This spring I had the blessing of going on the annual ICS Music Tour and seeing firsthand how God changes the lives of those involved, both our students and chaperones and those for whom they perform.
There is a richness to the music tour experience that you can't easily explain. You find yourself in the middle of God’s work, both His grace and His encouragement, while also in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by the sweet sounds of the bell choir and ensemble, you are keenly aware that you have been allowed a truly special gift: You are going to get to see God at work.
The students were immediately ready to jump into this work. I was amazed at their selflessness and lack of complaint. Sure, they joke about the cold showers and sleeping on the hard floors, but I never sensed negativity or self-focus. They performed 10 concerts, which meant 10 practices and 9 set-up times. Each venue is different, so every staging is different. I imagine it is a challenge to sing in different spots, next to different people, and to one day play bells in two lines and on another day to play in a horseshoe shape. Emily had to play piano both sitting and standing! Never did I sense their enthusiasm wane. They weren’t there for themselves.
The precision of loading and unloading the bus is a thing of beauty. Each student has a job that allows for the equipment to come off in an organized way, to be set up quickly, and then to be returned to the bus stacked and ready for the next stop. The students use an assembly line to unload sleeping bags and personal items. Effective and fun, as long as you don't watch as the bags fly overhead and are mostly caught by the next person in line.
These kids have stamina, performing on little sleep but lots of community. In between they find time to listen to devotions, work on their journals, and laugh. You know how the sound of a baby laughing warms your heart? I enjoyed that same feeling listening to these students, after hours and hours together, laugh heartily in camaraderie. Give them a playground and, even though they are teenagers, they make an opportunity for fun. And fellowship. The bonding between these students was evident, across grades and gender and their typical social lines.
God can work with students who give sacrificially of themselves, and that is what we saw as He united people through service and music. With a history of performing at these schools and churches, there is a bond of love that is palpable. Mr. Hope walked onto the Hopi Mission School property and was greeted like an old friend, with the children shouting "Hello, Mr. Nathan!" The kids at Discovery Christian, because they have watched ICS hand bell concerts for years, bought their own set of chimes and proudly performed for us. The women at Kykotsmovi Mennonite church made their famous fry bread for Hopi tacos and, at the end of the evening, had us all hold hands as they sang “Until we Meet Again" in both English and Hopi. The kids at Immanuel Mission School sang with us and ate with us and played with us. At each stop, there is music and relationship and tradition and history...and the glory goes to God.
The only thing that needs to change about the ICS Music Tour is the name. It is far more than a music tour. I suggest ICS Music Ministry Event, because I witnessed ministry in so many ways: When four of our kids ministered to and led a Hopi man to the Lord. When Lexie was sick and Audrey filled in on her bell spot at a moment's notice. When Kyle Laughbon, after one of our nighttime concerts, took hands with a little girl who asked him to dance with her -- and they danced! When the workers shared their burdens and blessings, and we got to listen and be encouragers. When God gave us beautiful sunsets in the middle of poverty and trouble. When our students played with these little ones who looked forward to this yearly visit and begged us not to leave.
There is shared joy, shared hope, shared faith. There are traditions and meaningful moments. There are times of play and laughter. There is hard work and thankfulness. God challenges and changes and builds, and I am convinced He continues this work long after the bus pulls back into the school parking lot. The ICS Music Tour is truly an amazing grace-filled week of ministry.