OFC 2017: Day 11 – May 21, 2017

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.

OFC 2017: Day 10 – May 20, 2017

From the heart of Gail Kerstetter, Director of the University Singers

We had breakfast at 8:00 am in the hotel and then got on the bus to go to Pompeii at 9:00 am.  Several of our precious lambs, (Singers) have been sneezing, coughing, and going through an early spring allergy season all over again! It’s really crazy how much a new environment can affect our allergies!

Pompeii is an ancient city that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.  Mount Vesuvius erupted and spread ash and gasses over the city of Pompeii trapping and killing all of the residents and their livestock. The city was buried in ash and was forgotten for nearly 2000 years when some explorers rediscovered the site in 1748. They were surprised to find that underneath a thick layer of dust and debris – Pompeii was mostly intact. The buildings, artifacts and skeletons left behind in the buried city have given archeologists a great deal of information about the culture and life in the ancient world.

Visiting Pompeii today was an incredible experience for our team.  Inside Pompeii are two amphitheaters.  One was specifically for concerts and music.  The second one was for dramas and plays.  We sang inside the first amphitheater.  Our voices carried throughout and was really cool to hear!

The weather was absolutely beautiful today – with temps in the low 70’s.  The sun was very hot so many of us put up our umbrellas to shield ourselves from the heat.

After our tour to Pompeii we got back on our bus and drove to the amazingly gorgeous city of Sorrento!  Okay, now to say the views are breathtaking would be an understatement!  This is a city high above the cliffs on the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Driving in, we were passing lemon and orange trees, which if our bus windows were open we could have reached out and picked them!  The purple bogenvilla is everywhere and grows up walls and hangs from fences. Wooden music boxes with beautiful inlay colors are the specialty of this town.  Also beautifully woven linens are exquisite here. There is handmade pottery with lemons on it everywhere!

Two years ago when we were here, we ate at a restaurant in Sorrento that was probably one of our favorite places to eat.  We weren’t able to book it this year due to our schedule.  When we left Pompeii our city guide asked if we wanted to eat in Pompeii or go to Sorrento to eat.  We voted to go to Sorrento.  He said he would arrange a place where could go all together that would serve pizza and pasta. It was so exciting when he guided us to the very restaurant we thought we wouldn’t be to go to at all!Ristorantetasso! Loved it! We sang for our servers afterwards and they clapped with delight. It’s such a small gift to give people, but a pleasure to do so.

After our tour guide gave us our bearings, he asked if we would sing one more song for him before he departed.  We were at an overlook at the sea, so we just arranged ourselves and sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  He was most appreciative and the crowd erupted with applause.  It’s definitely not something you hear everyday.

Shimmy made friends with a shop owner who baked cookies.  So he was excited to share samples with us on the bus.  The cookies were filled with lemon cream and chocolate cream. So delicious. Several bought jewelry and others bought some of the beautifully crafted wood inlay boxes.  We had a show and tell time of our purchases on the way back to the hotel. Several said this was their favorite city so far!

We are having dinner tonight at 7:30 and then we’ll be busy getting ourselves ready for tomorrow’s services.  We are very excited to see some friends we met here before!  In 2015  when we were here, Bob and I met the RP (religious programmer) for the Chaplain.  He was a young man about 21 years old.  In fact, he was who I contacted via FaceBook to see if we could come back to Naples Navy Support Base. And then he contacted the Chaplain on our behalf and that’s how we’re getting to be there tomorrow.  I look forward to tomorrow’s events!

Everyone is headed to bed early tonight since we have a 6:15 am call time tomorrow morning.

Buona notte a tutte le nostre famiglie ed amici negli Stati Uniti! (Good night to all our families and friends in the USA!)

P.S. … We had the bow tie pasta with salmon in cream sauce tonight for dinner!!  YAY!!

And there was morning and there was evening of the tenth day.

OFC 2017: Day 9 – May 19, 2017

Written by Gail Kerstetter, University Singers Director (or Maestro as I’ve been called here!)

