When I was leading sing-a-longs in college for Baptist Student Union meetings back in the ‘80s (the 1980’s, thank you), Kumbaya was one of the standards. As with many folk songs, its simple chord structure and five note repetitive melody are easy to sing and easy to play. Kumbaya was regularly sung along with other ‘classic choruses’ such as God Is So Good (traditional African song, pre-1960s; transcribed by Paul Makai in the late 1970s) and Pass It On (Kurt Kaiser, 1969).

The origin of Kumbaya has been uncertain. Some sources list it as an African-American folk song while some list Marvin V. Frey, a white evangelist, as the author and originator. A recent article in the New York Times supports a Gullah Geechee origin with a Georgia connection. The first known recording of Kumbaya was made in Darien, Georgia in 1926 and sung by a Gullah Geechee man identified as H. Wylie. The word kumbaya most likely is a misunderstanding of the phrase, “come by here.”

Kumbaya has actually worked its way into our national consciousness. Have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s all join hands and sing Kumbaya.” Usually, the speaker is being sarcastic, indicating an overly emotional, saccharin-sweet moment. In fact, the phrase Kumbaya Moment has found its way into the Urban Dictionary. One of its definitions being, “a naive feeling that all is good; a feeling that utopia has come down and all will be fine” .

With all that is going on in the world – tensions between countries, shootings in schools, and the polarization of U.S. political factions – maybe we need some genuine Kumbaya moments. Well, not saccharin-sweet, overly optimistic moments, but genuine moments when we invite God to “come by here,” work through us and be an influence for the Kingdom. Moments that encourage us to develop relationships with people who don’t have our world view, moments that cause us to lay aside our preconceived labels and see others as real people, and moments that cause us to let go of some of our self-interest for the good of everyone in the community. Come by here, my Lord, come by here.