Chaperones found purpose in the two day and two hour delay of the Choir tour. "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines," the bus read in their tour devotional series on the shortest books of the Bible rarely read. Habakkuk continues, "though there no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior."
The 2018 Choir Tour to the East Coast is performing:
Friday, April 13 at Oak Hill LBC in Bloomington, MN
Saturday, April 14 at Oak Ridge LBC in Menomonie, WI
Sunday, April 15 at Bethel LBC in Ottawa, IL
Monday, April 16 at Pilgrim LBC in Mentor, OH
Wednesday, April 18 at Bethany LBC in East Hartland, CT
Thursday, April 19 at Mt. Bethel LBC at Mt. Bethel, PA
Friday, April 20 at Hillside LBC in Succasunna, NJ
The group ends their prayer time by huddling around Pastor Erick. Hands lay on top of hands as heads bow. The humidity from having concentric circles of teenagers surrounding Erick warms more than skin and bone. The spirit is with these students. God is listening to the cries of a music group bringing encouragement to a missionary on the front lines in New York.
The boys are an hour late to breakfast, barely getting on the bus before departure time. A group of girls noticed the boys were missing from breakfast and prepared plates for the young men, knowing the group wouldn't be able to wait for the boys to fill their bellies before driving to New York City for their prayer walk. This is the beauty of a tour with Hillcrest students. Most issues are handled within the general character of the group. They take care of each other. The chaperons get to guide, walking alongside students as mentors. The students lead the trip. They sing. But more importantly, they lead, care, and look out for each other.
Students are showing incredible resilience after the first day on the bus. Where anarchy could rule, followed by haunting memories of a chaperone falling from a seat while holding a conch shell, Hillcrest students are instituting a code to follow for survival.
The first rule is unspoken. General bus etiquette calls students to stay out of friends' food bags. However, the rule, like many developed, is being stretched by some. Students recognize that it is highly inappropriate to eat someone else's food. However, many consider food in the open air fair game. This is creating a touchy situation for tour sheriff, Todd Mathison. Some students have been seen sneaking by friends who have fallen asleep with a snickers bar in hand. A few unfortunate students fell asleep mid-bite, which begs the question if thieving and general chicanery can be prosecuted against benefitting students who sever the portion in-mouth from the portion they take for their own survival. A kangaroo is likely. This situation will receive more press as the tour continues.
A second code is cleanliness, which a handful of boys staying at the church upheld through sink showers this morning. Hillcrest's young men prove a unique aptitude for survival in their general tour bus decorum. In the bathroom of the church, shampoo bottles passed from hand to hand after alarms woke the young men for their primp time before others arrived. As some rolled sleeping bags in Sunday school rooms, others were tidying up the nursery where a well-oiled machine of team work displayed young men with important survival skills. When the church was cleaned, the boys stood at the door greeting their fellow band members. Combed hair and a general pleasant aroma greeted the Hillcrest band as the young men prepared for a day on the bus. It is survival skills like these that put most Hillcrest boys a step above courtship competition in later years of life.
The young men prepare for further competition through jousting on the bus. While some cross-country tours emphasize physical strength and encourage plyometrics, Hillcrest young men sharpen their minds. Books are used for general mind lifting. Playing cards forge street smarts and call out cunning wit. Rook is the game of choice for the first two days. Camaraderie enhances as students shuffle around the bus to play pairs seated in areas ranging from the back seats to the front windows.
As students near lunch time they are thinking towards the post-lunch devotional time that Todd Mathison introduced yesterday. Todd spoke to the tour theme this year, Testify to Love. The students read parts of 1 John. Todd's words that the tour could be called, "Testify to Light" echo in the ears of some who stare out the window as they think through 1 John in light of Todd's explanation.
