Q&A with Maria Custodio from MBM Church

Maria Custodio is the Director of Support to Ministries at MBM Church in Sydney’s west. She’s had a significant role in helping MBM sing in other languages and in non-Western styles of music.

MBM Church staff 2023. Maria is in the green jumper on the left.

What has MBM Church been doing differently in music lately?
We have been incorporating multicultural music in our worship. Once a term we will sing a worship song using other languages and including non-Western styles of music.

Why are you passionate about it? 
Our church Multicultural Bible Ministry has made a commitment to be multicultural, not just in the way we look, but we are aiming for this vision to affect the ministries we do at a deeper level. Different people have different tastes in music, or different ‘heart musics’. If we all just sing the same styles of music all of the time, many people don’t get to worship through church singing in a way that is meaningful to them, or in a way that allows them to express themselves from the heart.

What’s been your story to get here?
I studied a music degree majoring in the study of non-Western music (Ethnomusicology). I had a heart for reaching out to people of different cultures with the gospel, so when I found out that ethnomusicologists were needed on the mission field I felt led to become a missionary. I served in South East Asia for 11 years, working with indigenous Christians to develop Christian music in their own languages and styles to be used for worship and evangelism. 

Who on the staff team have you been working with?
MBM’s Magnification pastor Nate Singh has given us the freedom to explore multicultural songs in worship. He contributes creative ideas and helps us to structure what we are doing in a way that fits in with the rest of the service.

Can you give us an idea of the nuts and bolts to make it happen?
We are very fortunate to have musicians from various different cultural backgrounds in our church. We approach them and ask if they have any Christian music from their culture that they think would be appropriate to use in church. They email us through suggestions, and Nate and I consider which pieces might work best for our church.

We select songs that have an existing English version also, so that we can sing in multiple languages, with some verses in English. Then we think through the instrumentation, so that we can incorporate non-Western sounds also. Sometimes we will use a combination of acoustic and electronic sounds.

While we have some church members who play non-Western music on acoustic instruments, we also have a church member who has collected very realistic sounding sound samples that we also use to aid us in developing a non-Western sound.

Anything you want to share for people in churches wondering if they can start doing this?
There are plenty of resources and a community of support out there for those churches who want to incorporate multicultural worship.

Recommended books include: The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World by Sandra Maria van Opstal and Worship Together in Your Church as in Heaven by Josh Davis and Nikki Lerner.

Josh Davis and Nikki Lerner also have a Multicultural Worship Leaders Network Facebook page. I’m also happy to connect with interested churches. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].