Operation: Freedom’s Cadence 2017

From the heart ofGail Kerstetter, Director of the University Singers 

The University Singers gathered early on the morning of Thursday, May 11, 2017 with eager anticipation for a day of firsts for some and unknowns for all.  While this was our departure date, the Singers had only a few days previously sung at SWU Graduation, packed and moved out of their residence halls and raced home with loaded cars to “dump” all of their worldly belongings into their parent’s homes!  Sorry Mom and Dad … I know they left a mess!

They had a break of 2 days before heading back to SWU to start 2 days of intense rehearsals and preparations for OFC 2017.  This time they threw their stuff from loaded cars from home into residence rooms and off to rehearse with the team.

Our current team, Genesis Perez, Carolina Sweatt, Katy Dyches, Caitlyn Gardner, Rebecca Reese, Allen Williams, Zach Wheeler, Wesley Henson, Cody Crisp, Shimmy Simpson, Christian Luna, and Gail & Bob Kerstetter were joined by Singer Alumnus, Zach Ford and Media Communication Alumnus, Anthony Evett to begin to give structure to the chapels and DOD schools lineups.  Not only were these days filled with musical preparation, but spiritual preparation was also a big part of what we did earlier in the week.  There was no way we could travel with our typical sound system, so Mark Mealy (our go-to guy for all things sound) spent a great deal of time preparing our equipment for this mission and made sure we were as ready as we could be with our flight system.

While this is just a small glimpse into the final days prior to our departure, this team had been preparing all year for this mission.  You see, this mission was not a strategic plan – it was obedience to a call.  God gave me a word earlier in the year out of a Bible study on the You Version Bible app called “One Word That Will Change Your Life.”  The word God gave me was pursue.  When I received this word, I didn’t know how to apply it, so I prayed for clarity and to not pursue the wrong thing but the God thing.  As I prayed, it seemed God was using that word for a mission and for the University Singers.  It soon became clear that God was calling  THE UNIVERSITY SINGERS TO A MISSION – and that mission was to ITALY to sing for our deployed troops and their families.  This team eagerly received the mission and the responsibilities of raising funds and prayer support.  We began talking about this at all our concerts, letting people know what God was doing and what He was asking of us.  We prayed fervently to follow every step that God was laying before us. It was clear that “you, the good people of God,” would also become a part of this journey. This mission was far beyond our reach and influence.  It would require finances that were beyond our ability to obtain.  It would mean that Chaplains who we had never met would invite us into their sacred spaces and allow us to minister.  It would require a massive amount of strategic planning of hotels, transportation and security clearances to every base and DOD school.  It would also mean that God would raise up an army of believers to cover us with prayer.  All this, accomplished by our GREAT GOD!

Now may you feel blessed as you have been a divine participant in this mission!  Many of you have prayed for our team, past and present.  Many of you have given of your resources to ensure that who God has called will in fact be supported and financed by His good people. You have written notes, emails, made Facebook comments and sent letters in support of this mission and the University Singers. We all are keenly aware that what seems insurmountable to our human nature is never beyond our Savior’s power and making. And so we will, in our best efforts, make the journey and mission we are currently experiencing as real to you as possible through our pictures and stories.  We want each of you to know that we carry you in our hearts and we stand on the shoulders of saints and singers before us!


2015-2016 University Singers Team

While most traditional SWU students were enjoying their last days at home for winter break, The University Singers gathered back to SWU campus on Wednesday, January 6, 2016 to rehearse for our upcoming engagement for NCMAF (National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces) in Washington DC. First stop however, was New Life Church in La Plata, MD where we led worship for New Life’s 4 services. The Singers were received warmly by the congregation and were hosted by Mike and Tina Hilson; pastor and wife. Following the Sunday services the team headed further north to Alexandria, VA where the NCMAF conference would be held.

Monday’s agenda included an exhilarating morning tour of the Pentagon where the team concluded with a medley of songs about our American Flag. Army Private First Class Nick Frazier who had led the tour was very moved and grateful for the musical gift.

Monday afternoon the team ventured on the Metro (first time experience for a number of the members) to Arlington Cemetery, Arlington House, The Changing of The Guard and the final resting place of John F Kennedy. Seeing all the pure white stones of Arlington was a moving experience, knowing that many of those resting there gave their last full measure of devotion to our country for the freedoms we enjoy.

University Singers in Arlington

Monday night the team, along with Military Chaplains and Chaplain Endorsers headed to the National Cathedral for a magnificent private tour. At least five of our team had never even been to Washington DC, so this was quite a treat. Following a multi-faith prayer service, we sang a patriotic A Cappella set in the beautiful Bethlehem chapel for the Chaplains and Endorsers. We found out quickly that God Bless America was a favorite of these congregants as they sang LOUDLY with us! I do want to thank the drivers on our team for getting us to the National Cathedral during rush hour ON TIME!! No small task!!

Tuesday brought new opportunity and surprise! We sang 45 minutes for the NCMAF attendees at a luncheon at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center. We shared our stories with this group about our military involvement and our most recent overseas mission: OPERATION FREEDOM’S CADENCE. It was very humbling to speak with them afterwards. We were in the presence of those who had many deployments under their belts; many days away from family and the daunting task of taking care of our troops! And yet they were so very grateful for the small part in which we had played in the lives of our US military.

