Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya as part of a choir. It was one of those "mission trips" that really aren't mission trips. Calling it a cultural exchange seemed more accurate. It was a brutal trip in some respects, beginning with a 3-legged flight. First we flew from Dallas to Chicago, with a 6 hour layover. Then there was Chicago to London, with a 12 hour layover. Finally we flew London to Nairobi. Once I left Chicago, I sincerely believed that I should have been in first class. Of course this would have left the rest of the choir in coach, but that seemed secondary to me.
Far be it from me to whine, but when we landed in Nairobi, I felt like I had spent the entire trip improperly folded in my carry-on bag. Then I tore a bicep tendon and labrum in my shoulder, which required surgery when I got home. It constantly hurt. Then I couldn't eat and lost 20 pounds before I returned. OK, I am whining, but despite the "missionary sacrifice," the trip was surprisingly a life changing experience, as we exchanged cultures.
It was an excellent choir of about 16, mostly Baylor undergraduate and masters level music majors. As we traveled from Nairobi through the beautiful rift valley, I lost count of how many orphanages, schools, villages, churches, dump sites, and businesses where we sang our repertoire of Christian and popular music. Remarkably, when we finished singing, they would invariably sing for us. It was like they had just been waiting for us to show up, so they could sing. And did they sing! Often they danced, too. Being mostly Baptists, this dancing created a serious crisis of faith, but thankfully we were not on U.S. soil and could avail ourselves of the "foreign missionary exception" to the inherent naughtiness associated with dancing.
The life changing aspect of the trip was learning that choral music transcends national borders, race, age, religion, politics, and even language. I realized that we are most like God when we sing together. At first blush, I might have thought it was group Bible study or prayer, but I'm now convinced it's singing. That had never occurred to me, even though my life has been immersed in choral music.
This Christmas eve at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, I got to lead a group of inmates singing Christmas carols a cappella. They actually sang, and it sounded great. It was powerfully moving, unlike anything that has happened to me here. It was PERFECT--an unforgettable experience in the midst of another cultural exchange.