Others think to the testimony time that follows devotions. Chris Tungseth shared yesterday. His testimony spoke to the Holy Spirit calling him to talk to a young boy in the Dominican Republic. Chris painted a picture of the two of them talking about baseball. The conversation shifted to Chris sharing about his family which led into the Gospel. Chris highlighted the conversation by telling the bus full of students that the entire conversation happened without an interpreter. Through Chris' minimal Spanish skills the conversation was carried by the Holy Spirit. Chris closed the bus testimony with him staring into the distance like he was looking at the back of the young boy in the Dominican Republic walking away. The boy held a Bible in his hand, given to him by Chris. The boy was called, "Mi Hermano" as the story closed, roughly translated as my brother.
The tour will stop at Niagara falls today, staying in a hotel near the landmark. Chaperons are looking forward to walking with students to see the national treasure before calling students to lights out. The group will visit Epiphany Lutheran Brethren Church in Manhattan tomorrow night. The church is the latest church plant by the Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLBA). Students and chaperons are looking forward to seeing a place that many across the synod have prayed for specifically. They will walk the streets, praying for neighbors, shop owners, and Pastor Erick Sorenson, in a concerted act of cultivation for the ministry the Lord is calling the CLBA to in that region.
The tour darted across Wisconsin to visit Bethel Lutheran Brethren Church in Ottawa, Illinois. During the trip students rested, some coming back from a Dominican Mission trip with the senior class and others from a dormitory field trip to Branson, Missouri. Others were working to sleep off the Easter sugar. They did devotions together, spending time reading 1 John 1 and giving testimonies before they arrived at the church. Their 7pm concert was well received after the church hosted a dinner to visit with the students. Check out this photo album that tells the story of Day 1.
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.
After a day in God's creation the choir connected with friends of Hillcrest at Hope Church and led them to worship. Stepping outside the normal tour attire, Hillcrest organized a renovated program that led the church to the cross and saw the congregation raising hands in adoration of Jesus.
The service started with students in jeans and t-shirts approaching the stage. Pastor Marty Valder welcomed the congregation sharing a few insights from his days at Hillcrest. Director Heidi Jahr stepped on her platform as Pastor Marty closed his opening prayer. Raising her hands in the air led the students attention to focus on the director, who started the students into their first song. Following four numbers from the choir, the intermission began with Senior Micah Jones sharing his testimony.
Micah finds significance in the consistent love of God. He shared a tumultuous time for his famiy when his sister was found to have a tumor that impacted her brain. Micah shared the difficulties a young boy faces when parents are wrestling through treatments and procedures done to children. Lonliness and a feeling of injustice plagued Micah, whose parents and grandparents clinged to Christ during the difficulty. This consistent modeling gave Micah confidence that God was not far from those that suffer.
As Micah closed the Jazz choir ascended the stage. After two numbers, the choir vacated the stage as Kara Nash stepped forward. Kara shared her story for the second time on the tour. Drawing out the difficult story of her father's passing at the hands of cancer left Kara more pensive the second time around. She recalled a song the Jazz Choir sang where the lyrics speak to God never leaving students alone. Kara closed her testimony saying, "we shouldn't ask God why bad things happen. We should wonder why God allows good things to happen." Kara identified that sin plagues the world and bad things are the result of sin, not God. But he chooses to let good things happen.
Kara's testimony ushered members of the choir to lead a time of worship for the entire church. Rising to their feet at the strumming of the guitar, the congregation sang with the choir to four contemporary praise songs. As hands lifted in adoration of Jesus Hillcrest students sang loudly with the members of Hope church, leading the congregation to worship the Creator.
An early morning trip through Seattle delivered Hillcrest to Bothell high school. Their time sharing in music led to a great time sharing the mission of Hillcrest with friends at Word of Life in Marysville.
Hillcrest's students walked confidently into Mrs. Sheri Erickson's concert choir classroom. The Hillcrest Alumn is planning to travel to Hillcrest this May to celebrate her reunion. She oversaw the classroom for Ms. Jahr's student teaching. Mrs. Erickson invited Hillcrest to ascend the risers and sing a few selections for the Bothell students. As Hillcrest discussed their selections they discovered that Bothell arranged at least two numbers that are the same as Hillcrest. Mrs. Erickson's choir joined Hillcrest on the risers and sang a few numbers.
