Tuesday July 25, 2006 "Home Sweet Home"

After a long day of travel, the last of our 3 flights home touched down at the Pensacola Airport last night around 11 p.m. Our day began with a detour around a serious accident on the autobahn en route to the Munich Airport. Those traveling on flight one via British Air/Delta made their flight with only a couple of minutes to spare. Those traveling on flights two and three via KLM/Northwest departed Munich mid-morning.

Each group encountered minor delays and few pieces of lost luggage and music instruments, however, most of the cargo was located on other flights and will be delivered to Pensacola on Wednesday.

Thank you for praying for our group during the 2006 Go Ye Tour. I will sharing a few devotional reflections from our trip on Wednesday evening July 26, and the “Go Ye Choir and Orchestra” will present the first of our August concerts on Sunday evening August 6.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday July 22-24, 2006

The temperature is a warm but dry 92 degrees on this sunny Monday afternoon in Salzburg, our final day before returning home to Pensacola. Salzburg is a city of approximately 150,000 and received its name from the local salt mines. Our visit correlated to the annual Salzburg Festival, an annual celebration of music and dance.

Early on Saturday morning, our group left the Crowne Plaza in two groups following tour guides on “The Sound of Music Tour.” We were also joined by Ulli, the adopted German daughter of James and Shirley Calloway. The Calloways and others from Pensacola met Ulli on a chapel choir tour here many years ago and Uli has visited Pensacola on several occasions since that time.

The tour began with a short walk to Mirabella Palace, where we took photos of the Pegasus fountain where Julie Andrews and the children sang “Do-re-mi.” After hearing a brief history of the palace we boarded buses where we visited various sites where the movie was filmed. Stops included Leopoldschon (the home fronting the lake where the boat turned over), Hellbrunn (the location of the gazebo where “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” was sung), and Mondsee (the village where the church is located where the wedding occurred). We also listened to the historical narrative of the actual Von Trapp family which inspired the movie.

On Saturday afternoon, about half of our group boarded the bus for a four hour tour to Eagle’s Nest, the site of Hitler’s mountain retreat. While the buildings were not impressive, many felt the alpine scenery of this tour was the most spectacular of our trip.

On Saturday evening our large group divided into small groups to visit the Old Town area, especially locating and previewing the sites The DOM and the Collegiate Church, the sites of our Sunday concerts.

Shortly after breakfast on Sunday morning, we boarded buses to travel to Old Town to The DOM, the largest cathedral in Salzburg. The DOM offers six different occasions for mass on Sundays, each service mostly filled to capacity. Our group was assigned to the 11:30 mass.

To be invited to The DOM was quite an honor for our choir and orchestra. However, our presentation was not without challenge. Because the masses run consecutively, we had a very brief set up time. We had “taxied” our orchestral instruments to the plaza and offloaded them into a storage area. We had approximately 6-8 minutes to enter the cathedral, set up instruments, and arrange the choir members on risers. Because the risers had no seats, and because we were singing 6 selections throughout the mass, our choir stood for the entire hour long service. The cathedral is not air conditioned and was packed with worshippers standing in the back and along the sides. There was no nursery and the natural acoustics amplified both our singing and the sounds accompanying infants.

Back home, the “inconvenience” of such a service would have given many an excuse to stay home. We were inspired, however, by the loyalty of these worshippers who attended services faithfully in spite of the distractions.

The mass was in German. Our eyes were glued to Bob, and Bob’s eyes were glued to a cathedral assistant who signaled to him each time we were to sing. Although we could not understand the priest, we could understand the 23rd Psalm and The Lord’s Prayer. When we sang “Amazing Grace,” voices from various languages joined in from around the cathedral. After the service, Ulli shared with us that the homily by the priest was an outstanding message about Jesus. Our participation in mass completed our tour of 3 of the most notable churches in Europe: St. Nicholas, St.Stephens, and The DOM.

After lunch on Sunday afternoon, many members of our group visited shops and vendors around the market square inviting others to join us for the evening concert at the Collegiate Church. The Collegiate Church serves as the chapel, the house of prayer, and a favorite concert location for university students. This interfaith church is the centerpiece of Old Town Salzburg. Our evening concert was unique because the choir was arranged in the round. The choir formed a single file circle around the orchestra which was seated underneath the central dome. Although the audience was primarily in rows of seats between our circle and the front door, many in the overflow crowd gathered around the walls and columns on all sides of the church.

