Thank You!

Dear Family and Friends of the University Singers,

Well, we are BACK!!! Actually we are back one week now. However, it’s taken most of us a week to get our bearings again. When we first got back many of us couldn’t stay awake past 8:00 pm and kept waking up at 3:00 am! But for most of us – we’re getting better.

Thank you so much for your daily prayers that we felt! We know that your prayer covering was strong and that you were bringing our names before the Lord daily, hourly and anytime he woke you up – we know you prayed for us. How grateful we are to each one of you.

I will tell you this email will probably be quite lengthy. So, if you’re not ready to read it all at once – I encourage you to come back and consume what you can as you have time.

First of all, I know without a doubt this mission was truly blessed and affirmed over and over in many different ways. I’ll try to wrap words around it.

If you visited our website; and saw some of the blogs and pictures – you will notice they are only pictures of us and scenery. For security reasons there are no pictures of the troops or facilities. However, there were many experiences with the troops.

The ministry of the University Singers was widely well received. The troops and Chaplains were genuinely grateful for our visits. We had great conversations with those serving. We hugged their necks and prayed over them. We presented the gospel message very clearly. Corporal Chris Peck delivered his powerful testimony numerous times and we witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit through it all.

On our first day in Europe, we had the rare privilege of singing at Landstuhl Medical Center – the hospital where our troops are first sent from the field. We were escorted through the halls by a Sergeant who strategically placed us to sing so more than one patient at a time could hear. We were invited into one room of soldier who would be going home the next day. Her name was April. She had her laptop open on her food tray and told us she was waiting for her church service from Florence, SC to come online. Wow – a soldier from our own state! Dr. Gary Carr, our military chaplain endorser who accompanied us on this trip told her we were a singing group and asked would she like us to sing something. She said “yes” and to please sing something lively. So we did. We sang “When God Dips His Love In My Heart.” At first she started out clapping and swaying to the music. Then all of a sudden the message of the song gripped her heart as we sang “he walked every step up Calvary’s rugged way to give his life completely to bring a better day. My life was steeped in sin but in love he took me in. His blood washed away every stain.” Her eyes filled with tears and she couldn’t hold them back. God’s love was washing over her and us as we witnessed that powerful moment. I’m sure April is back home now in SC and I pray God will continue to wash over this precious soldier!

Just across the hall from April was another patient from Liberty, SC!! Maybe three miles from SWU! Are you shaking your heads right now reading this? Some of our team prayed for him and tears streamed from his face as the prayer was offered.

Not all of the OFC team was permitted to go into the hospital. Some of our media crew stayed outside and waited to hear the stories. Sergeant King, our escort along with Chaplain Baker offered sincere words of gratitude for our coming. Then as sometimes happens – we got COINED! All of the OFC team were given beautiful coins of appreciation from the Army. They are “Armor of God” coins. LOVE IT!!!

From a Director’s stand point – I couldn’t be more proud of my team. They are strong and determined. They sang and sang and sang. And every time they sang, they did so with passion and power. We ministered to packed houses and one night to a group of only 3 people. However, the delivery was the same every time. In fact, the night we sang to only 3 people, we (the team) were so blessed by the message of the songs, we all fought back tears. There were so many moments in that particular concert that I felt so overwhelmed by the love of God; so privileged and honored; and very humbled to know the great price that was paid for my sin. Wow!!

All of our concerts were on military bases except for 2 venues; one being the Evangelical Christian Baptist Church of Pordenone, Italy. While singing last February at FBC @ The Villages, Florida, we met a sweet lady, Kay Wilcox, who lives half the year in Florida and the other half in Italy. When she heard our concert in February and found out we would be traveling to Europe, she asked if it could be arranged for us to do a concert at her church in Italy. She worked on making the connections and it turned out 2 Baptist churches went together to have us. When we arrived in the town of Pordenone, the people of the church were standing outside on the church steps waiting for us to arrive. They had big smiles and were already waving as we drove up. I can tell you that those sweet Italian people had no reservation in their hearts to show love and appreciation. Most of the congregation only spoke Italian – but it didn’t seem to matter. They shook their heads in affirmation at each song, listened intently to every word and I believe the Holy Spirit did the interpreting in their hearts. Chris gave his testimony through an interpreter that night. When he told how Christ transformed his life, the interpreter could hardly continue. She too had a similar experience. It was a precious thing to witness. One man in the congregation was in the church for the first time. He said later that he was so happy and didn’t understand it all. I believe he experienced the great joy of Jesus and now we leave it to the sweet people of Pordenone to walk along side of him as he says “yes” to Jesus.

We also had an amazing experience with the children of our troops. We were scheduled to sing at the Department of Defense School in Aviano, Italy. We had prepared a concert we thought the students would enjoy. We wrote a program, entitled “America’s Songbook.” We sang short excerpts from different styles of music that are native to the USA; barbershop, jazz, ragtime, country and Broadway featuring different singers for each style. There were about 400 students and teachers in attendance. Boy did they love it! Then for the icing we performed a medley of songs from Disney’s “FROZEN.” The place came unglued! The University Singers are extremely versatile and completely given to what they do. They performed some of the dialog to these songs and with every word spoken and sung – you could hear the hundreds of students speaking and singing with them. Cheers and shouts from Kindergardeners to the seniors in High School rang throughout the room. Each student had received a picture postcard of the University Singers when they came in. So as we ended the program, they began bringing those cards to us and asking for autographs. This went on for a good 30 minutes following the concert. What a precious sight! You would have been so proud of the singers as they poured their love on those kids. The headmaster of the school was so excited about the whole thing. He said that no one ever comes to the DOD school and gives the students what we gave them. He was so grateful! For us – such an honor to sing for those precious kids!

