March 21, 2015

Final trip blog

HDCH Choir HANDS Team:

First of all: yes, I know that this post is like, five days late. (Sorry!!) Thanks to pesky little things like lack of internet connection, post-concert exhaustion, and draining plane rides, I haven't been able to really sit down and let my inner blogger run wild and free, but here we are now, at last. Within these past few days, a lot has happened, so on the bright side, this should be an interesting post. (Apologies in advance if it gets kinda long though. You may want to grab a snack or something before continuing.)

Monday, March 16th was our second day of the music camp. We started our day off bright and early by cramming into our beloved van and weaving down the crazy Dominican roads to Emmanuel Christian School. There, we met up with our DR friends and toured around their school, popping into various classrooms and performing for the students. It was so neat to see where our new friends went to school, to now have an actual picture in our minds of what their day-to-day life is like. From there, we began some vocal exercises to prepare our voices for a long day of singing. After a good 20 minutes of this, we broke off into our respective groups, (Canadian and Dominican students) where we practiced our own individual pieces that we'd be performing at the concert the next night. One of the songs that our group rehearsed was a really powerful piece called "Praise is What I Do". The song is all about continually praising God and pursuing joy, even in the midst of brokenness, hardship, and pain, and for the first time ever, it really hit home for us. We were all so moved by the lyrics, especially one verse in particular that went: "Praise is what I do/even when I'm going through/I've learned to worship You/and though my circumstance/doesn't even stand a chance/my praise outweighs the bad". There was something about the rawness of the lyrics mixed with the visuals and feelings of brokenness that we had all experienced recently: whether in what we'd seen there in the DR or things we've dealt with in our own personal lives, that moved everyone in our group to tears while rehearsing. It was such a powerfully vulnerable moment for each of us, and as we sat in a circle, attempting to sing through the tears, we felt ourselves grow a little bit more: both in faith and in our bond with each other. It was in that moment that we became more than just choir teammates, and even more than just friends. We became a family. After rehearsals came lunch with our DR friends, followed by a jam session, and later, we practiced 3 songs that both our Canadian choir and the DR choir would be performing together at the concert: Oceans, How Great is Our God, and Amor Como Fuego, the song that our team had performed in church the day before. Even though our team knew Oceans and How Great is Our God in English, we decided to add a Spanish verse or two into both of these songs, to celebrate the language of the people in the Dominican and to show that God is for all people of all cultures. Afterwards, we decided to teach our Dominican friends a piece from our repertoire called "Amani": a Swahili song meaning "peace". After performing it for them with our whole choir, we then decided to break off into separate groups, (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) to teach them the individual parts of the song. It was mind-blowing how quickly they learned just by ear, and within half an hour, they had practically mastered a song that took our Canadian team about a month to learn. It was so cool! After a mass-choir jam to "Amani", followed by a quick game of volleyball in the school parking lot, our team hopped back in the van and headed home, where we ended off our day with a delicious dinner followed by a crazy game of soccer.

Tuesday was concert day. We all woke up as early as possible to sit outside in the fresh warmth of the morning and have some intentional quiet time with God. It was probably one of my favourite mornings on the entire trip. Instead of waking up to the hustle and bustle of trying to get ready quickly to make it to the camp on time, it was a really nice change to just sit and experience God's creation and hang out with the Big Guy for a while. It put all of our hearts and minds in a good place, to remind us that our purpose on this trip is not to be perfect musicians, but to worship God through our music and interaction with others. After breakfast, we loaded up in the van once again and headed down to Emmanuel, where we went through another full day of camp, just like the other days: starting off with warmups, breaking off into our individual groups, then after lunch practicing various songs all together. Today when we were practicing with both of our groups together, we decided to teach them "Hosanna", one of our longest-running songs in our choir which is very near and dear to our hearts. We taught it to them in the same way we taught them "Amani": by performing it for them as a whole group, then breaking off into individual sections to teach them the parts, and once again, we were blown away by how quickly they learned it. It was probably one of the coolest things ever, to be able to introduce a song that held so much meaning to us to a group of people from a totally different part of the world, to expand the message of that song even that much farther. It felt like our family was growing, which was so special and meaningful for each of us. After camp, we headed back to the compound for a quick swim, shower, bite to eat, and then freshened up for the concert. Excitement and nerves started to build more and more, which eventually escalated to a climax when we drove up to Emmanuel Christian School and saw the stage where we'd be performing in only a few minutes. After a soundcheck, pep talk, and a prayer, the concert began, starting off with some AMAZING performances by some local praise bands and dance teams. Their energy and passion was infectious and inspiring, and we wanted to capture that as we went on stage to perform our first of four sets. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Due to some technical difficulties, as well as some overwhelming nerves, our first few songs didn't go quite as planned. They weren't total disasters, but they definitely weren't as good as we knew they could have been, and feeling somewhat discouraged, frustrated, and deflated, we finished off our first set as best as we could. Knowing we couldn't continue with this kind of attitude, our team decided to go off into a quiet corner while some other groups were up onstage, and just prayed. We were losing our focus: our mindsets had suddenly become more concerned about being perfect musicians and getting all the technical details right, rather than performing for the sake of worshipping God. Spending those few minutes in prayer was so vital for us. It soothed our nerves, lifted our spirits, and made us remember why we were there, and so, for our next few sets, we gave it our all. By the end of the night, not a single eye on our team was dry. We sang with everything we had left in us, devoting every note, every lyric, to God, and it felt incredible. You could definitely feel His presence onstage as we were up there, and the love that was poured out as a result was unlike anything I've ever experienced before. It was a life-changing night for me, as well as the other members on the team, and I know that I'll always treasure the memory of standing there onstage, tears flowing down my face, singing louder and more enthusiastically than I ever had in my life because we were dedicating it all to God.