Following the joint choral experience Hillcrest saw their newly made Bothell friends descend to classroom chairs. Mrs. Jahr led her choir through a few numbers that drew smiles and a round of applause from the audience. The two choirs then passed eachother, with Hillcrest taking the seats and Bothell rising to the platform. A sort of "choir wars" emerged as the two choirs picked favorite selections that drew respect and led to thirty minutes of introductions and sharing as the two choirs awaited the 9:30am bell.
Hillcrest then traveled to Deception Pass where they saw freshwater rivers meet with the salt water of the Pacific Ocean. After an afternoon of hiking the group quickly found a coffee shop before joining Word of Life in Marysville, Washington for their Master's Feast homeless ministry.
Hillcrest students sat at tables spread throughout the fellowship hall at Word of Life. Sitting near them were men with tattered flannel shirts and women with children enjoying the meal. Stories shared caused the meal to go by quickly. Weather-worn hands moved gracefully as men spoke more with their hands than their lips recalling some exciting stories from their past. Hillcrest students shared their Washington experiences with their newly made friends as young girls huddled next to Hillcrest students who asked about school, a new bracelet, and favotire music. As the dinner waned the Choir arose to sing for the group. A "pre-concert concert" that drew rounds of hoots and hollars as the audience showed appreciation for the service the students provided and the music they shared with their new friends.
The Choir transitioned to their concert attire for their full concert presentation in Marysville. Hillcrest senior Shelly Choi gathered her Bible and nervously talked with friends at the door. She was set to share her testimony in the concert. She had already shared her testimony once during the tour, but this time she had friends in the audience.
As intermission began Shelly rose from her seat to conduct the interview-style testimony presentation. She started by sharing the athiestic tradition prevalent in most Chinese homes. Drawing reference from her mysterious church attendance, Shelly communicated how she moved to the United States and attended Hillcrest. During her time at Hillcrest worship fridays greatly shaped her understanding of God. In a miraculous spiritual experience Shelly placed her faith in Jesus Christ.
As the choir closed the concert they packed bags and readied to visit their host homes. The next day they would travel to the Ice Caves before a worship-style concert at Hope Church of Silver Lake in Everett, Washington.
Hillcrest students visited one of the cornerstone churches in the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. They gazed over the horizon from Phinney Ridge to see Green Lake and mountains in the background. The picturesque landscape was the setting for another of their highlighted concerts on their 8 day tour through the Pacific Northwest.
The group arrived at the church and immediately took to the parking lot to play frisbee and soak in the sun following their snowy drive over the Rocky Mountains. Following a mid-morning walk through Queen Anne, the choir visited Ms. Jahr's former choral professor and his concert choir class. Now the group stood on top of Phinney ridge looking over Green Lake with mountains completing the landscape picture. They gathered for a short walk to The Ridge Pizza, that would be their dinner stop prior to their concert that evening.
As the group gathered in the basement of Rock of Ages Mr. Jahr turned pages in his Bible. Walking through group through Luke's presentation of Holy Week, Mr. Jahr closes their devotional time together by highlighting the groups mission in presenting Christ through music. The group gathered at the door, lining-up in pairs that would remain tight as they marched two flights of stairs, down a hallway, and onto the platform in the sanctuary for their concert.
During the intermission Hillcrest Senior JeeHoon Park shared his testimony. Highlighting his upbringing in a Christian home, Park highlighted the consistent reinforcement of his parent's belief at Hillcrest. He called attention to his friend, J.K. Lee, who recently confessed his faith in Jesus Christ after wrestling out the necessity and logic for God, and that God being Jesus Christ. Park closed highlighting how life-changing his experience at Hillcrest as been.
The choir traveled to host homes, gathering needed sleep for their upcoming trip to Bothell high school and Deception Pass.