Tuesday night we enjoyed a delicious banquet hosted by the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). We had the opportunity to speak with folks prior to the banquet and a number of them had remembered us from two years ago when we sang at the same event. Army, Col. Schumacher having heard the group previously was so excited to see us! He shared that he had never felt the presence of God more strongly in music than when he listened to us sing! WOW!! Chaplains Commission Director, Steve West was our contact for the NAE Banquet. He was very moved by our singing and displayed his gratitude in military style by presenting each team member with the NAE coin by placing it in the palms of our hands through a handshake. Eight of our 15 member team were first time recipients of such an honor. Those of us who had previously received military coins were no less enthralled. Director Steve West also gave me his personal coin from The United States Chaplain Corps, Langley Chapel, 633d Air Base Wing. I have to tell you that when a coin is placed in my palm it is the most humbling experience you can imagine!

While there were many new faces at NCMAF, there was one in particular that took my attention; beautiful 28 year old Chaplain Candidate, Maggie La Rocque.

Maggie La Rocque DC 2016

In the concert that evening we shared testimonies of how God used us overseas and I quoted several lines from the song “When God Dips His Love In My Heart” prior to singing it. Following the evening’s events Maggie introduced herself to me with great emotion over our ministry and particularly the song we had shared. It was great to connect with a lovely young Christian women who had dedicated her life in service to her true King and country!

The University Singers also have a coin to give in appreciation to serving individuals. We had the pleasure of bestowing coins upon Col. Schumacher who gratefully received it with giving warm hugs back and to Chaplains Commission Director, Steve West who upon receiving the coin, giggled and said “I love getting these!”

God has once again given us an amazing experience with amazing people! We are so grateful to the “GOOD PEOPLE OF GOD” who continuously give of their resources so that we may bless and serve those who serve us!

Gail Kerstetter


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; www.swusingers.org 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 more 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.

A Little Recognition

Very appreciated, but not always properly recognized, the University Singers’ Noah Cromer does his job with pride. He is the team’s sound engineer. His job is to control the mix of the various microphones and speakers used by The Singers in their many performances. And though the audience can hear the difference that he makes, they very seldom realize it. So here, for everyone’s benefit, is a brief profile of Noah Cromer.

Photo By: Zack Adams
Photo By: Zack Adams

A former homeschooler from Temperance Michigan, Noah is a freshman of Southern Wesleyan University, double majoring in piano and ministry. Unfortunately, while with the Singers, he is not often able to flaunt his excellent piano proficiency. He is also very successful academically.

To everyone’s advantage, though, Noah is able to use his great musical talent with The Singers. Having a good auditory acuity is vital in sound mixing. Noah said, “Probably the hardest part of running sound is trying to listen to all of the different parts. . . other than that, it’s pretty easy.” He also sings with the group on several of the concert selections. His ministry with the OFC team also spans beyond their music. While at Aviano Air Force Base, we all watched in tender amusement as he played with a group of small children. He was ministering even as the rest of us were hungrily engaging the marvelous dinner provided by the chaplain.

So, all things considered, Noah’s musical talent does not supplant his other ministry. However, it does not always receive all of the recognition which it deserves either. Still, he uses his gifts for God’s glory; and that, dear reader, is all that really matters.

Reporting from Italy,
Aaron Brickle

Small Person, Big Voice 

A small person with a big voice! Caitlyn Gardner is truly a gifted person with an amazing voice. The only way she can best describe how blessed she is her gifts are for the Lord. On the inside, she says she is just singing. On the outside, it can fill the room with wonder and great vocal runs.

How did this amazing singer become inspired to join the University Singers? She explained that her impression of the singers alone was enough.

“I fell in love with the team when they came to my church”. When she was a little girl”.

She is currently a rising junior from Kannapolis, North Carolina. She is majoring in Human Services and plans to make music her minor. Caitlyn has a gentle heart for people, is kind and most of all gregarious! Ideally, she would like to find a job in Human Services but wants to continue to sing. If she could guarantee a successful career in music, she would travel the country singing Jazz or Gospel.

Caitlyn Gardner has this soulful centered voice that can accompany any good jazz music. Considering Jazz, she is also a part of the Jazz Band at Southern Wesleyan University. Her vocal range is incredible! One song that stands out from all the rest is, ” When God Dips His Love” as Caitlyn performs a dynamic solo with powerful backup vocals. When all the singers come together, it fills the room! She explains,

“When I sing, that is my worship. There is something so deep in me that it’s as close as I can get to the Lord. “

Examining Talent,
Levi Roach

Thou O Lord

This rendition of Thou O Lord by the University Singers is from their performance at Garmisch Air Base USAG chapel service. The song communicates the message of relying on God for strength and protection. God has provided the Singers with the strength and energy they’ve needed to take on a rigorous travel schedule to share Christ with many military families. Listen to the University Singers make a joyful noise to the Lord and enjoy some  of the sights of God’s beautiful creation that the Singers were able to see.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

A gorgeous arrangement of the classic hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness, this song shows the dedication of the University Singers to both musical and spiritual excellence. The lyrics speak of God’s unfailing faithfulness, and the photos and video show the  work of The OFC Team while in Europe. We hope you enjoy.