What if you—even your family or your whole country—forgot all of the songs and music you ever learned?
That is a situation Joshua Macleod encountered while on a mission trip in Rwanda: When he asked some of the refugee children to sing one of their songs as he played his guitar, they told him they did not have any songs. They had forgotten them all.
Macleod and Chattanooga native Charlie Smith are working to make a place for music in missionary and relief work so that poverty does not continue to be a barrier to the joy of making and hearing music.
Instruments of Joy, based in Nashville and under the umbrella of Macleod’s Watermelon Ministries, collects new and gently used instruments in the U.S. and delivers them to those with musical talent in developing countries.
“Our goal is to allow people to make a difference in the life of a musician in the developing world who could never afford [one of these instruments] in their lives,” Smith said. “This is a life-changing thing. It’s that impactful on their lives. It’s in our heart to connect people through music.”
With one simple song
Instruments of Joy grew out of an experience Macleod had in Malawi on a trip with a ministry called African Leadership. He and the organization were visiting an orphanage truly removed from anything one would see in the developed world.
Children, orphaned by the country’s rampant malaria and AIDS epidemics, walked miles to reach the institution. Because of the poverty level in the area, the roughly 200 children were usually fed once a day. What Macleod remembers to this day are the dirty faces of the children and the gloom of the orphanage.
During the visit, a 16-year-old charge of the institution came into the main room, and with a guitar fashioned from a gas can, a long block of wood and a few strings, he began to make music. The whole place lit up from the first note. Each child began to smile and sing.
At the end of the impromptu performance, Macleod couldn’t help but think about the three guitars he had sitting in a corner of his house. The price tag on each of those instruments would have amounted to two years’ salary for someone at the Malawi orphanage.
Once he was stateside, Macleod arranged for one of his guitars to travel back to Malawi through a church that was doing mission work in the area. By word of mouth and organic connections, the project developed unofficially for a couple of years; friends gave instruments, and a friend with Legacy Learning Systems donated an entire stock of musical training DVDs.
“Many ministries are only involved in food or clothes and micro financing [education], which are all crucial to improving a person’s or a family’s or a village's situation,” Macleod said. “But the arts are an absolute necessity of fighting poverty, too.”
Instruments of Joy became an official organization in fall 2012.
Nashville gone global
Thus far, the organization has donated 25 instruments to more than 11 countries, including Chile, Haiti, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Moldova, South Africa and Trinidad.
Some of the instruments come from sponsors, such as Gibson Guitars’ gift of six new guitars, while others come from people around the U.S. Smith explained that the process begins with the donor taking a picture of him or herself with the instrument and sending both to Instruments of Joy. The organization then finds a fellow missionary organization or church group traveling to a developing country to serve as the delivery vehicle.
“We work primarily through organizations that are already taking trips to the developing world, ones that are already going to the field,” Smith said. “They carry an instrument and training material and talk with their contacts in the field. Someone always knows an aspiring musician.”
The child or young adult who receives the instrument then takes a picture of him or herself, which makes its way back to the donor as a memento and a thank you.
Transporting the instruments and DVDs can be costly—despite the fact that Instruments of Joy is using other organizations to hitch a ride—running about $300 per instrument. To fund the expense, the ministry has started making music here first. The community concerts not only raise money but also draw a neighborhood or an area of a city together as a loving send-off of a musical instrument that will soon change the life of a child.
Looking forward to 2013, Instruments of Joy hopes to reach its goal of delivering 100 instruments to 100 children.
“Not everyone has the same access to the same things in this world. What if Bono never had a guitar because he was born in a slum in Kenya?” Macleod said. “What we can say is that 25 musicians in the developing world had the dream of being musicians and having an instrument. Now, they do."