This unique arrangement presented quite an unexpected challenge for our vocalists. Most of us could only hear our part but not the other voices in the choir. We were winging, I mean singing, by faith. However, the parts blended forming a natural stereophonic sound. At the conclusion of the concert, the audience responded with prolonged enthusiastic applause. Bob and the missioners affirmed the choir and orchestra for a great final concert. After the concert, we greeted attendees from Romania, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Boston, California, and New York. Many of the attendees heard our group at the morning mass and decided to attend the evening concert.

Today is Monday, a free day for touring Salzburg and preparing for the trip home. Approximately half of our group arose early and ventured by cable car up to the Salzburg Fortress, a prominent hilltop castle looming over Old Town Salzburg. The oldest parts of the castle are more than 1000 years old. The castle has never been penetrated by enemy forces. Now the castle is filled with museums, restaurants, scenic overlooks, and gift shops. The steep walkway down from the castle passes The Nunnery, the location where the Von Trapp family hid among the gravestones.

This afternoon our group members are packing, resting, or buying last minute souvenirs. Our luggage will be loaded onto our buses this evening and we will depart the hotel at 3:45 tomorrow for our departing flights out of Munich.

With great appreciation for the privilege of participating in this International Music Mission tour, most of us are more than ready to return home to Pensacola and rejoin our family and church family.
From my perspective, our tour group has represented First Baptist Church with Christian integrity and character. And our group has seized the opportunity to share the good news in concert and in casual conversation.

Thursday and Friday July 20-21

We arrived in Salzburg this afternoon, finally.

On Wednesday evening we shared a concert at the International Christian Fellowship who met jointly with the International Baptist Church. The international church meets upstairs in a multi-story inner city building in a room that resembles a large Baptist Student Center. By the time the concert began, a standing- room-only crowd had gathered. This assembly reflected the diversity of God’s family as multiple races, multiple ages, and multiple socio-economic backgrounds gathered to celebrate our common faith in Christ. The ovation given to our choir and orchestra was indeed one of genuine gratitude and appreciation. After the concert, church members hosted us for a light snack supper which consisted of a huge buffet of finger foods, deserts, punch, apple juice, and peach tea.

Yesterday was a free day, for most of us, that is. Holly Renaud had been feeling sick on Wednesday and did not feel like singing in the evening concert. Around daybreak on Thursday, Holly’s mother, Diane, took Holly to the local hospital emergency room. Thankfully, Holly had a minor infection, was given antibiotics, and is on the road to a full recovery.

Throughout the day, small groups from our musical tribe scattered around Vienna exploring a variety of venues. Some took carriage rides in the historic district. Others took the underground railway to the landmark Ferris Wheel, made famous in one of Orson Well’s movies. Bob Morrison climbed 300-400 steps up the tower at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Amanda and I joined a small group in taking a sightseeing tour by boat on the Danube River.

Last night, one contingent of the Pensacola gang traveled to Schonbrunn Palace for a tour, a feast, and a magnificent concert. Another group of us traveled to the City Market, an outdoor marketplace with all kinds of merchandise and international foods. Still another group reclined around Stadtpark, a botanical park across from the InterContinental Hotel.

After dinner, our group returned to Stephensplatz, the historic plaza around St. Stephen’s Cathedral for one last visit. While there we began watching a group of mimes and artists in action. After a few moments we discovered that we were watching an international ministry team, anchored by members of the International Christian Fellowship, where we sang on Wednesday evening. The team was engaging in street evangelism by presenting the gospel in drama and art. We were delighted to visit again with the new friends we had made on Wednesday evening. After many more extemporaneous photos and hugs, our group returned to the hotel to prepare an early transport to Salzburg on Friday morning.

Today is Friday. After visiting the huge breakfast buffet, we boarded the buses to head for Salzburg. On the autobahn, just over halfway to Salzburg, a passing motorist signaled for our second bus to pull over. Bob and Annette are riding bus one. Amanda and I are riding bus two. Bus two is towing a small trailer with musical instruments and luggage. When our driver pulled over to the side of the autobahn, we discovered that the left trailer tire was shredded and the trailer was riding on a rim. Our driver called for “Austrian AAA” and assistance arrived within 15 minutes. By this time, bus one had pulled into a nice rest stop with a great selection of Austrian foods and pastries. Bus one unloaded and returned to retrieve the passengers from bus two so that we could all enjoy lunch. Within an hour, our driver and bus arrived at the lunch spot and we all began our journey on to Salzburg.

