“There is no joy apart from meeting a kid I taught in 2011...who is now doing exactly what I was doing then. That brings joy to me!” Meet Yanjanani “Levi” Dannayo, who works full time with Songs for Saplings (SfS) in Malawi. If you’re wondering, Malawi is in southeastern Africa, landlocked by Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and Lake Malawi.
Levi (pronounced Leh-vee) is joyful when speaking about his work. “Every single day I am Songs for Saplings!” he proclaimed with a laugh during a Zoom interview.
All photos featured in this post were taken before the COVID pandemic.
Levi grew up in a Christian family, “learning the word of God and desiring to minister.” He was introduced to SfS during his third year at African Bible College, when Dana and James Dirksen were visiting missionary friends and performing, and they needed a drummer. Both a Sunday School teacher and professional drummer, Levi was happy to help. After hearing the mission of Questions with Answers, Levi knew he wanted to do more.
In 2009 he translated Volume 1 of Questions with Answers into the national language of Chichewa and began teaching the songs face-to-face throughout Malawi. Before Levi’s work, almost all Christian resources for children in Malawi were available only in English. Most children in Malawi don’t start mastering English until they are 12, and many children never learn English, which means they have almost NO Biblical materials really useful to them. Translating Questions with Answers accomplishes the task “to reach whatever kid we find in the street, in church, in Bible Clubs,” said Levi.
After graduating in 2011, Levi’s work with SfS expanded as he traveled and taught the translated songs to children in churches, orphanages, and government schools. In addition to teaching students, Levi began training pastors, childrens' leaders, and even government teachers about the songs.
Most important to Levi is getting to explain the theology in which the music is rooted. As Levi explained, Christianity in his country is wide but very shallow. Questions with Answers provides sound teaching in a way that children and parents can understand in their heart language.
“In Africa we learn everything through music,” Levi said. Over time, he created gestures, claps, and dances to aid in teaching the Questions with Answers music. He recalled how joyful it was to dance and clap with kids while sharing songs at the Children of the Nation orphanage in 2012. As he arrived with his guitar on the second day, the children exclaimed, “He is coming!” and ran from the auditorium, singing and dancing what they’d learned just the day before. Levi laughed as he explained how he had to quiet the children down and send them back to the auditorium to finish hearing the pastor who was in the middle of speaking before they could come sing with him!
It was in that same year that he completed translating and recording Volume 2 of Questions with Answers into Chichewa. Also in 2012, Levi met the director of Scripture Union, an accredited organization that runs the Bible Clubs in government schools. The result of that meeting is “a great, great partnership” that has allowed Songs for Saplings to partner with Scripture Union to teach at public schools. The two organizations work together to train teachers to use Questions with Answers as the core curriculum of the Bible Clubs. Because of this, hundreds of public schools in Malawi now teach Questions with Answers!
“It’s so fun to see how it works - kids come because sometimes they hear the guitar and dancing and clapping,” Levi shared. Christianity is largely accepted in Malawi, and all students are required to take either a Religion or Bible class. SfS volunteers are also able to reach and teach a lot more kids through the after-school SfS Bible Clubs. Thanks to generous financial supporters, there are currently six volumes of the Questions with Answers curriculum translated into Chichewa, and four have been recorded. Levi hopes to record the next two over the next year.
In rural villages, there are many children who have never stepped foot into a classroom. To fill that gap, Levi designed a program to reach these young people with Question with Answers through weekend SfS Bible Clubs. The success of these programs in the villages requires that he first develop cordial relationships with the chiefs and parents. Levi shared, “The key to teaching children is in fact the elders and parents. Build trust with them, they will trust you with their kids, and you can teach them the Word.”
Levi’s wife Edna, whom he married in 2017 and has a 2-year old son, recently joined him in his work with SfS. So much growth has occurred organically in the past decade, and Levi is excited that they now have the ability to be more strategic. “When she came in, things changed,” Levi said, “she wants to see in detail what is happening...to keep all the data, she wants to know where we are moving from, where we are going.”
By 2023, their goal is to establish at least one village SfS Bible Club in each of Malawi’s 28 districts (akin to U.S. states). Such an endeavor is not possible without a large network of SfS volunteers. This includes coordinators for the North, South, and Central part of the nation, as well as SfS volunteers in each village. Levi has learned to identify a dedicated individual in each village to observe and learn while he teaches the songs. They continue teaching after Levi leaves, and he checks in with them periodically.
Levi also wants to train more people so that there are a lot more people like him out there doing this work. According to Levi, it takes about fifteen hours to travel from the northern to the southern end of Malawi - and almost daily he’s covering many of these miles by bus, car, bike, or foot in order to share the joy of Songs for Saplings with children and parents alike.
It seems that wherever he goes, the kids run to him and follow behind him, singing. That is what encourages him to believe it possible to reach each and every corner of Malawi by 2025. This is not hard to believe, based upon the miraculous way God has already used SfS and the dedication of Levi and his teammates to spread His truth throughout the nation. As Levi said, “I am always excited to see what the Lord is doing here!”
“Levi and Edna are great examples to us of a couple who have dedicated their lives to bringing the deep truths of scripture to their people in a way they can understand and embrace it,” said Dana Dirksen, the founder and Chief Musician of Songs for Saplings. “We’re greatly encouraged by them and their dedication.” Levi and Edna estimated they’ve been able to teach Questions with Answer music to over 90,000 children throughout Malawi, and they are excited about what God has is store for them in this time growth.
Are you excited? Become a supporter. Our ministry is supported by people who give anywhere from $5 to $500 each month. These donations allow us to make more translations available, and allow us to give the music away for free. Join the work by praying and giving to Songs for Saplings.! You can donate to our 501(c)(3) easily and securely here: https://songsforsaplings.com/donate/
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