We awoke in our Pisa hotel this morning to lots of sounds from a large group from India who were touring Italy for the first time.  They occupied many rooms on the floor so they decided to keep their doors open and share their eastern music with the floor!  Their eastern attire is very colorful and beautiful.

This was a travel day for us so we had to pack up, eat breakfast and have our luggage out to the bus by 8:30 am.  There were 2 elevators (very very small ones) and the India group was leaving at the same time so it was a bit congested for a while.  We were informed at the desk when we arrived that the elevators should hold no more than 3 guests with luggage.  I think maybe it didn’t translate so well to the India group because when the elevator door opened there were 8 Indians and their luggage stacked inside!  Haha!

Breakfast at this hotel consisted of a few different juices (not traditional to US), Cappuccino, eggs with slices of hot dogs for the meat, different breads for toast, croissants and Nutella and jellies available, a couple of different cereals and apples.  Me – I’m kind of stuck on the Nutella and croissants!  The students eat a variety of these foods and seem quite happy doing so.

We left Pisa and set out for Naples where we will stay for 3 nights.  We drove through the Tuscany region today and saw amazing vineyards on rolling hills!  Almost every home has a garden with beautiful dark dirt, something that doesn’t seem to exist in the Carolinas except in the bags at LOWES!  There were many clothes lines full of clothes as well.  And by the way, we’ve gotten quite good at washing our clothes in the bathtubs, wringing them out by hand and hanging them in various places around our hotel rooms to dry.  Yesterday we even brought them on the bus to dry!

Bus days also give us opportunities for several things; rest, sleep, listen to the new VOCTAVE CD (our new favorite A Cappella group), have conversations, read books, and basically solve the world’s problems.  Mostly, we’re leaving that up to Rev. Sharon Westfall, since she is good at counseling on the bus!

Another thing that happens on these long drives is picture-taking of ones who are asleep or in awkward positions. It’s what we do. Then in the midst of silence and the hum of the bus, just when you think everyone’s asleep – hilarious laughter (by this I mean, screaming laughter that would jolt your pacemaker into high gear should you have one) will erupt. Most of the time it’s about the smallest thing and if we told you what it was about, you’d probably think that wasn’t that funny.  It’s what we do.

The gas stations here are better than anything you’ve ever seen!  We think QT is great.  Well, you have seen nothing like THIS!  Gas stations here are restaurants / food bars … and by that I mean someone is cooking right in front of you.  You can order pastas, lasagna, or buy a great salami sandwich on fresh baked bread and cheese.  All of the formerly mentioned food items are very fresh and DELICIOUS!  Italian food is probably my favorite food, so I’m pretty much in the best place on earth right now!  These gas stations also sell all the cords you might need for ALL your electronics for ALL phones.  It’s quite nice.

Magnum ice cream bars seem to be the thing here too.  Most of us have tried some flavors and all are great!  Today I tried DOUBLE RASPBERRY.   So, what this meant was … it’s raspberry ice cream, dipped in a raspberry sauce, encased in delicious chocolate.  Good!

Every time we stop at the gas station, everyone comes back with some new thing we’ve never had before.  It’s a food adventure here for sure!

And speaking of gas – when we fill the bus up – we’ve seen the number into 350 Euro!  That’s like $400!  YIKES!!

We stopped at two gas stations today.  The first one was for a rest stop for us.  The 2nd one was to actually get gas.  Shortly after pulling out of the gas station the 2nd time, Katy Dyches shouted “I left my purse in the bathroom!”  We were not completely out of the gas station yet so she and Cody Crisp got off and ran back.  In a few short moments, they text to say it wasn’t there and for us to look around the bus.  It had shifted back up under her seat!!  YAY!!  Another catastrophe avoided!!

We arrived in Naples about 4:45 today.  The hotel we’re staying at is in a difficult place to park or get our luggage off the bus.  It’s on a very narrow, busy street.  We had to dodge cars to get to the front door of the hotel.  This hotel has 22 floors so the views are magnificent!

