March 24, 2023
The East Texas Baptist University Symphonic Band and Concert Choir traveled to Israel as part of the Global Study and Serve Program from Tuesday, March 7 through Friday, March 17. The concert tour was led by ETBU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Sanders, Dean of the School of Communication and Performing Arts Justin Hodges, Director of Bands Nathan Phillips, College Organist Cathy DeRousse, and Assistant Professor of Music Lynette Vincent. The group of 52 students and faculty performed at and toured historical and cultural sites throughout Israel.
“On our trips to Jerusalem, as we ascend the Judean Hills and travel through the tunnel in Mount Scopus, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem suddenly appear large in the pilgrim's sight,” Dr. Sanders said. “Traditionally, our driver plays the old anthem ‘Jerusalem, Lift up Your Gates and Sing.’ Years ago, I imagined our choir and band singing that song on the Mount of Olives with that very backdrop.”
On Friday, the ETBU Band and Choir sang at the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, one of many impromptu performances at numerous Holy Land sites. As the tour continued, the ETBU contingent sang at the Church of Saint Anne. The impromptu performance was so impactful and beautiful that people started coming in off the street to hear them as others continued to worship at the back.
“As we made our way into the heart of the city of Jerusalem, we stopped at the Church of St. Anne where we were given the privilege of singing several pieces,” ETBU sophomore behavioral sciences major Audrey Blaha said. “The Holy Spirit moved in a very powerful way and fell strongly on our entire group as well as all those listening. We saw people who don’t even speak our language moved to tears with their hands in the air praising the Lord with us. We sang ‘Lord Make Me an Instrument,’ and it was so special to finally be in this place and watch our group be used by God as instruments for His glory in His presence. It was truly a glorious moment as the Lord met us right in the church. I will remember this moment forever.”
That evening, the first of three scheduled concerts was held at the Garden Tomb. The crowd grew as the beautiful sounds of the band and choir’s praises permeated the garden. After the concert, students were able to tour the empty tomb and take in the place where they stood. Following a moment of reflection and a Scripture reading, the group joined for communion.
“It was a surreal and intimate moment remembering the sacrifice Jesus made after all that we had seen,” Blaha said.
The second scheduled performance took place at the historic Baptist Village at All Nations Church in Petah Tikva on Saturday. As the Sabbath was celebrated by Israel, the ETBU Band and Choir led worship in a service translated from Hebrew to English. After their performance, they met ETBC alumnus Keith Riddle (’82), who serves as the Director of the Baptist Village.
After a visit to Mount Precipice on Sunday, the final performance was held at the Baptist Church of Nazareth in a service translated from Arabic to English.
“After descending the mountain, we went straight to the Baptist Church of Nazareth for our final concert. It was the sweetest experience. Being able to perform in a beautiful space like this one has been one of the best parts of my musical career,” ETBU senior music education major Jael Davis said. “The acoustics in the church were remarkable, but even more, being able to ‘bridge the gap’ of sharing the Gospel with others through music meant everything to me.”
The students and faculty toured Bethlehem and the Shepherds’ Field caves on Tuesday and were able to see a cave believed to be similar to the one where Jesus Christ was born. On Wednesday, the tour stops included Mount Arbel, the Mount of Beatitudes, and Capernaum.
Visits to Israel are normal for the ETBU family, with at least one trip a year stretching back over a decade. However, this trip was unique because the participants worked diligently in advance to create opportunities for others to connect to God throughout the journey.
“Every mission trip takes preparation, but our students and faculty sacrificed weekdays and weekends to learn and prepare to lead in worship, including learning two anthems in Hebrew. They led in worship at ancient sites and in Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking congregations, as well as a special concert at the Garden Tomb. My life and view of Israel have been forever changed by the use of their gifts for His glory,” Dr. Sanders said.
Both faculty and students gained new perspectives, whether they had visited the Holy Land before or it was their first time. The significance of leading worship in Israel and being vessels for the Lord through the concert tour began to sink in the final days of the trip.
“As our time in Israel comes to a close, I am undone, as I’m sure the rest of our ETBU Band and Choir members are, by all we were privileged to experience here. We brought the universal language of music to the Holy Land from our small place in the world in Marshall, Texas,” ETBU senior elementary education major Eden Garrison said. “We have acted as a bridge between both Hebrew and Arabic speakers, secular and devout Jews, and Christian and Muslim Arabs through our performances. We have seen sights that will impact how we read Scripture for the rest of our lives and have experienced Jesus in intimately unfathomable ways.”