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How Sister Act has inspired the formation of 30 Japanese Gospel Choirs

Dan Wooding : Jul 11, 2009

"…here were non-Christians in Japan saying that they wanted to sing just like the nuns in the movie. So they began taking Gospel music lessons…"

(TOKYO, JAPAN)—Who would have believed that Sister Act, the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg "on the run, disguised as a nun," would inspire the formation of some 30 Japanese Gospel choirs.

And if that wasn't enough to take in, they are run by Ken Taylor, a Filipino-born former night club entertainer who found Christ and became a musical missionary to Japan.

I caught up with Taylor, who is no relation to Ken Taylor, translator of "The Living Bible," during a recent visit to Tokyo and he agreed to talk about this extraordinary phenomena that is sweeping across the normally sedate country.

Hallelujah Gospel Family choirHe told me that when Sister Act, the sugary farce featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer hiding out in a convent, enlisted as the convent's new choirmaster, who then taught the nuns to sing slightly modified versions of songs like My Guy (now "My God") and I Will Follow Him, the musical style caught on like wildfire in his adopted country.

But Ken Taylor, a jazz musician, began by sharing a little of his story.

"My wife Bola, a professional singer, and I, used to be professional entertainers in the Philippines where we were both born and raised," he said. "Somewhere in the midst of our entertainment career, God sought us and saved us both.

"My conversion happened after I was invited to a Bible study in Manila in my mid-twenties and, during the study, the Good News of Jesus Christ was presented. I figured, at the time, that I was a good guy and that I didn't need the Lord, but boy, when the speaker shared a couple of passages from the Bible and I figured at that time that I was a sinner and I was in dire need of a Savior, I accepted Christ that night."

Shortly after this, Bola, also gave her life to Christ, and their life took a different direction when they moved to San Francisco, where they got married.

"We started a family and began the American dream," Taylor continued. "We were new immigrants into America and started our dream where she had two careers. We wanted our home, a car, and we were in a little church where we were growing in the Lord."

Ken said he then began to seek God's guidance on their next step, and that resulted in short-term mission trips to Japan.

"So we would go to Japan and do evangelistic concerts," he said. "Yes, we would play jazz, but it would be about Jesus. During one trip in 1992 that lasted 14 days, we did 12 concerts. It was then that we were first introduced to the dire need of the Gospel in Japan and saw the oppression here with less than one percent of the people embracing Christianity."

Taylor said he couldn't shake God's call to Japan and finally, after going to seminary in the US and being ordained, the family finally made the move to Japan in 1997 under the covering of a ministry called World Venture.

"We came here with the idea of being involved in helping global churches, yet with a focus on innovative and creative music ministries," he said.

Little did he realize at the time, that Sister Act and its sequel, Sister Act 2, was going to change his life and the lives of countless Japanese.

"Japan is a nation of fads," said Taylor. "In other words, the pop culture here will pick up anything that is new. And what becomes new spreads like wild fire. Whether it's a new pair of shoes or the new fashion sensation, everyone picks it up.

"So when Sister Act came here, they started watching the movie and saw Whoopi Goldberg singing Oh Happy Day and taking those old hymns and making them 'Black Gospel,' the people really liked it. So what happened was the businesses in Japan, who are quick to adopt these fads, started offering Gospel choir lessons. It was not the churches, but the community centers that had these choirs.

"So here were non-Christians in Japan saying that they wanted to sing just like the nuns in the movie. So they began taking Gospel music lessons and, in fact, the first choir that I started began after I was invited to teach in a community center, about ten years ago."

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