I’m particularly excited about this hotel (Holiday Inn, Naples) as I remember them serving my favorite hotel meal the last time we were here; bow tie pasta with bits of salmon in a white cream sauce.  Dinner’s at 7:30 pm tonight so we’ll see if my dreams come true!

Amendment: no salmon pasta … but the meal was delicious!

And there was morning and there was evening of the 9th day.



OFC 2017: Day 8 – May 18, 2017

From the heart of Gail Kerstetter, Director of the University Singers

This morning we were able to sleep in a bit, which was great since the fiasco with the lighting situation the night before.  We had a 10:00 am call time with equipment and met our new bus driver Dominigo.  He’s also perfect in his Italian!  And speaks about as much English as Fabio did.  Anyway, we have prayed for the Lord to interpret for us!

Our destination today was Darby DOD school in Livorno, Italy for a 12:30 pm concert.  Principal Kenneth Kirk met us at the gate today.  The Italian guard made us open every one of our sound cases to investigate their contents.  Even with this we were way ahead of time in comparison to the other bases.  We were able to drive right up to the school and unload all of our equipment.  This school had American plugs, so we had better sound here.  We had an hour and a half for set up and rehearsal which was great since we hadn’t been able to rehearse at our hotel for this program.  This was our long program, which included “America’s Songbook,” highlighting a number of styles of music original to America; barbershop, jazz, folk/country, pop, patriotic and songs from Disney. We featured as many voices as possible. We also do a rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat where each vocal part sings different words and melodies.  After we demonstrate it for the school we invite some of their students to join us on the stage to sing it again.  We also recruited a soldier in uniform to join in with the bass section. The kids ALWAYS love that part.


Before we begin the program we put our team cards out for the students.  So then after the concert most of the kids want the University Singer’s autographs!  It’s really cute!!  We finished the concert, loaded up and realized that we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, which for some of us was at 7:00 am, and by now it was 2:00 pm.  We were scheduled for a tour of Pisa, which was to be a 2 hour tour.  However, we arrived to meet our city guide and were an hour and a half late.  We hit traffic at the wrong time and then waited for a train.  The tour guide was so very nice.  She said our schedule was most important.  By now it was 3:00 pm and we still hadn’t eaten so the team looked liked wilted flowers!  Haha!  She told us to go eat and then we would have about 30 minutes with her.  We all scattered to different sandwich and gelato stands.  Wow, does eating make a difference in this team’s attitude!

After leaving Pisa, we traveled back to the Base Chapel where we would set up and sing a concert tonight.  This base had a beautiful white chapel with very large windows that opened (YAY), because they didn’t have air conditioning.  The sound set up went smoothly tonight despite still not being able to EQ the room or use our own piano.  They had a lovely digital piano that we played and it all worked out well.  In fact, the sound seemed the best that it has been since we started the tour. We were also able to show our Ft. Benning video to the deployed soldiers and their families.

In tonight’s service, I told a very special story of giving and sacrifice.  Earlier this year, after a concert, the youth pastor of the church where we were singing came up to me and said there was something very different in the offering that had been collected for the singers. He had been sitting next to Scarlette, a 13 year old girl, who had given her heart to the Lord only a week before. She wanted to give to the singers to support our upcoming mission to Italy, but she said she didn’t have any money. Around her neck was a beautiful turquoise cross that had been given to her just that morning by a woman from her church, to commemorate her saying yes to Jesus. This necklace must have been very special to her, but she placed it in the offering plate as her gift to us! That necklace has been with me everyday since, and has come to Italy as a reminder of the selfless giving of everyone supporting this mission.

There were several families there tonight with children that had seen us at the school that afternoon, who wanted to come to the concert and hear gospel music.  One of the little girls, Audrey, drew us a sweet picture and thank you note.  The moments that we spend talking with the families before and after the service are so meaningful.  Tonight I met a family on their first deployment from Texas.  They had only been here 4 months.  I could tell by the way the wife talked that it was a tough adjustment and they missed their families.  Other families I have met were 16-17 years into their careers and you can certainly tell a difference as those folks are well adjusted to the “moves of the military” and were able to appreciate the different cultures they found themselves in.  I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to serve these people.  You may never meet these folks or ever know their names, but these are those who are here giving a great sacrifice on our behalf.

