheson, “I always wanted a talent to use for God…. You have come … and now I have a talent I can share with my church and with others for the Lord!”

Rabia was equally excited.

“She laughed at herself a lot,” Bekah recounted. “She says she is 57 years old and this is the first time she’s ever done anything like this.

“[These women] are becoming equipped to go out and share the Gospel. They are being empowered to go out and have an impact in their community,” Bekah said

For Atcheson, this is music to her ears.
*Names changed. Reported by Baptist Press’ international bureau.

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  • Tess Rivers