The summer in between my junior and senior years of high school, I participated in a trip to Malawi, Africa, with about 50 others from the Pittsburgh Presbytery as the first of what would become many exchanges between Presbyterians in Western Pennsylvania and Presbyterians in Malawi.
I have told stories about this trip hundreds of times because it was on this trip that I first sensed a call to ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church. I talked about all the professionals – doctors, nurses, engineers and carpenters – who used their professional skills and experience to serve alongside our Malawian partners.
I was a part of a small choir that joined with a very large Malawian choir who traveled to area churches to perform in concerts and worship services. I don’t often think too much about the music element of that trip. I had sung in our church choir almost my whole life. Music was such an essential part of how I participated in “church” that being a part of this choir, even though it was thousands of miles from home, singing in languages I didn’t know, and alongside new friends whose lives were very different from mine, also felt very normal to me.
But of course it shaped my understanding of church on a global scale, expanded my understanding of the power of music to connect and inspire, and set my professional and spiritual life on a very intentional path.
This July my son Owen, just a year older than I was on that trip to Africa, and I participated in the BMPC Sanctuary Choir tour to the Middle East. Although Owen previously traveled overseas with the Philadelphia Boys Choir, it was my hope that traveling with his church family would help him have an experience similar to what I had 30 years ago.
In truth I was the one who had a powerful experience of the intersection of church, music and travel as I watched our choir members joyfully welcome Owen into their fold, encourage him in his music, and genuinely treat him as a full participant in the group, just as those adults did for me on my trip to Malawi.
I can’t help but share with you a video of one of the pieces the choir sang alongside a choir from Bethlehem and a choir from Jerusalem that features the young people who came together in music on this trip.
I will share a little more about the choir tour this coming Sunday, but please save the date for Sunday, October 2 – World Communion Sunday – when tour participants will talk more about the remarkable experiences they had on our Middle East trip.