By the way, we talk about YOU, the GOOD PEOPLE OF GOD, everywhere we go! It’s an honor to be here at the blessing of your resources. My heart is full!

And there was morning and there was evening of the eighth day.

OFC 2017: Day 7 – May 17, 2017

The University Singers were so excited about touring Venice! The day we went to Murano was only a sneak-peak at the wonders that this city holds. We had a glorious boat ride to the docks of San Marco island. Our guide pointed out sites that included a cathedral designed by Andrea Palladio himself! After getting off the boat we walked a short distance to our first stop, the Doge’s Palace.

On the way to the palace we saw canals with gondoliers rowing the famous gondolas. We arrived at the Doge’s Palace, after being careful to avoid the slick, marble steps, and prepared to take our tour of the government center and home of the ruler of the Venetian Republic. We walked through Moroccan inspired courtyards, ascended marble staircases, and wandered through palace chambers that had ceilings embellished with 24 carat gold-leaf. The team was awestruck at the beauty of the palace, but also at the uniqueness of a representative republic that carried similarities to our own United States. The Singers also walked over the infamous Bridge of Sighs, which was named so by prisoners who crossed from the courts into the prison; the bridge giving them their last glimpse of sunlight, before they entered their dark cells.

At the conclusion of the palace tour, several of the team opted to see St. Mark’s Cathedral. The byzantine inspired church is made of marble columns that were stolen by the Venetians from Byzantium during the fourth crusade. The ceiling was of shimmering gold and had biblical icons throughout. The Venetians also, reportedly, stole the body of St. Mark the apostle when they stormed the gates of Byzantium.

With the tours complete, the Singers were allowed some time to wander through the streets of Venice. We shopped, dined, and laughed. We also chased many pigeons away… they are very annoying! They also steal food. Allen was eating a sandwich and walking and ate about half when a pigeon flew by and stole the rest right out of his hand!  A few of the team members, Zach W., Katy, Caitlyn, Cody, Genesis, Wesley, and Zach F., were able to dance to a live orchestra in the Piazza di San Marco.

When the day of touring and shopping reached its end, we hopped on the boat, returned to the bus, and started our drive to Pisa. Most of us took naps as we were exhausted from the early morning and tiring day. We arrived at our hotel in Pisa, ate supper, and prepared to go to bed. As soon as we had gotten settled in our rooms, the power went out at the hotel! It was comical to see all of us coming out of our rooms in our pajamas, wondering what had caused the outage… considering we had already had so many power issues with our sound system, it seemed only natural that we must have caused it!  Power outages never happen at convenient moments! Caroline had offered to wash all the girls clothes in her bathtub. She was in the middle of that when all the lights went out with the tub full of clothes in a pitch dark bathroom.  She just said “oh well” and kept washing and wringing it out till it all got done.  Glad we can count on Caroline to not be deterred by anything!! One thing for sure is that you can always expect something unusual to happen to us!

Going to bed tonight, we’re hoping we get the power restored so that we don’t miss our call time for the morning.  We are all really looking forward to seeing how the Lord works as we sing at Camp Darby!

– Zach Ford, Singer Alumnus

OFC 2017: Day 6 – May 16, 2017

We all enjoyed sleeping in a few extra hours after having risen early for the past several days. But we were all anxious for the day ahead as we would be singing at Vicenza Department of Defense School to the children of our deployed service members. We had driven the two hours from our hotel in Pordenone, and were met yet again with difficulty at the front entrance to the base. Our driver’s name wasn’t on the list, so he needed to be cleared, which took longer than expected, but we were and continue to be thankful that the security protocols work as they keep both us, and our military personnel safe.

