By Holly Jo Linzay, Regional Reporter
ALEXANDRIA – Students of the Louisiana Baptist All-State Youth Choir spent the early part of this summer worshipping through song, sharing testimonies and reaching out to others.
Seventy-eight youth, representing 38 churches throughout the state, participated in a June trip to Tennessee accompanied by 10 adult sponsors. The choir sang praises to God and presented personal testimonies at youth detention centers, public parks, shelters, rescue missions, nursing homes, shopping malls and a few unexpected places.
Chris Turner, minister of music at First Baptist Church in Pineville, headed up the tour this year.
“The youth choir got to sing and help minister with a church in downtown Nashville that reaches out to the homeless under a bridge. It was a moving experience,” Turner said.
He has participated in the choir tour for three years as a sponsor, but this year he oversaw the 10-day trip for Herb Armentrout, the LBC youth music consultant out of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, who was unable to travel because of scheduled surgery.
The group made quite an impact in Tennessee, Turner said.
Auditions for the All-State Choir, limited to students in grades 9-12 who have a recommendation from their music minister or pastor, begin in January.
The choir includes an 18-member ensemble group called “Everlasting Praise,” which met for practice at the University of Louisiana at Monroe for a few days ahead of the entire all-state youth choir. After days of combined rehearsals, the choir departed the ULM campus and traveled to Chattanooga, Tenn.
Senior Morgan Crosser, Calhoun First Baptist Church, said this was her first year to participate in the choir and that the tour was “life-changing.”
“The choir trip was the best experience. I’ve always struggled with talking to people. I’d get scared about what people thought of me – but, not on this trip. When we were at a men’s rescue mission, I felt the confidence that Jesus can give you. I asked to share my testimony there, which is something I’ve never done before. But Jesus is something you can’t be quiet about,” Crosser enthused.
John Aaron Green, a junior from First Baptist Church in West Monroe, explained how participating in the choir tour the last two years has forced him to step out of his comfort zone with regard to sharing about his faith with others.
He said this was especially true when the group visited an open homeless shelter after being warned some people there might possess drugs or weapons.
“I was a little nervous, at first, when we were setting up the equipment. But when the choir started singing, I saw all these people raising their hands and clapping to our songs. I saw their hearts open up and saw the expression of worship on their faces. There was freedom. It was incredible,” Green said.
Telling others about Jesus offers encouragement, Green added: “The more you share with others about Jesus, the more you want to share. It’s a movement inside of you. We have an obligation to share, and I am unashamed.”
Grace Cain, a sophomore who sings alto from First Baptist Church in Pineville, admits she used to be “afraid” to approach people about Christ. But everyone is encouraged to interact with the crowd after the choir performance, and this helped her overcome her hesitation.
“At a women’s rescue center, I prayed with this one lady, and then she asked to pray for me. She prayed about things in my life nobody knew and things I had been praying for. It was a powerful prayer and you could really feel God in the room. We were not giving a concert, we felt like we were just worshipping God,” Cain said.
The students had several hands-on ministry opportunities in Chattanooga, Memphis and Nashville, distributing clothes and food to the homeless, and helping at a food bank.
“We got to help with several mission projects. At the food bank we packed 12,000 pounds of food, and at the end we prayed over it. On this trip, we didn’t focus on what we planned to do, but on how God wanted it to be. We all just want to bring this whole experience back with us, to our homes. I want to share with others. I am unashamed who Jesus is,” Cain added.
She also emphasized how friendships made through the tour will last a lifetime. “We will always have amazing memories of this trip. We are like a family in the end, who all love God.”
— At a prayer rally in Chattanooga, the group was setting up the sound equipment when it started raining, forcing the choir to perform an acoustic concert.
— They gave an impromptu concert at a mall.
— They even sang at an orphanage and as part of a Memphis mini-crusade.
Rebecca Connella, a junior from FBC Pineville who has participated in the all-state choir tour for two years, said she felt the presence of God everywhere the group went.
“In Nashville, under the bridge, the songs we sang seemed to make an immediate connection with the people. They worshipped under a bridge. They didn’t need a building. The people were the church,” Connella added.
She also emphasized the tour “was not a camp and it was not a mission trip” but that “it was an awesome mission experience where we were on-fire for Christ.”
“God works, He just does, and you want to tell everyone,” she exclaimed.