My husband asked me what had been my favorite experience of this year’s Chapel Choir tour to Denver. That is a difficult question to answer. For those who have never been a sponsor, choir tour is like drinking Mountain Dew from a firehose. It is a steady stream of loading the bus, unloading the bus, moving your luggage to a hotel or dorm room, eating meals, unpacking, repacking, loading the bus, unloading the bus, setting up risers, singing, taking pictures, talking to people, loading the bus, meeting in family groups, meeting in large groups, meeting in sponsor groups, standing in line for the dorm hall shower, and lastly (and often late at night) falling into bed exhausted. The bus travel is punctuated by games of Spades, Disney movies (the only G-rated movies we can find), reading, knitting, long conversations and sharing of life stories, standing in line for the bathroom at truck stops, and standing in line to order at fast food restaurants. The common thread of all of this activity is telling stories.
Watching our students engage cashiers and folks standing in line with them for the bathroom has been a joy. Seeing our students share their blue #reflectglory bracelet with a new acquaintance, inviting them to tell their story and sharing their own story in return has been life-changing. John Woods and Jason Hall have coached our students that everyone has a story to tell and everyone has a need to share their story. While the focus of Chapel Choir is music ministry, our students, even our most quiet, introverted students have learned how to communicate the message of salvation to people God places in our path. They have challenged our students to “do life” with people and share their story along the way.
Telling your story is something that does not come easily to people. In meeting people at the recovery centers, they often tell us that telling their story is therapeutic. One resident told me they practice telling their story so that it becomes easier and easier to tell. At Harvest Farm, our wagon tour guide told us that being with the animals is therapeutic because the animals will listen to your story without comment or judgment and will lock your secret fears, vices and weaknesses deep in the vault. Even if we do not have the dramatic story of substance abuse and growing up in a broken family, our stories are important. The common thread is that at some point, some lower than others, every soul realizes there is a need that can only be satisfied by Christ.
“So, what does it feel like to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe?” A resident at Harvest Farm posed this question to one of our students. She was taken aback. She said it was an “Ah hah!” moment to realize the miracle of that relationship. To learn to describe such a relationship was a good exercise for all of us, sponsors and students alike.
One of our senior students had a death in the family and had to fly home early, missing the senior banquet on Thursday. It was a great disappointment coupled with the sadness of losing a beloved family member. When I met her in the lobby to accompany her on the trip to the airport, I asked, “How are you feeling this morning?” Her wan response was “Not too good. I only got an hour of sleep last night.” I hugged her and said, “You can get a nap on the plane.”
A short ride to the airport later, we were standing at the gate to the security line. I gave her detailed instructions about how to get through security and to her gate. I told her to text me when she was at the gate and gave her a last hug. I got the text and headed back to Regis University dorm where we were staying.
Immediately as I got into the taxi, the driver engaged me in conversation. I could tell from his accent he was from somewhere in Africa. He asked me a stream of questions about why I was traveling with no luggage, what we were doing in Denver, and how many children I had. I explained where we were from and what we were doing in Denver.
I asked him where his accent originated. He said, “I am from Ethiopia.” My daughter and I had spent a week of our previous summer in Ethiopia. I asked him what part of Ethiopia.
“Tigray,” he said. He went on to explain he was Ethiopian Orthodox (Christian) and we had a lively discussion about the region where we had ministered and the predominantly (almost exclusively) Muslim population there. He explained the Muslims “do not like to help people.” He questioned me closely about the work we did in Ethiopia, ministering to orphans and assisting our friends who I told him were aid workers there.
As I exited the taxi, I gave him a #reflectglory bracelet. He said, “What does this mean?” I explained our aim was to reflect the glory due to God because of the great gift we had of salvation in Jesus Christ. I explained it was the Spirit living inside us that made us capable of reflecting this glory. Some friends in Ethiopia had explained that often Ethiopian Orthodox “Christians” were not saved, but engaged in ritualistic and often spiritless participation in their religion. I do not know the status of my new friend’s heart, but I hope he is one of the “saved.”
Later, as our students sang in the rotunda at the Focus on the Family headquarters, Brent Coleman pulled out his cell phone. His voice broke as he told us he wanted to share a text he had just received from our student traveling home to be with her family. She had met a woman on the plane, Sandra, who was traveling to be with her sister who was suffering from terminal cancer. When the student asked how she could pray for her, Sandra asked for prayers of healing for her sister. She told the student, “Meeting you today was such a blessing.”
This is what choir tour is all about. It is about going where God sends you, even when it is not where we want to be, and being a comfort to others, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who gives us comfort in all our troubles, so that we may be able to give comfort to others who are in trouble, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” [I Corinthians 1:3-4] As Brent shared the student’s story with the choir and explained how, for him, her story had put a face to I Corinthians 1:3-4, more than a few tears were shed.
Later, I texted the student, “We all miss you. But, we know you are exactly where God needed you to be.” She texted back, “As soon as I got to the airport, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.”
God is teaching us all lessons on choir tour. What is my favorite moment of choir tour? It was talking to that taxi driver on the morning of my 6am run to the airport to deliver a student so she could make that appointment with Sandra and provide her comfort “through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” It is seeing a shy student share her bracelet with a man recovering from drug addiction and explaining what it means to reflect glory. Those are my favorite moments of choir tour.