The Singers were allotted 30 minutes to sing a concert for elementary and middle school children. Boy did they love it! We took them on a parade through America’s musical history and sang a variety of American classics. The guys of the team, with the assistance of the beautiful, low-notes of singer Caitlyn Gardner, sang a barbershop piece, in which they all wore fake mustaches! The team sang This Land, and asked the kids to sing along with us; many obliged. We couldn’t have done a school concert without performing Disney songs, so we ended with a medley of music from the movie: Frozen. The kids also sang along and even complimented many of us by saying that we sounded better than the actual characters in the movie! A great time was had by all, and the Singers were blessed by the smiles that were on the kids’ faces.

Our second stop at Vicenza was the base chapel. We were greeted by SPC Charles King who was our escort while we were on base. When we entered the chapel, Singer Alumnus Zach Ford, was immediately struck by the stained-glass windows. They included images of World War Two patches, and one just happened to be a patch worn by his great-grandfather. It really brought home how the military touches all of us. Many of the Singers have family and friends that have served, or are currently serving in the military. It was also a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before us, and that each generation’s call is to continue to carry the torch of freedom. That is why we are here – to carry the true message of freedom.

The chaplains were very excited about our arrival. Many countless hours of planning and communicating had to be done in order for us to get to this point, but God opened doors and it was a blessing in itself to relish in the works done by the faithful hand of our God. There was a warm feeling throughout the service. People felt lead to worship in many different styles and it was so sweet to see the good people of God worshipping together. Some stood and clapped along to the songs, some raised their hands, others sat in their seats and sang along, but all of it was done in worship to the One True King.

At the conclusion of the service, we had the opportunity to meet-and-greet with the congregation. The wife of Chaplain Foster, another chaplain we were able to meet, just so happened to have been raised in a Wesleyan church! We heard some of their stories and connected with the people easily. Chaplain Mike Burgess, another chaplain we had the privilege of meeting, taught at the chapel at Fort Jackson in SC. He is friends with Major Timothy Cross, who is the chaplain that was over our director’s son, Devin Kerstetter!

After the service, the University Singers prayed over the people for the Lord’s protection and guidance. We all left with hearts full of thanksgiving that these brave men and women are willing to put their lives on hold so that they can stand the watch for us. In this, we saw a small glimpse of true Christian virtue.

– Zachary Ford, Singer Alumnus

OFC 2017: Day 5 – May 15, 2017

After a full day of ministering to our troops at Aviano, the University Singers were able to have a few hours to tour the island of Murano. Murano is one of the Venetian islands, and is known for the many glass-making factories that produce bright and colorful Venetian glass which makes the island world-famous. This day was also a day of “firsts” for a few of the team members. We took a train to the docks, in true European style, and saw our first glimpse of the floating city. After playing tourist during the morning, we hopped back onto the train and returned to Pordenone to prepare for another great evening of ministry.  

During OFC 2015, we had the opportunity to sing in a small Italian Baptist church. We had made many personal connections during our last visit and all of the returning members were ecstatic about ministering to these sweet souls again! The Singers did experience a few technical difficulties with our sound equipment, but God was and is faithful. One of the members of the congregation just so happened to have experience as an electrician. Alex was his name, and he pinpointed the source of the problem and we were able to reroute chords in order to project sound into the building. God always makes a way for those who trust him!

The unique thing about singing at Pordenone Baptist Church is that everyone spoke Italian. We were singing in English. We carried on conversations with the people of the church, to the best of our ability. They were gracious and loving and we saw the love of the Lord on their faces; we could tell they were excited about us being there. There is a verse in The Blood Song that states that though we are all different, the God we serve is the same. At the end of it all, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what language you speak, or the color of your skin; we are all one in Christ Jesus. There are no barriers with Him. We saw tears on their cheeks and we knew that they had received the message of the songs. One lady, Nadia, actually missed our concert due to work. She arrived as we were packing up, and asked if we would sing a song for her. We were pleased to sing and she loved it!

We had prepared in advance to give our testimonies at this church. The testimonies were translated by our friend, Giana, and the Italian translations were included in the bulletin so that the congregation would be able to read along. Shouts of acclamation rose up from the seats as stories of God’s faithfulness and the redeeming power of His love flowed out in praise to Him. We were given a small glimpse of heaven’s courts; a place where many languages will offer praise to the Great I Am. “Gloria Sea a Dios! – All glory be to God!”