As students watched North Dakota plains transition to Montana's bluffs a calm fell over the bus. chaperon Armin Jahr shared his testimony, which sparked a devotional hour that propelled many students to organize their story to share with churches.
When the bus pulled-in to Yellowstone Lutheran Brethren Church in Billings, Montana the students looked forward to stretching their legs after being on the bus for the eight-hour trip. Loading risers into the sanctuary started a flurry of activity as students organized their bags in the basement of the church, conducted a thirty-minute rehearsal, and descended on the prepared meal earnestly.
Sitting around a dinner table in Billings, Montana a group of students talked through their faith story with Mr. Jahr and chaperon Wayne Stender. The paper plates on the table held remnants from the evening dinner as Kevy Konynenbelt shared her encouragement in her upbringing. Committed Christian parents modeled faith in action for Kevy as her family faced medical challenges. Through a series of questions Kevy honed the focus of the story to highlight the providence of grace and peace given by God to her parents. Her smile widened as she testified to the passion her parents had in honoring God with their family through the difficult decisions. Kevy closed with a thought that pierced the Chaperons. The thought being that parents have a great affect on the formation of their kids through the process of dealing with difficult situations. For Kevy, seeing her parents turn to God and honor the position of the family has caused her to see faith as a tangible attribute essential for spiritual maturity.
Kevy sat back in her chair as if she had conquered a complex math problem and was satisified with the outcome. Her gaze raised from the table to her friend Shelly Choi. A soft, "and what about you, Shelly" drew attention on the Korean student who has attended Hillcrest for nearly three years.
A series of questions prompted Shelly story, the details rolling out from under her veiled eyes as she pulled back her bangs. Mr. Jahr's promptings caused Stender to push further in questioning Choi, helping her to formalize a presentation that she would give later that evening. As students bumped between tables and chairs in the fellowship hall Choi stood in confidence after focusing her message. She quickly gathered her things and joined the throng of girls curling their hair and rolling lint off their dresses as the boys gathered in the sanctuary of the church awaiting the 7 o'clock bell that would mark the start of their concernt.
After three songs Stender walked to the front of the sanctuary. Students filed-down from the risers as Stender grabbed the microphone and greeted the congregation. A short introduction to Choi's testimony left the parishoners eagerly waiting here from an international student who has a passion to know Jesus Christ.
Choi started her story by highlighting her family dynamic. Because of her Chinese heritage Choi didn't have a home that considered God. However, Choi loved to sing, and the best place for her to do that was in the church. She found herself at the age of 5 in church pews without her parents. A few forceful attenders drove Choi away from regular attendance. As she entered junior high she moved homes and began attending a different church. She can't explain why she attended church, apart from liking to sing, but she sees the desire as a way God pursued her.
Shelly then spoke of her transition to Hillcrest. The culture called her to question if God is real. Through friends and classes Shelly was driven to see the need for God. However, she failed to understand Christian worship. As students raised their hands Choi pondered why. Worshipping a God they couldn't see, bowing knees and closing eyes, was a testimony that Shelly couldn't shake.
On a Friday Chapel near the end of the year students gathered to the sound of guitars and drums. Voices raised in praise of God and Shelly's life changed. She remembers beginning to raise her hands. Cognitively, she paused, but physically arms stretched out. She thought to herself that she should lower her arms and continue singing, but tears started to flow from her closed eyes. She fell to her knees. An uncontrollable shaking ensued as she opened her clenched fists to stretch out her fingers. This was the first time Shelly felt as if God was standing right next to her.
Shelly notes that God did the work in pursuing her and gradually changing her heart through the culture of Hillcrest. Her worship-conversion experience is a testimony to how God mysteriously works in the hearts and minds of those who seek Him.
As Shelly closed her testimony time she took three steps to the front row. A group of Seniors sat, having videoed her testimony as a tangible reminder of what God has done in the life of their friend. Hungs followed from tearfilled eyes as students heard, some for the first time, how God changed their friend.