Let me tell you about Brandon. We met Brandon on the Navy Base. He had such a cool story. He’s an RP (religious programmer) – He works with the chaplains. However, when he enlisted he wanted to be an MP (military police). But there are no military police in he Navy and so they told him he could be an RP. He thought the P stood for some kind of police so that was fine with him. He said he didn’t read the fine print on his contract! Then he found out that P meant programmer and not police. Much to his surprise! He went on to say that God was certainly in control and that he was fine with how things turned out. He also told us that his Dad is a Pastor in the states and so he felt he was right where he should be. We prayed with Brandon and he was very receptive. He hugged us twice (we’re probably the age of his parents) and it felt good to return the hug to a troop just a little younger than our son Devin.

Our last night in Europe was spent in Rome. We had been invited to sing for the Marines at the American Embassy! Let me tell you that it’s not easy getting to any of our US bases (and it shouldn’t be easy) – but it’s REALLY hard getting inside the embassy. It took about and hour and a half for us all to get through security and carry our sound equipment up several flights of steps. The marines had made the evening a social event complete with grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. We were to sing for about 30 minutes after dinner. While we were getting ready, (some of us were dressing in storage rooms) we were told the US Ambassador and his wife had stopped by to welcome us. We assembled ourselves quickly and had the great pleasure of a very nice conversation followed by our singing a couple of songs for them. They were astounded by our sound and quality. They didn’t expect such a professional team. We presented them with a beautiful handcrafted bowl (made especially for SWU by a SC artisan from one of our own campus trees, a personal letter from Dr. Voss, a University Singer’s OFC coin and a servants towel (towel that is given to our SWU students at Baccalaureate). They were unable to stay for the concert for the Marines as they had another engagement to attend. But how cool that they made a special effort to welcome us! Then the concert for the Marines – they were so great! We had one “Amener” in the audience and whatever we said she responded to! When we said we’re so glad to be here tonight – she responded loudly, “and we are so glad you ARE here!” And on it went. It was a fabulous time with them. Our Embassy contact said after the concert was over – “these are embassy people – they don’t usually respond like this, but your music unlocked their hearts!”

The Ambassador was not the only one to receive a special gift. We took 12 hand crafted wooded communion sets to present to all the chaplains and pastors we met along the way. After each concert we presented them with this beautiful gift and also the SWU Servant’s towel that is given to each of our graduating seniors at their Baccalaureate service. Each recipient seemed genuinely thrilled with these gifts and remembrances of the University Singers having been with them.

Okay, last story. While at Naples Naval Base we were treated to lunch at their food court, which is much like one you’d find here in the states. We were all eating when the Chaplain we had been with that morning walked up to our table with a gentleman dressed in shorts and a casual shirt. He introduced him as the Commander of the Naval Base! We ended up singing a couple of songs for the Commander right in the food court. He was quite taken back and cried. Wow. These are moments you never forget.

I’ve tried to relay how fantastic this mission was. I hope you can get a glimpse of our journey through our website and this email. Please know that your resources have been used to inspire and encourage our US troops and their children in Germany and Italy. We even blessed a few servers and tour guides along the way with our music. The scenery was fabulous and will forever be remembered. However, the faces of our troops and their children – well, they are permanently imprinted on our hearts and minds. I doubt that any of us will ever look at an American Flag again without thinking of who is keeping our shores safe so that we can be called the LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE.

With much love to you all!
On behalf the entire OFC Team …
Gail Kerstetter

When God Dips His Love

When God Dips His Love is an amazing hymn that features the solo prowess of Caitlyn Gardner along with the soulful accompaniment of the “harmonizing-ly” wonderful University Singers. The Singers performed this on a number of bases we visited, always to a very receptive audience.

When in Rome…

As we ventured through Europe, the sights we saw became┬ámore and more dramatic. The creations of man seemed to grow in both size and detail. First, the great 747 which carried us across the ocean. Then the ruins of castles, built unnaturally on the steep slopes of the German Alps. The Doge’s palace (or “Dojo’s place” as some chose to call it) in Venice, Italy, contained more than the eye could appreciate and more than the mind could handle. But to top off the manmade sights we saw, we enter the smallest independent country in the world: The Vatican.

No matter how many dictionaries I swallow, I will never have the words to fully describe this magnificent place. The Vatican Museum contains such works of art, such history, and such detail, that one cannot help but be amazed by its splendor. Our entire team certainly was. In the museum, the team saw tapestries, yards long, statues, yards tall, and a hall containing maps… ancient maps… 120 meters of ancient maps.

St. Peter’s Basilica

We, of course, saw one of Michelangelo’s finest works: the Sistine chapel. This room was both stunning and disappointing. The beautiful artwork which decorates the walls and ceiling are awe-inspiring, and it was an experience the OFC team will never forget. We could see the artist’s mastery of color and design in the magnificent paintings. The history and culture in that room gave us feelings of wonder. Unfortunately, the room was packed full of other stupefied visitors, detracting from the overall experience. Still, it was a sight unlike any other.

To top off our experience, however, we had to leave the Vatican museum. St. Peter’s Basilica sits in a different part of Vatican city. There are no words to adequately describe this massive cathedral. The largest in the world, St. Peter’s puts all other buildings to shame. The intricacy of all of the decoration, and the finery of all of the many altars is breathtaking. The epic scale of everything in the seemingly endless room pushed our eyes and minds to their limits.

It was truly a blessing to see such a sight. And it brought us great joy, knowing that this magnificent city was dedicated to the worship of our Heavenly Father. We can only hope that we will get to experience that wonder again someday.

Aaron Brickle

Ride on King Jesus

Things got hot under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius as The University Singers erupted into song with Ride on King Jesus in the ruins of The Amphitheatre of Pompeii. A group of Asian tourists stopped their tour to listen to this soulful rendition as the rain poured down on us all.