Not Cut Out to Be a Choir Director

“Three miles to the world.”

That’s a catchphrase my church likes to use. You see, Dallas is one of the main hubs where the US government likes to dump refugees. People from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma, Somalia,  and many other countries (some of which I’ve never heard of) find themselves in my illustrious Southern city. The government pays their way for six months, and then they are expected to have life figured out.

One of the opportunities that this allows me is the privilege of working with an African refugee church that meets at my church on Sunday afternoons. It is made up of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Their services are taught in Kirundi, and the people sure know how to sing and dance and worship God! Even though I don’t speak the language of most of the adults, joy spills out no matter what language is being spoken.

Not your typical English praise song
Not your typical English praise song

Of course, since I’m typically the only white, English-speaking, American adult there and only come every other week, I don’t always know what is going on. This can create some interesting situations.

On this particular Sunday, the church was hosting a conference. Other African churches were meeting together, and each group had brought over their choirs to join in the festivities.

For the conference, I was told that the children’s choir was going to perform one of the English songs I had taught them. The song was a lovely repeat-after-me song, and I had purposely picked out half of the kids to lead the song and the other half to repeat. I arrived when I thought I was supposed to so I could practice with my kiddos, but something was lost in translation. I was given a “Glory Choir” T-shirt and rushed into the main auditorium. A quick whispered conversation let the kids know which song we were going to do, and I took my seat with a sense that everything would be fine.

As the service progressed, I began to wonder how I was going to pull this off. The children were going to sing a couple of songs in their native language, and then we were going to close with mine. Because of the hand motions and the lack of practicing, I figured that I would do what I’ve seen my choir directors do: I would simply go to the front of the room, kneel down facing the kids, and lead the song. That way they could watch me if they forgot anything.

Things didn’t go quite as planned.

As I waited, the kids who were supposed to start the song didn’t.

Their lovely artwork
Their lovely artwork

Perhaps if I start singing, they’ll join in, I thought to myself. Taking a deep breath, I burst forth into song.

Unfortunately, instead of joining in, all of the children decided to echo.

Now, I’ll pause right here and make this confession: I am not a singer. While I may be able to hold a tune in a limited range, I’ll make my mark on the musical world playing the piano way before I win American Idol. 

So, sitting on my knees, with about a 100 African refugees staring at the back of my head, I began belting out this song while flailing about doing hand motions, desperately hoping that the children would join me rather than repeat me. After the first verse, a very friendly African fellow hunkered down beside me with a microphone. He proceeded to hold the microphone for me while I continued waving my arms and singing slightly off-key for the remainder of the song.

I don’t know what the African refugees thought of the crazy girl teaching their children that day. I’m not sure if they understood why I was sitting perched in the front of the room with my back to them. Perhaps they wondered why I was waving my arms like a wild woman at their children. But at least they had no idea what the song was supposed to sound like in the first place so perhaps they’ll think it sounded like it was supposed to.

I didn’t get any compliments on my singing that day, but I’m chalking that up the to the fact that most of the adults don’t speak English.

Working with the African church is such a fun blessing! I never know quite what to expect!

Blog Pictures 005
The kids are always a lot of fun!

Wisdom Did Not Descend on Me on My Birthday

On the morning of December 28th, I awoke to discover that I had survived 24 complete years of life. On this day 24 years ago, Angela was born into this world. While this is a great accomplishment in itself, apparently, being a year older does not automatically make one smarter. I found that out quickly.

My birthday began relatively quietly as I dragged myself out of bed and prepared for church. My five day sabbatical from work seemed to have left me more worn out than before I began. Since my family all separates and evangelizes the entire city of Dallas by going to four different churches, I headed to church on my own.

Pulling into the parking lot of my place of worship, I was quite pleased with myself. With the holidays drawing to a close, traffic had been light, and I made good travel time. Pleasant thoughts of arriving early for the service for the first time in months swirled through my head as I pulled into the parking lot and found a close spot. I gathered my belongings as I listened to the end of a song on the radio, and then I went to turn off my car. I switched off my vehicle and started my normal routine. Suddenly, I realized I had a problem….

I had no training on what to do in a situation like this!

My key wouldn’t come out of my ignition.

Panic began to swirl in my chest, but I tried to calm myself down. When I had purchased the vehicle in October, I was only given a single key, and the key was bent. On Tuesday, I had had the hardest time getting my key to slide into the ignition (though I finally got it in after pushing on the brakes and straightening out my steering wheel). As I jiggled the key, turned the car on and off, and yanked as hard as I could, my stomach began to clench up. The key was not coming out, and I had no idea what to do.

The minutes ticked by. I was pressing, pulling, and praying frantically as I tried to process what to do about my problem. I had a warranty on my vehicle–should I call and say my engine swallowed my key? Should I call a locksmith? I was alone, and my family was inaccessible. I considered going into church and coming back later, but I couldn’t leave my car with the keys in the ignition sitting in a packed parking lot.

Five minutes of stress dragged by. I decided I needed a second opinion. No use getting the authorities and specialists involved if I had simply made an error. Like mothers who are able to find something in two minutes that took others hours to find, I wondered if perhaps someone else would have the magic touch I was missing.

A couple of cars pulled in, and I sprang from my vehicle to assault the other drivers.

“May I borrow one of you?” I called attempting not to seem too frazzled. “This may sound very dumb,” I said with a meek, frenzied chuckle to the 35-year-old man climbing out of his vehicle, “But I can’t get my key out of the ignition.” I went on to explain about the bent key, and my inability to free it from the jaws of my Camry.

The man began working to help this damsel in distress. He began asking questions about which way my key was bent and if this had happened before. I stood in the cold, swirling breeze trying to be helpful but really being no help at all.

“I don’t want to pull too hard and break your vehicle,” the man said. He seemed about ready to give up. I understood his feelings. At least my diagnosis had been correct.

As a final resort, the man began playing with the lock buttons and fiddling with other gadgets. Shoving my hands in my pockets, I let out a sigh. Now what was I supposed to do?

Click.

Suddenly, the man turned to me with a great grin on his face. In his hand, held aloft, was my free key!

These foreign cars are so tricky to use!

The man climbed out of the vehicle and handed over my released treasure. Trying to swallow his grin, he said, “Next time, try putting your car in park.”

With profuse thanksgiving and gratitude, I allowed the man to return to his family. He assured me that this would be our secret. I had a profound wish in that moment that my hair hadn’t been blonde.

So, moral of the story: wisdom did not descend on me on my 24th birthday. In fact, I couldn’t even make it to 9AM without having trouble. With a start like this, I’m a little concerned about what will happen to me in the next 12 months!

The View from Below

Recently, I was weaving my way through the throngs of people at a church I was visiting. Hundreds of congregants and I were shuffling along trying to get from Point A to Point B. Suddenly, I heard a small voice:

“Look! Rainbow toes!”Picture 005

My eyes were drawn to the preschool girl next to me. She was in her best rose-covered Easter dress with matching headband, and she was dragging her mother through the crowds pressing forward. Somewhere, amidst the trousers and ladies’ legs, this little girl had noticed something. She had noticed my multicolored toenail polish.

I hadn’t planned to break out my flip flops that day, and I didn’t think anyone would notice my abused toenails. While most “normal size” people were too busy searching for a path forward to notice my feet, those toes were right in the path of this particular young lady that had her eyes focused on something no one else was looking at. This singular observation rippled into a nice conversation among strangers that left us both with smiles on our faces.

As you go about your daily routine, try to see things from a different perspective. Whether it’s looking higher than normal or lower, always be alert. You never know what you’ll notice that no one else ever will. It may be a perfectly lovely surprise!