As students gather to worship this Sunday, Shelly and her friends are leading a throng of believers to see Christ by sharing their personal testimonies. The group will travel to Idaho tonight before a Monday night concert at The Rock of Ages in Seattle, Washington.
Boarding the bus with near freezing temperatures at 9am had the Choir quickly leaving Fergus Falls. On the heels of the Dominican Mission Hillcrest sent another group off during Easter vacation with a different mission but similar message.
The 38 students were quickly brought-up to speed on the mission of their cross-country trip following lunch. Chaperons pulled-out Bibles and directed students to gather their's. As students opened their journals with pen in hand they listened to Hillcrest Senior J.K. Lee share his testimony.
Lee started by telling students that he has been an arrogant kid growing up. Raised in a family that doesn't place a lot of stock in God, Lee identified how Hillcrest's approach is different. After understanding how the world has a need for God, Lee developed a belief that he alludes to being an intellectual acknowledge of God's creation. With a systematic approach and rhythmed pace to his words Lee shared how he has grown to see God as a real person and how he is developing a relationship that he acknowledges to be a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Following Lee's testimony students took to their journals. Their task was to write a response to Lee's faith story, highlight a few passages in scripture that are meaningful to them at this time, and begin to write out some of their faith story. The practice saw Kara Nash prepared as she walked to the front of the church during the evening concert with her Bible in hand and a microphone stretched out before her.
Admissions director Wayne Stender took to the mic following the opening songs of the Choir's tour. Referencing the words in the program, Stender highlighted the need for us to hear faith stories as we grow empassioned in developing a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit's movements. Kara Nash was the first student who volunteered to share her story in the tour's evening performances.
Nash spoke the challenges in her life, namely the difficulty in working through her father's cancer diagnosis and his passing before she entered the 10th grade. The testimony was reminiscent for many students to the journey she shared with the student body a year ago. As Nash concluded she painted a picture for the congregation of God reaching down to her in a muddy mess and pulling her out. She noted that the question she often asks is why God chooses to do good things, noting that sin has left us in a world where bad things should be more commonplace. However, Nash notes the grace of God, that in his character is bound this saving action that works in the lives of people to see Him.
Stender closed the offeratory message by highlighting the fact that Kara's message is a beautiful picture of the Gospel that envelops Holy Week. Referencing the realities of Good Friday, Stender commented on the incredible love of God to save the world, despite the continued sin, and offer a way of redemption and restoration with the God who loves all humankind.
The group completed their first concert in Antler and is resting peacefully in host homes. They look forward to traveling to Billings, MT tomorrow evening for a Saturday night concert and joyful celebration in the Easter morning service.
The Hillcrest Academy Concert Choir has announced their itinerary for the Easter tour.
- Friday, March 22 | Messiah Lutheran Church - Underwood, MN | 7pm Concert
- Sunday, March 24 | St. John Lutheran Church - Seward, NE | 8:30am & 11am Worship Services
- Monday, March 25 | Community in Christ LBC - Arvada, CO | 7pm Concert
- Wednesday, March 27 | Living Word Community Church - Phoenix, AZ | 7pm Concert
- Thursday, March 28 | Calvary Community Church - Fullerton, CA | 7pm Concert
- Saturday, March 30 | Our Saviors Lutheran Church - Mesa, AZ | 4pm Concert
- Sunday, March 31 | Our Saviors Lutheran Church - Mesa, AZ | 6am Worship Service
- Tuesday, April 2 | Yellowstone LBC - Billings, MT | 7pm Concert
- Wednesday, April 3 | Sidney LBC - Sidney, MT | 7pm Concert
- Thursday, April 4 | Our Redeemers LBC - Minot, ND | 2:30pm & 7pm Concert
- Friday, April 5 | Bethel LBC - Grand Forks, ND | 7pm Concert
- Sunday, April 7 | Bethel LBC - Fergus Falls, MN | 6pm Concert
To view a full itinerary please click here>>