VINTON–For many years, the Vinton Baptist Youth Choir has taken youth choir mission tours which weave a choir tour with mission projects throughout the stops.
Reverend Chris Monroe, Associate Senior Pastor for Worship at Vinton Baptist Church (VBC) has been leading those trips for the past 20 years. This is his 25th year in full time music ministry, and he decided to do something special with the youth choir this year to celebrate.
In past years, Monroe and the youth choirs have visited New York City, stopping off along the way to visit youth detention centers and homeless shelters. They have been to Chicago, Niagara Falls, Orlando, Toronto, and Charleston, South Carolina. They have made stops at assisted living facilities, Christian schools, children’s hospitals, Rescue Mission-type facilities, soup kitchens, and retirement centers to minister to those populations.
This year’s trip was penciled in for the first week of July which includes the July 4th holiday. Monroe had never done a patriotic-themed program and at first thought it might be fun to do that and perhaps “visit veteran’s hospitals and rehab centers to perform and thank vets for their service while attempting to instill some patriotism in our youth.”
In past years, Monroe has considered international travel with the youth choir as he is deeply involved with foreign missions in India, having led adult mission teams there. In fact in recent years, VBC has helped to establish the Asian Christian College of Music with ties to the India Baptist Seminary, after years of sponsorship of a children’s orphanage there.
“I prayed about an international trip, but traveling with youth internationally had been a hard sell to our parents and congregation in the past,” said Monroe. “Last spring an article came across my desk about the poverty ‘just over the hill’ from the tourist areas in Nassau, the Bahamas. The article reported that the island is home to the second largest slum in the Caribbean, second to Haiti. A few mission organizations were mentioned as accepting volunteers. A children’s home was highlighted in the article.”
Monroe says he sent some emails and overnight the director of the children’s home responded with information about the home, a list of items they need, and concert ideas the choir might undertake if they chose to visit.
“I started to figure the costs of flying a group—the hotel and food costs—and it was astounding,” said Monroe. “While doing the travel research, an Internet advertisement boasting great cruise rates to Nassau popped up.”
Monroe discovered that the youth choir could visit the island via cruise ship for under half the cost of flying there.
“Our visit would be brief, one day, but the exposure to an international project would be achieved,” said Monroe.
Monroe shared the idea with VBC Senior Pastor Bill Booth and parents involved in the choir leadership. They prayed about the project and decided to proceed.
A local travel agent was able to secure the reservations with the Royal Caribbean cruise line even below the Internet advertised price.
“The students responded enthusiastically, as did their parents,” said Monroe. “I had no problem recruiting chaperones. As a matter of fact, for the first time in 25 years, I had a waiting list.”
Sixty-one youth, grades six through graduating seniors, and 30 adults have signed up for the 2013 choir mission tour.
“We do not normally take so many adults on our tours, but traveling on a ship and internationally, my wife Mary Beth suggested ‘the more the merrier’.”
The choir will perform several concerts at various venues on the way to Port Canaveral, Florida. They will leave Vinton on July 2 in two chartered buses, stopping to perform at the VA Hospitals in Salem and Knoxville that first day.
On July 3, they will be singing at the Georgia State Capitol outside the Governor’s office and then at the Georgia Baptist Retirement Home.
On the 4th of July holiday the youth choir will again entertain veterans and seniors at two retirement homes, one in Ocala and one on Merritt Island, Florida.
The group boards their ship on the afternoon of July 5 and sets sail for Nassau in the Bahamas. When they arrive on July 6, the choir will present a community concert for an orphanage for special needs children and residents of a nearby nursing home. The youth will be carrying along bags of school supplies, toiletries, and personal care items for the children and adults.
Once they are back home in Vinton, Monroe hopes to organize smaller groups to return and work with the children’s home and nursing home, who have seen their funding drastically reduced in recent years.
“The children’s and senior adults’ physical needs are great and their spirits are hungry,” said Monroe. “My wife and I already have plans to return next spring. We hope that exposing these needs to such a large group from our church will ignite a passion to return within our youth, while easing the fear that such projects have held in the minds of some of our parents.”
July 7 has been designated as the “Fun Day” of the trip, on the beach at Coco Kay, Royal Caribbean’s private island retreat in the Bahamas, described as a “tropical oasis” for the ship’s guests.
The next day, July 8, finds the choir back in port and on their way back home to Vinton.
Monroe hopes that this trip has a big impact on the lives of the students in the choir. Nassau’s economy is based on tourism, which has taken a downtown with the world economy. Many of its citizens live in deep poverty. There are few social programs to assist the elderly and the disabled.
Monroe made a preview trip to the area to scout out the territory and make the arrangements, which was not an easy task given the large size of his choir group and the small size of most retirement and veteran’s facilities.
He and a team of supporters have painstakingly organized all aspects of the trip from the itinerary to matching T-shirts choir members will wear to how the laundry will be completed to the responsibility for passports and boat passes to proof of guardianship forms that must be maintained for youth, especially those traveling internationally without their parents or with one parent.
The youth choir has been practicing their program of patriotic tunes for months and holding a variety of fundraisers to earn money for the trip, including sponsoring the Dogwood Festival 5K race, selling Easter baskets, and holding a Christian comedian and dinner event. Many church members have donated to the youth choir trip.
“I hope it’s transformational for our youth,” said Monroe. “I hope that the light bulb comes on for them so that they see that we can bless other people with what we do—that they can touch the lives of others.”