About 40 minutes from Salzburg, the right trailer tire on bus two exploded ripping the wheel cover from the trailer sending it airborne into the median of the autobahn. Our driver skillfully maneuvered our double decker bus and the defiant trailer to the shoulder of the autobahn. Again we called the “Austrian AAA” and assistance arrived within 25 minutes. However, this time, bus one proceeded on into Salzburg and checked into the Crowne Plaza. Bus two was stalled on the autobahn for approximately two hours while the tow truck drove to the next town, purchased another new trailer tire, and returned to mount it. Our group made the best of a bad situation by reading, napping, conversing, or taking walks on a nearby rural road. We finally arrived in Salzburg around 4:30.

Salzburg is in a mountainous region of Austria near the German border. Temperatures are typically mild. But Salzburg, like most of Europe, is trapped in a heat wave. Temps usually average the low to mid 80’s in the summer. Today the temperature reached 96.

After check-in, many of us walked into Old Town to view the DOM and the University Church, the two sites where we will sing on Sunday. As we approached Old Town, well-known as Mozart’s birthplace, we were greeted with posters complete with color photograph announcing the Sunday concert by the Sanctuary Choir and Orchestra of First Baptist Church of Pensacola.

We also learned that tomorrow night, the world famous Toronto Children’s Choir will be in concert at the DOM. Our group will be honored to follow them on Sunday morning.

I feel at times that I am bragging on our group. That is intentional. For a small group of amateur musicians from our church family to learn and memorize 15 difficult pieces of music and travel to the foremost music cities of the world and sing during the season of Mozart’s 250th birthday is an accomplishment that should generate pride all across the panhandle. Our repertoire includes two Mozart pieces, hymn arrangements, spirituals, and contemporary songs, all of which present our praise to God and a musical presentation of the good news of Christ.

Group members scattered to a variety of restaurants to enjoy dinner before returning to the hotel for a good night of rest after a long day of travel.

We have heard news from home and now know that Norman Thrash went home to be with the Lord. Our group sends our prayers and heart-felt sympathy to Mrs. Thrash and family.

Tomorrow our entire group plans to go on “The Sound of Music Tour.” Some will continue on to Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat, tomorrow afternoon. Our final two concerts are scheduled for Sunday.

Once again, we will miss meeting with our church family in Pensacola on Sunday. I am appreciative of your faithfulness to pray for us and to support the ministries and activities of FBCP while we are away.

Tuesday and Wednesday July 18-19, 2006

Tuesday was a heavy travel day as our entourage traveled by motorcoach from Prague in the Czech Republic to Vienna, Austria. Although there were minor delays en route, our group proved once again to be seasoned travelers, utilizing the delays to catch up on reading, napping, or conversing with friends. During the six hour drive we traveled south into a slightly warmer climate. The rolling hills of the rural countryside were decorated with sunflowers, poppies, wheat, and windmills.

Given the history of this region during Nazi and Communist occupation, we were especially interested in the border crossing. The first check point was to exit the Czech Republic. The second check point was our entrance to Austria. Between the two check points was a neutral zone of approximately ½ mile that was once covered with landmines to prevent illegal border crossings. After our bus driver gave the name, number, and point of origin of our group, we were granted passage without having the border patrol board our buses.

After a quick check-in at the InterContinental Hotel (where President Bush stayed during his June visit to Vienna), we quickly changed into formal wear and re-boarded the buses to prepare for the evening concert. Our drivers took us into District 1 (the historic district) just inside the Ringstrasse, the unique avenue circling the city. From there we walked several blocks to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the largest and most notable cathedral in Austria, where we were invited to sing for high mass and to perform an evening concert. Missionary and ministry colleagues have informed Bob that it is highly unusual for a Protestant Church Choir to be invited to sing at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

I need to check the exact historical dates of the church, but the oldest construction date I saw on a church plaque was early 1200’s. St. Stephen’s is the church where Mozart was married and where his final mass was held.

We were awestruck at the architecture, the décor, the acoustics, and the warm welcome we received. Although the mass was in German, early in the mass, the priest offered an articulate blessing to our choir. Our choir shared three selections during mass. Most of us were not familiar with the liturgical order of high mass but we followed the lead of the congregants and celebrant in order to know when to stand, sit, and pray. We were emotionally moved by the experience of participating in mass, and we came away with renewed appreciation for our own lively and diverse traditions of worship. After mass the priest took off his robe and approached the choir to make a presentation to Bob and to personally thank the choir. Following mass, we shared a 30 minute concert. The concert attendance more than doubled the attendance at mass. As our choir recessed the cathedral, the congregation continued applause throughout our exit. We were overwhelmed by the generous affirmation and hospitality.

