From the heart of Gail Kerstetter, Director of the University Singers
Our day started very early. Some of us started getting up at 4:30 am and then some later of course! The day ahead of us is jammed packed. We were to have our luggage downstairs by 6:15 am, grab a bagged breakfast, and be driving away at 6:30 am. And believe it or not, we all made call time and left at the scheduled moment! Will miracles never cease?!!
We were told we were 40 minutes away from the base gate. However, in reality we were only 15 minutes away from the base gate. That’s the good news. The other news was that the gate was not ready for us, they did not have a guest list from the Chaplains and definitely did not have papers on the driver or bus. Potrero mai ottenere questo giusto? (Will we ever get this right?)
The team made good use of the extra time. We vocalized, sang a few A Cappella songs, vocalized again and waited. They had us pull the bus to the side. Our RP (religious programmer) was originally supposed to meet us at 6:45 am which would have been perfect. However after thinking we were 40 minutes away and our bus driver has limitations on how many hours he can drive during a day we moved our arrival time to 7:15 am at the gate. So we had to wait for the RP to come with the roster. And promptly at 7:15 the RP arrived with the roster clearing the OFC team – except for the bus and driver. At one point we off loaded the Singers and our back packs – thinking we would walk to the chapel from the gate, only to be told it would just be another couple of minutes and would be less time if we all got on the bus and drove to the chapel. And they were right – in the next few minutes we all (including our driver Dominigo, was cleared and we were on our way with the RP on board. The RP took us to our appointed parking space, we unloaded the equipment and our day bags, and off we trailed like ants in a row to the chapel.
We were met very soon by Chaplain Peter Dietz, who was officiating the 8:00 am chapel where we were to sing a couple of songs. By this time, we were able to put our equipment in the 2nd service venue and begin to set up. We were very close to completing setup when we had to drop that and go into the 1st venue service and sing. This is a small congregation so no sound equipment was needed. I usually have a few introductory words when we sing and so as I turned around to speak I saw Bob hugging someone in the congregation – our Chaplain Tiffany Eddy, who had arrived late the night before from Japan!! How exciting! But the hugs would have to wait for me till the service ended. We sang two songs and then exited out the back to go finish setting up for the second service. This room has a beautiful marbled floor and platform, and the sound was very live. Since the Baptist Church in Pordenone, we haven’t been able to use our keyboard. There was such old wiring in that building, and some of our equipment has been affected. So, since night 2, we have been borrowing keyboards and pianos to make our music set list work. This morning was no exception. We used a nice Roland Keyboard and amp from the chapel and finished our set up and sound checks just in time for have a few conversations with the congregation. I spoke with a lovely 20 year old who was at her first duty station. I saw our Singers touching people all over the church this morning with love and hugs. It’s such a privilege to have these moments with our troops and their families!
Before the concert this morning – my words to our team were to sing and minister without regret; to not let fatigue or circumstances affect our worship; to be able to leave each venue saying “I gave all.” And today I feel like they each gave something a little special. The people in the congregation were entirely engaged from the very beginning. Our Chaplains in this venue were Chaplain Marian King and Chaplain Timothy Gault. They were both so gracious. After the 1st two songs CHP King said we need to dismiss the kids to go to kids church in a song or two. Then after the next song she came back to say the kids really liked our music and they want to stay and listen! Praise the Lord! I know I would have wanted to stay when I was their age!
As we sang and gave our testimonies, I saw many tears on the faces of our troops and their families. I saw a couple of the Chaplains wiping their faces. I know God was using the words to reach each heart with a different message; a personal message just for them. It’s amazing to watch God work!
After the service was complete, we honored the two Chaplains in that service with the hand made communion sets and our University Singers coins. They were very grateful!
In the fellowship that immediately followed the service, I was able to have a conversation with the family that sat right behind me. They are moving to Paris Island in July!
We knew our tear down today would be quick but it got sent into high gear when we were told another service was to start at 11:00 am! Some of the Singers had gone to change and others took the equipment down while RP’s were moving sanctuary furniture back into place preparing for the next Catholic Service. It was very busy!!
Chaplain King had announced that they had prepared a picnic for the congregation and for us. So after everything had been collected and taken to the bus we walked to the picnic. Upon our arrival Chaplain King came to me and said our Base Commander is here and would like a word with you. She pointed to a man in shorts and a polo and I recognized him from OFC 2015! I made my way to him and instead of a hand shake, he reached out and hugged me! Then Chaplain King asked if we would sing for him and of course we did. We sang 2 songs for him ..
“The Red, White and Blue” and “Shenandoah.” He loved them both and made his way to each of our students to shake hands, give high fives and encourage us to keep doing this. He said “I remember when you were here 2 years ago and you are my favorite group that has come here!”
He also said “It’s not often we get professionals here and so thank you for coming!”
From Naples US Navy Support Base we drove to Rome. This gave us a couple of hours on the bus to settle in for some much needed rest. The bus has been our home away from home these days and we’ve made it as comfortable as it could be. It’s also gotten pretty messy from time to time. I looked down the aisle yesterday and saw paper and trash everywhere. I told the kids it was time to clean up the playroom! Haha!
We met our city guide for the day and she happened to be the same guide we had on OFC 2015. These city guides are a wealth of information about so many things. She told us it took a long time to study to be a guide and she has been doing it for the past 16 years. You also have to do a lot of walking as a guide. She showed us a video of people walking in ankle deep water yesterday from all the rain. They were trapped inside the Colosseum for 2 hours because there was flooding in the streets. You would have NEVER known that today as the ground was completely dry and you could actually see the dust when people walked. It was a beautiful, sunny and breezy day. We enjoyed our visit to the Colosseum and the Forum today.
After our tour we arrived at our hotel Barcelona Aran Mantegna. We stayed here in 2015 for our last couple of nights as well. This hotel has fine Italian design, but functionality could be improved some. For instance – the bathtub/shower combination has glass doors that you pull together. But they don’t exactly meet in the middle so you have to watch out for water going out onto the floor. Still pretty though!
Dinner was in a large area with other tour groups from other countries. It’s a buffet style dinner so it was quite crowded. The food was delicious as it has been at every hotel we’ve stayed in.
After dinner we had a team meeting, again in the same room as 2015. Tonight we awarded our team their OFC 2017 coins. They have seen these all year and have even given them to Veterans throughout the year. The coin was given tonight to each OFC team member as a gift of appreciation from me, for their service on the University Singers. It’s a delight to celebrate each person for their contribution to the mission.
It was also one of our team member’s birthday today. We celebrated Lt. Col John E. Peters birthday with our famous birthday song and a card everyone on the team had signed.
Tomorrow is our last full day in Italy. It goes so fast when you’re here being so busy.
Tonight my heart is full. God is so faithful! We are the recipients of an amazing grace!
And there was morning and there was evening of the eleventh day.