New York Part 1

I’m back. New York was fantastic. Before I go into my usual blog posts, let me share a little bit about the trip.

The first three or four days were a little rough. Our bus ride was fine, as was our amazing bus driver. Our first several concerts, we sang fantastic. However, neither our voices nor the bus ride were the problem. We started out with sounds system problems. Basically, we had no mics and no amps because the sound control box, we found out, was fried. So, our first two concerts, both of which were on the second day of our trip, we had to sing out loud (probably a good thing, actually), and the soloists had to try and overpower us. I’m pretty sure Alisha was the only one who did, though she later said “That was not me. I mean, obviously it was, but I could never do that before. I could just feel the Holy Spirit’s power.” As could we all. So, honestly, the sound system failure did not stop the Holy Spirit from working through us. In fact, it made us stronger than ever.

Two days later, we had three concerts, all in one day. Our concerts are about an hour long, so this, we knew, was going to be a long day. It turned out to be longer than we expected. Our first stop was at a detention center in Virginia. I’m not sure how much information I’m allowed to give about these places, so I will keep it to a minimum. Anyway, at this point we had a new sound box, and our sound technician and church orchestra director John had gotten it working. So, we had our sound systems back. Well, after our concert, our choir director and minister of music at the church, James, did his usual speech about how Jesus died for our sins, how we are not good enough to get into Heaven without Him, and so on. He has a very unique way of telling them about this, and it is truly amazing to see the Spirit moving through him. Towards the end of his talk, he does what he always does, and asks the inmates to give each other some privacy, something that they don’t get much of, by bowing their heads and looking at the floor. if they would not do this, they were asked to go stand at the back wall (and the staff was always very nice and made sure one or the other happened). Well, at this particular detention center, something happened that has never happened before. One of the inmates refused to bow his head, and would not go to the back wall. He had to be escorted out, and caused a disturbance. On the way out, the inmate that caused the disturbance muttered something about “freedom of religion”. James had to work to get the other inmate’s attention back, though he did successfully. I believe we had more than ten people, including several staff members, saved that day. So, certainly not a bad concert at all. The Bible says that Heaven rejoices when one person gets saved, so imagine when more than ten get saved! However, despite the happy ending, the Devil was not done fighting us.

Our next concert went relatively smoothly. However, one of our soloists (I shall not name names) had a panic attack, and though she finished her solo (and sounded great, too!), that was the last time she sung her solo on the trip.

Our final concert for that day was at a detention center in Maryland. We ran into horrendous traffic on the way there, though, and we arrived close to 30 minutes late. On top of this, the security at this place was extremely tight, and it took us forever to get in. When we finally got in, we all had to be patted down. As the security guard explained it to us, “You all have to be searched. The ladies will receive a pat down, and the gentlemen will be thoroughly searched.”. This caused some nervous laughter from me, and some evil grins from my female friends who I was sitting with. As it turned out, though, we all just received a pat down, and it really wasn’t too bad. As Turner jokingly put it, “it felt like a massage”, then, quickly corrected with “Not like that!!” after the looks we gave him. Yes, even us ‘perfect’ choir children have our minds in the gutter to some extent. Perhaps we, as the next generation, should work on changing that, eh?

After getting through security, we got all set up. This time, we were in an outdoor courtyard-like area, instead of a gym or gathering room. Despite the tight security, the center reminded me more of a really intense summer camp than a prison. It had a large field, with some buildings here and there, all surrounded by a 15 foot, razor wire fence. Like I said, intense summer camp. Before our concert began, the staff offered use of their personal restroom. Those of us who were dying to go made a short line (that quickly got shorter) for the single restroom. All I will say is that I probably got lung cancer, nose cancer, and lost about ten years of my life in there.

So the concert begins. The staff is trying to make this sort of a fun event for the inmates, and so it was a bit more relaxed (ironic, with the tight security, the tightest we saw the entire trip), and they even passed out chips and stuff to the inmates. So, of course, the inmates were having a good old time, and completely lacked any respect for us. One of our soloists, and several other choir members, (again, I shall not name names) broke down in the middle of the concert. They kept on singing and going on strong, though, so that was excellent. The disrespect we saw there also had a very negative impact on one of my friends, who got anxiety sickness the next morning because of the rough day before. It continued through the rest of the trip, unfortunately, due to other issues. Despite all this, many came to Christ, they fed us amazing sandwiches after the concert, and we met an amazing staff member who really loved us and what we did, and was one of very few Christian staff there. So, it was certainly not all bad.

The next day, we were on the bus heading to NYC, and during nap time (I had not yet learned how to properly sleep on a moving bus. After an exhausting few days, though, I learned how), I was pondering the question “why”. Why had we gone through such hardships and problems. The answer came to me: The more evidence there is that the Devil is working against you, the more evidence there is that you are doing the Lord’s work.

This thought became even more true that evening, on Staten Island, where we went to see the 9/11 memorial. We took a ferry ride there, and that was cool. We got a good view of the Statue of Liberty, though, which was closed to visitors due to renovation. When we got to Staten Island, we got off the ferry and went to the subway. We bought subway passes for everyone, since we would be using the subway a lot over the next few days. Our first trip on the subway went, well, less than smoothly. No one got left behind (though that would happen later, and is a story for another time), but something did. We got off the subway at our stop, and headed up the stairs. The subway left. As soon as it did, my friend Alexa suddenly turned around and said, “My backpack’s on that subway!”. Well, the subway was gone. The backpack not only had her wallet, with her driver’s license and bank card, but also her friend Heather’s, who had not only her driver’s license, but also over $100 in cash. It was not Alexa’s fault. It was not really anyone’s fault. The bag just fell off. I was right behind them getting off the subway, so the fact that I did not see it made me feel rather terrible. We reported it to the lost and found, but they gave us little hope. We prayed still, but, honestly, it was New York City, so we had little hope.

About two hours later, after we had (sort of) eaten dinner, Heather’s phone rings. It is an unfamiliar number, but because of the recent events, she answered, holding onto a glimmer of hope. A total stranger had found the backpack, taken it home with him, and then somehow got her number from the information in the backpack. We never got to meet him, but he dropped the bag off, at personal inconvenience, at our next hotel, and Alexa and Heather got the bag the next day. Everything was still in it. Not a penny was missing. God answered our prayer, and showed His love and power through that whole situation. And, I am happy to say, there is still at least one honest person in New York City.

The rest of our trip I would say went smoothly, for the most part, and many came to know Jesus. It was an amazing two weeks of fellowship and ministry, as well as sight seeing, and one trip I will never forget.

My next post will be a less serious one, and I will share some funny stories from the trip, as well as some pictures.

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