The Big Dipper was ominous over the Castle as three students arrived at 5:30am to reserve their spot on the bus. They sat in the hallway, waiting until the bus arrived at 7am. A ukulele helped pass the time. There wasn't much singing. They argued most of the morning. One of the students said they needed to get a good seat on the bus by being first to the school. They stared at each other for an hour and a half so they could sit next to each other for 10 hours today. I love tour logic.
When the bus finally arrived a flurry of April Fools jokes rolled out the door. "The bathroom is broken." "The wheels on the bus don't actually go round and round." "We're considering driving to Canada." If it wasn't the students, it was the parents. "I am giving you $3 per day for food." "I packed all of the spiderman underwear like you requested." "That rash isn't as contagious as the doctor thinks." Eyes of bystanders would grow wide before someone, usually a teacher, would blurt out, "APRIL FOOLS!"
This is the start of a memorable tour. Students are embarking on an 8 day cross country trip where they will see classic American sights. They will see the Great Lakes, conduct a prayer walk in New York City, gather for traditional photo ops at New York City's landmarks, walk the streets of Chicago, and most importantly, perform 4 concerts for Lutheran Brethren churches on their trip. All this on a 56 passenger bus that is housing 51 people. The scene at Hillcrest this morning was priceless.
A gaggle of boys received suitcases of every size and dimension to put under the bus. Parents stood back, assessing if students packed enough. As steam rises from the parent discussions there are grunts under the bus. Three dorm girls just brought down their suitcases. You'd think they were moving out.
Finally everyone gets on the bus. Todd Mathison gives directions on the role call process. A group of students twist-off caps of drinks as they start in on their tour bus food. I give them two hours before they need an emergency rest stop pull-off. There should really be a rationing process on tour buses.
A hush falls over the bus as they nestle in to pillows, bowing heads as Mr. Isaac starts, "Let's pray." This is one of the best parts of tour. Bed-head is the only thing visible over the crest of the seats as students bow their heads. Todd Mathison shared that the students will read through 1 John throughout tour.
Mr. Isaac prays for unity. A handful of students are returning from the Dominican mission trip. They have no words to explain the change they sense happening in their hearts. Another group of students is returning from a dorm trip to Branson, Missouri. They saw a passion play and a number of shows. They're excited to miss a week of school to see the world. Trips like these expand horizons. Hillcrest trips forge deep transformation. Time in the Bible, shoulder to shoulder with friends, seeing unique parts of the United States, tends to build a host of memories. Some students shuffle in their seats through the prayer. They move their Bible from their pillow to under their seat. Their journal falls to the ground. The journal should help house some of the memories for a rainy day.
Mr. Isaac closes his prayer in saying the music trip is a praise event. He communicates that the trip is designed to bring God glory and edify the body of Christ. 4 concerts in 8 days will be a great opportunity for Hillcrest to reconnect with friends and family in Lutheran Brethren congregations on the East Coast. The students are carrying a banner that has been flying since the 1920's, when C.F. Erickson started traveling to visiting churches with his award winning Hillcrest choir and band. The students on the bus don't know the significance of this trip, but some day the reality will sink in. They're part of a program that God sustains.
Students will join friends from the Washington D.C. field trip later tonight, after their concert in Ottawa, IL. The entire choir will be together starting April 3rd, after they travel through New York to see the scope of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren's newest church plant, Epiphany LBC in Manhattan.