Wednesday was our last full day in the DR. This was the day that we got to do our work project, as well as tour around some of the other schools that EduDeo partners with. Our job site for the day was Renacer Christian School, where we would be painting some classrooms. We started off by touring the school, popping into a bunch of classrooms, meeting the students, and, of course, singing for them. (I mean, come on. We're a choir team. We can't resist the opportunity to sing.) From there we were assigned various jobs: from scraping old paint off the walls, to doing trim, to grabbing rollers and painting over large sections of wall. It was hot and tiring, but we made it all go faster by, (you guessed it) singing, which actually made the whole experience super enjoyable. After a couple hours of hard work, we washed up for lunch, changed into some "nicer", less paint-stained clothes, ate, and then headed out to another school sponsored by EduDeo, where we visited several classrooms and performed songs for them. The kids were all so welcoming and enthusiastic, and most of the classrooms even sang songs back to us after we performed, which was adorable and so much fun. Once we were done there, we headed back to our compound where we had a pool party with our DR friends, which felt sooo nice after a long day of working in the intense heat. Later, the DR friends left to go back to Emmanuel Christian School to set up for our farewell dinner that night, which we showed up to only a couple short hours later. The evening involved lots of lively dance numbers, a beautifully done dramatic presentation, some crazy fun games, and, best of all, pizza. It was a very bittersweet night. On one hand, it was awesome to hang out with these new friends of ours, to laugh with them, talk with them, and to realize how close we've all become in only a short amount of time. However, there was a cloud of sadness looming above all of us, as we knew that this was the last time that we'd get to be with each other, which became especially apparent when we had to say our final goodbyes at the end of the night. So many tears were shed, and we all left feeling like a little piece of our hearts were missing. And, honestly, sitting here now, it still feels that way. The friendship we had with the people in the Dominican was so strong, and I know that our Canadian team has been talking and thinking about our Dominican friends every day since leaving them. They were such special, talented, hilarious, and accepting people, and I hope that even though we're from completely different countries and circumstances, we still hold onto that incredible bond we shared.

Thursday. The day we finally had to pack up our suitcases and head back to the chilly land we call home. We all started off our morning by waking up at the crack of dawn to sit outside and watch the sunrise together one last time, to try to capture a final glimpse of the incredible beauty of the DR. It was spectacular, like God was putting one final exclamation point on the end of our sentence. Even though we were all dreading having to say goodbye to this incredible place that had stolen our hearts, we couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of awe and joy at that wonderful display of creation. It was the perfect way to end off our trip. After breakfast, we gathered our luggage, bid one final farewell to our sweet little compound, and then headed out on our way. We took one final, quick stop at a touristy market so people could pick up any last-minute souvenirs, and then booked it down to the airport where we said goodbye to our faithful bus driver and Herveen, our awesome tour guide, and then officially began the journey home. Saying goodbye to the DR was one of the hardest things I think I've ever had to do. This past week was so powerful, challenging, yet incredibly fun and exciting. I've learned so much about other cultures, about my friends, about myself, and about God. After these experiences, I see the world through new eyes, and having to say goodbye to the place where all this happened felt like saying goodbye to an old friend. The farewell was inevitable, but it hurt nonetheless, and even now, after being home for a couple days, I still feel homesick for the Dominican Republic. It was so amazing, and I feel so blessed that I got the opportunity to go on this trip. The memories and bonds that were created were so rich, and I know I'll treasure them for a long, long time.

Once again, thank you SO MUCH to everyone who supported our team on this trip: whether financially, through encouraging messages, or through your thoughts and prayers. We could not have done it without you. We all feel so blessed to have such incredible supporters. Trips like this are no small undertaking, and the fact that you were all so willing to give of yourselves in order for us to have this experience is so, so cool. Thank you all.

God was definitely at work during this experience. Please continue to pray that the bond we formed while we were down in the DR doesn't die out, but instead, only continues to grow. A spark was formed while we were down there, and if we keep God at the centre, that spark could fan into a flame that can touch so many lives.

Thank you, once again.

God is good.



EduDeo Staff
Mar 23, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Excellent final post! So wonderful to hear how present the Holy Spirit was felt during this week and in each of your lives.

Thank you for taking the time to write this beautiful blog and letting us have a glimpse into this personal and impactful time you all experienced.

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