– Zachary Ford, Singer Alumnus

OFC 2017: Day 4 – May 14, 2017

From the heart ofGail Kerstetter, Director of the University Singers

Our first Sunday to sing on a base!  Aviano Air Force Base was somewhere we had visited on OFC 2015 and thoroughly enjoyed. Caitlyn Gardner, Zach Ford, Katy Dyches, Bob Kerstetter, Karl Westfall and myself were all on OFC 2015, and we were very excited to return! We arrived in plenty of time at the gate, and our Chaplain soon came to greet us. However, our names had somehow gotten confused with another celebrity concert that took place on Friday and they cleared us for that day. So, instead of being listed to sing at the Base Chapel for Sunday, we were listed as coming in with Trace Adkins on Friday! They had to rerun all our passports for clearance again! After what seemed like a long time in a hot bus, we were finally cleared and escorted to the chapel area with our Base Chaplain, Kenneth Johnson, who was such a precious soul!  It was Mother’s Day and he prepared a wonderful message. We sang one A Cappella song at the offering time, “When God Dips His Love In My Heart.” The people really enjoyed it!  It whet their appetite for the concert that we would be giving at 6:00 pm later that night on base.

For lunch, we went back to the hotel, changed our clothes and roamed the streets of Pordenone.  We split up into small groups and ventured out to see what we could find. Most of us ended up with stories of pasta and pizza, but the Westfalls and the LT COL had Japanese!  Haha!!

We went back to Aviano and this time got through the gate easily, since Chaplain Johnson gave us each 3 day passes.  We arrived at the base that sits at the foot of a beautiful mountain range. While we were waiting for the doors to open, a thunder storm rolled through – right when we were trying to dash from the bus to the chapel!  Anyway, we got in and began to set up.  What was a challenge for us the last time was still a challenge for our first set up… sound, but more specifically, converting 110 voltage to 220 voltage. Another difference in this 2017 mission is that we brought a keyboard to be able to do live music and an EQ mic to try to help with the quality of our sound. There was a very helpful couple, named Matt and Kara, who offered to show us what to do with media and sound, what to plug in where, and advice for our future events in Italy. They also allowed us to plug into a large transformer, and that made things very easy for us!

The concert went very well, and our sound system was amazing – thank you LORD! We were able to sing with worry-free hearts, and the people were very receptive and appreciative. We showed our recent Ft. Benning video for those to see what we do at basic training with our troops.  We had noticed a number of children in the congregation, so after we had completed our concert I decided to throw in a rendition of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen.  There were children all over the chapel singing their lungs out! So cute to see! One particular little blonde headed girl came up to us afterwards and cried tears of joy that we had been there and sung “Let It Go!”  She danced while she sang along with us!

We had a wonderful time visiting the people at the Base Chapel.  There were many conversations all over the chapel afterwards between our students and the troops and their families.

We had a pleasant surprise; Chaplain Monagle, the Wing Chaplain who previously thought he would be out of town, was present.  He talked with me for quite a while, asking where we had been, how we had come to do this and then was very sincere in offering his thanks for coming and making the effort to come to the deployed troops. It was his decision to allow us to come to Aviano. One of our Wesleyan Chaplains, Col John Ditter had contacted him and recommended that we come. Chaplain Monagle said that was the reason he agreed.

Chaplain Kenneth Johnson and Chaplain Monagle asked us how they could pray for us, and we asked if we could pray for them.   The team circled these two precious servants and prayed over them for God to protect, give guidance and wisdom. We truly fell in love with these guys!

And here we were! Our team had their first European on base experience! What God had called us to, we were seeing it come to fruition! Praise God!!!

And there was morning and evening of the fourth day.

