Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DAY 7 – Closer to Heaven

We have been very fortunate that Hampton Inn has allowed the use of their lobby area to our group for two nights. We were able to spread out among all of the tables and have food set out for the kids, as well as lego-building stations and card tables. The manager of the hotel emailed Beth Taylor and told her that he had only good reports about our group. They were not disruptive, they were polite and they went back to their rooms at the curfew time when they were told. Good witnessing kids!  The hotel also provided a wonderful buffet breakfast for everyone -  eggs, home fries, sausage, cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt, muffins, bagels, juice and a hot drink area. Many thanks to Kelly Bratburd for procuring this great hotel for us!

In addition to having fun and witnessing, we were able to complete a small service project for our VBS program. We collected a gallon bag of the unused mini-bottles of shampoo, lotion and soaps from each room and plan on donating them to Cathy Scarbrough for her “care package” Vacation Bible School activity. I expect we will see a big smile on her face when we return.

Speaking of witnessing, I haven’t mentioned the depth of the witnessing you will see during our Homecoming concert. Between songs at each of our concerts, our youth have been voluntarily   giving a testimony about how they have witnessed God at work in their lives. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have approached me after the concerts and told me how moved they were by these testimonies. It is unusual to see a youth willing to stand up and testify for their faith. Many of these people had never seen it happen before and it touched them deeply. You will be too.

After departure it was time for sharing and stories on the bus.  Sean Carrier and Julia Beall were chosen as our morning Greeters. They were looking a bit reluctant in the beginning but ended up doing a great job. Surprisingly, there were no fork stories today! I guess no doorknobs were broken or bugs were invading any rooms. However, “Thing 2” had struck again. Bethany, Polly, Emma Annie, Celia and Zack all found a “Thing 2” craft doll in their belongings. That “Thing 2” is a sly one!

Before we knew it, the bus had arrived at Duke University. Polly’s brother Chip Edmonds attended Seminary school at Duke and was able to connect us with our host. We were met by Wes Brown, Associate Dean of the Divinity school. Duke University is a huge campus but we were heading to one specific area where the Divinity school was located. The Divinity School has 14,000 students in it alone! The direction we walked took us through some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. There were fountains and pools, lush greenery and beautiful flowers. The path meandered past tall trees that looked very old. I was told that the gardens had a 50 year celebration last year, which would explain why the plants looked so established. The University Chapel is under construction and renovation at the moment, so we walked past it and headed to Goodson Chapel instead. Many services and concerts are held there throughout the year.

Here’s a bit of personal trivia knowledge with a connection to Duke and one of our tour chaperones. Did you know that Deborah Bowe was married at York Chapel (which is now part of the library) on the Duke campus in 1989? Her husband Mark was a graduate student at Duke. We took some photos of her and her girls under the same archways where her wedding photos were taken!

 Once inside Goodson Chapel, we were introduced to Dr. Lester Ruth. He is a Methodist scholar, a Professor of Worship at the Divinity School, and president of the International Charles Wesley Society. Anything we wanted to know about Charles Wesley, he was able to answer. Dr. Ruth knew that the theme of our tour was “I’ll be a Witness,” so he wanted to talk to us about what it means to be a witness. He pointed out that we can’t be a witness to others until WE have been witnessed to in our own hearts. Once we realize that God gave himself and his love to ME, it is almost unfathomable to comprehend. If I caused his pain, suffering and death, how can I fathom His amazing love? No measuring tool could ever measure the depth of God’s love for us and for all of humanity. It extends everywhere. Dr. Ruth had the kids open the hymnal to the song “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,” written by Charles Wesley. This hymn was written with those exact thoughts in mind. Read the words and soak in the meaning until it fills your heart. As a group, we all sang the hymn together. Steve accompanied us on the piano and I could feel my heart stirring as we sang out the words written by Charles Wesley in 1739, so long ago and yet still witnessing to our hearts today.

We left the chapel and walked to the book store, where kids had some time to buy Duke souvenirs if they wanted. Lunch was in the Divinity Café. There was a buffet and the youth had the options to choose whatever they wanted to eat. As we finished eating Polly decided to have a “flash mob” and we started singing “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” as Duke students were curiously peeking in the doorway and smiling at us. Cross that off my bucket list now!

Our final visit on campus was the Cameron Indoor Stadium and museum. As we walked over there, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful campus, with its old stone buildings and even older trees and shrubs. It really is a beautiful college. We walked through the museum, chock full of information about all of the Duke teams and their awards.  The kids were also able to go into the stadium and sit in the seats where the games are played. By the time we walked back through the gardens to the bus, the temperature had soared and we couldn’t wait to get back into the air conditioning. We had a quick greeting by Jordan Anderson and Rhodesia Roberts and then we were off to Greensboro.

Our evening concert was at First Presbyterian Church. This was by far the largest church we have been in yet. It was massive. There were some friendly faces in the audience once again, which makes it so nice for the performers to see people they know. Lisa and Doug Marshall were there. Ben Con had college friends in attendance as well as his UNCG trombone professor. Deborah Bowe’s parents, who live in Greensboro, were also there. Her parents, who have been reading the blog every day, thanked us for keeping them updated about the tour. Her Dad jokingly said that his fear is that the girls who stay in his house tonight will end up winning a fork and he will be on the blog tomorrow. J

As usual, the kids were great even though the acoustics in the church were not the best. Everyone is pretty tired. It has been a full week and tonight is our last concert away from home. We can’t wait until we perform in front of the home audience. It is always our best concert! I’m sure there will be a day of sleeping on the bus and catching up on our rest. See you at 5:00 at DUMC! 

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