Minnesota University Choir Missions Trip Rerouted to Czech Republic, Hungary
Students sang songs of true enlightenment in former Communist hall
They thought they were going to spend 17 days in May on a music missions trip to Ukraine, singing and ministering in cities across that country.
Then, horrific violence broke out between Russia and Ukraine.
MIWC, ministry liaison for the University of Northwestern - St. Paul (UNWSP) choir, quickly scrambled to reroute the long-planned trip, booking the choir instead at locations in the Czech Republic and Hungary. The 88 Minnesotans were on their way to minister in Russian and Ukrainian immigrant churches, an international missions church, a Christian school and to local congregations in the Czech Republic and Hungary.
In Prague, Czech Republic, a city infamous for its role in human trafficking, the choir got a firsthand look at the striking contrast on display as centuries-old cathedrals stand as relics in a city now boasting a pagan world view.
At a city-wide event called Night Of Churches, the choir sang and local Prague churches reported many unbelievers came to see what was going on, giving them an ideal opportunity to minister.
Also striking was the former Nazi concentration camp in Terezin, which the choir visited before singing in a nearby village.
According to Tim Sawyer, Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music at UNWSP, "listening to painful stories of people held in cruel captivity, [and] inhumanely treated was sobering."
After leaving the camp, the choir sang for the nearby town's mostly elderly congregation, some of whom likely had ties to the camp.
Tour photographer Guytano Magno, who captured amazing images during the tour and posted them to social media for the students' family and friends said, "There was so much life and joy in [those] wonderful saints. It was such a fitting way to celebrate life! The choir showed [that day] what they are made of and what UNWSP is all about... making the name of Jesus known in even the hardest and saddest places. Because that is where joy can thrive."
Sober reflection continued as the choir performed in locations whose historic significance was palpable.
An invitation to sing in Budapest's St. Stephen's Basilica, the National Cathedral of Hungary, a state-run and normally religion-free zone, both surprised and elated the group. They sang for an hour there, as a thousand people passed by listening:
After this moving experience in one of the city's top tourist destinations, the students gathered together on the stairs outside of the cathedral to pray.
Sawyer, pictured left in the middle of the students said, "They sang beautifully beyond their physical condition, but well within their spiritual means for over 1,000 people... They soared like eagles. Sweet memory of a lifetime."
The trip's last stop was a Hungarian concert hall in Petöfibánya, originally built for the purpose of "Communist Enlightenment."
Decades after the Communists last used this "Cultural Palace" to "enlighten," these American college musicians sang to 250 people there, bringing God's message of true enlightenment to a place that was once so dark.
The audience in Petöfibánya was estimated to be 75% unbelievers. According to Sawyer, the people attended simply because they were there.
In between songs of the Gospel's message, the audience heard the authentic testimony of two UNWSP students, Rachel Parsley and Spencer Larsen, and a young Hungarian woman.
Said Sawyer, "It's easy to look at the pictures of scenery, restaurants and food, sightseeing and fun, which just portray the surface of our true mission, which is: to bring the light of Jesus Christ and God-honoring, excellent and dynamic choral music everywhere we go."
Local Pioneers missionaries in Hungary provided feedback from local citizens to the choir after the event. Among the stories they shared was that of an elderly woman from their church who spent time after the concert hugging all the choir members. She told the missionaries she didn't read the Hungarian translation until the next day, but was moved to tears when she felt the Holy Spirit give her an understanding of the lyrics. The woman, who cried the whole time she shared her experience, said the concert affirmed for her God's ability to cleanse from sin and evil.
Julie Johnson, UNWSP's Director, Ensemble Tours/Academy of Music, summed it up this way, "Many wonderful personal and group interactions and cultural exchanges took place that were life changing and enriching, investing much in the Kingdom. None of this would have been possible without your prayers and God's faithful care. All praise and glory to His name."
Photo credit: http://guytanomagno.com/