OFC 2017: Days 2 & 3 – May 12-13, 2017

From the heart ofGail Kerstetter, Director of the University Singers

Upon landing in Rome we found ourselves 6 hours ahead of our Eastern Stand Time in the good ole’ USA!  We made our way through customs and were then met by an Italian tour guide who helped us navigate to our bus.  We met Fabio, who was to be our bus driver for the next 7 days.  His Italian – perfecto!  His English – not so much-o!  Haha!

After loading most of the equipment and luggage onto the bus, Anthony discovered that he had left his camera on the airplane!  Rebecca, affectionately referred to as “Miss Becky,” accompanied Anthony back into the airport to the lost and found department and they were able to retrieve the camera!  Whew!  First catastrophe avoided!!

We had a 4 hour drive to Florence where we settled into our very first Italian hotel!  The elevators in the hotel could hold 1 person with their luggage.  Needless to say that took a while.  Some of us just opted for the steps with luggage in tow.  Our sound equipment was given it’s own special room by the desk.

The next morning we drove to the beautiful city of Florence (or “Firenze” in Italian) and visited the Accademia Gallery where many amazing sculptures were on display by famous artists.

However, we were really there to see one man – Michelangelo’s “David.”  It was so fun watching the faces of the students seeing this amazing sculpture for the first time! The city of Florence holds many treasures and we were taken on a city tour to behold the high lights, such as The Cathedral Of Santa Maria del Fiore, or “II Duomo di Firenze,” as it was originally called, and the Pointe Vecchio Bridge which is now called the “Gold District,” but originally was occupied by butchers.  Being over the water they could dispose of unwanted waste.

Now Florence is known for it’s leather, and our students were anxious to do a little shopping in this town.

They bought a variety of leather items which I’m sure you’ll enjoy seeing once we get back.

We did not sing this day.  We strategically planned it that way so our team would have a day to acclimate to our new time zone and surroundings. Trust when I say that was a GOOD plan!!  We were able to enjoy some fresh air and stroll through this great city and by the way, many of us had the best PIZZA for lunch ever!  At this point we are very excited for the next day and actually getting to sing to our deployed service members.

Some of the new Italian discoveries: you have to put your room key in a slot to make the lights work in the room.  Italians do not love air conditioning or electricity working all the time, so they make a way for all that to rest. They drive small cars, if they own cars.  They ride bikes through the cities and they walk everywhere.  They have a great sense of fashion. They make amazing bread and gelato (ice cream).  If your bill comes to 12 Euro – they don’t want you to pay with 50 Euro so they have to make change.  You have to pay to use the restroom – which is important to keep change on you at all times.  The coffee here is … well … to die for!!

And there was morning and evening of the second day.

OFC: Day 1 – May 11, 2017

From the heart ofGail Kerstetter, Director of the University Singers

Careful planning, packing for various weather situations, casual attire, concert attire, passports, ID’s, sound equipment – all part of our morning.  We loaded it all up and left around 10:00am for the Atlanta airport.  We had to allow 4 hours for the drive since the bridge in Atlanta was still under construction.  We arrived safely earlier than expected and got everything checked in – even the sound equipment!  Then off through the airport security!  There were 4 members of our team who had never flown before and so everything in the airport was new to them.  But some of our students are seasoned travelers and were very helpful to those who were navigating all this for the first time.

Traveling with us are Rebecca Wood from High Point, NC, world traveler and my friend of 30+ years, Karl and Sharon Westfall, logistics director for OFC and Lt. Col John Peters, Florida friend of the University Singers and military liaison. These fine people are giving of their personal time and energy to ensure a smoothly executed mission.

After we all made it through security, we ran into these friends who had connecting flights to ATL.  Soon we all boarded our Delta non-stop flight headed to Rome, Italy!  Our flight was about 8 hours which included several meals, snacks, movies and if I can be honest – some inside team entertainment watching some of our new travelers take off for the very first time!

Our job on the plane despite all the fun distractions was to sleep and be ready to start a new day when the plane landed.  Some of us actually accomplished that goal… others, not so much!  But the plane ride was uneventful, and for that we are grateful!

And there was morning and there was evening the first day.