As we walked around the historic district, we were surprised but glad to see posters promoting our concert. I think members of our church and residents of Pensacola would have been extremely proud to see these portraits of our sanctuary choir and orchestra with the caption and concert invitation translated into German posted around this beautiful city. The St. Stephen’s experience will certainly be remembered as a high moment in our trip.

Today is Wednesday. After we enjoyed a bountiful breakfast buffet at the hotel, we began a City Tour of Vienna. Once again our guides were informative and insightful in orienting our group to the history and culture of Vienna. We drove by the United Nations building, crossed the Danube, and drove the Ringstrasse. Then we disembarked from our buses and toured the historic district. We walked through a series of Hapsburg palaces, one of which now serves as the presidential palace. Then we returned to St. Stephen’s for photos. We concluded our City Tour at the Mozarthaus, the Vienna residence of Mozart where he composed “The Marriage of Figaro.”

We have a little time to refresh and regroup before re-boarding the buses to travel to the International Christian Fellowship for our evening concert. Tomorrow is a free day for rest, touring, and shopping. We depart for Salzburg on Friday.

In addition to sharing the good news in song during worship services and concerts, our group members have dialogued and interacted with other tourists and local residents about matters of life and faith. As we were preparing to depart Prague, one of the hotel managers commented on how “happy” our group seemed to be and how much friendlier our group is than most groups lodging at the hotel. One of our concert selections echoes the words of the psalmist that “the Lord is my light and my salvation.” I am appreciative of the many ways that our musicians and missioners let their lights shine.

Sunday and Monday July 16-17, 2006

Sunday was a moving and meaning-filled day for every participant. We began our day by traveling to First Baptist Church in Prague for worship services. We were greeting warmly by Pastor Miloc Solc (pronounced Sholtz) and staff. Pastor Solc and his family returned to Prague from Toronto after the collapse of communism and have reinvigorated the ministry of FBC. Pastor Solc’s brother is professor of evangelism and missiology at Southeastern Seminary in Raleigh.

FBC was established in 1885. The main street entrance is minimalist, much like the entrance to an inner city apartment complex. Members told us that the entrance was intentionally designed to protect the anonymity of the church during the occupation of hostile military regimes.

Our choir and orchestra shared five songs and I shared a message from Exodus. It was obvious to us that we were worshipping alongside a congregation that appreciates the freedom and privilege of worship. The congregation joined the choir, some in English and others in Czech, on many of the selections. “Amazing Grace” took on new meaning as the blending of languages and voices ascended heavenward. I noticed tears in the eyes of both congregants and choir members as we shared in worship, a reminder of the vast diversity within the family of God.

David Slama, a minister from the northernmost region of the Czech Republic served as my interpreter. David was articulate and genuinely humble. Our group quickly came to love the pastor and congregation, but we had a special appreciation for David.

Many others joined us for worship. A youth group from Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia filled the balcony. A Romanian minister attended both morning and evening, and literally begged Bob Morrison to bring our choir to Romania. IMB missionaries and personnel enjoyed visiting our group, especially Steve Warren and the Terrells, who are friends of FBCP member, Gloria Kerley.

After the morning service, we boarded buses for a one hour trip to Terezin for an afternoon tour. Terezin is a concentration camp where both Czech political prisoners and Jews were detained by the Germans. Terezin was a holding prison and not a gas chamber, but many were transported to Aushwitz from there. However, our guided tour gave our group picturesque insight to the horrors of the Nazi regime. Many were tortured, hanged, or shot while in Terezin and many more died after being liberated due to disease, exposure, and malnutrition.

This was an especially emotional visit for Mavis Garrett and her daughter, Janie, because Mr. Garrett had been detained as a POW in a similar camp.

At the conclusion of our tour of Terezin, Bob had asked me to share a “Pause for Power,” which is what we call our regular devotional moments throughout the trip. I shared the following passages from Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist was had been a detainee, and from Micah 6:8:

“The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but detected.”

“What matters therefore is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific purpose of life at any given moment.”

“We can discover this meaning in three ways: (1) by doing a deed, (2) by experiencing a value, or (3) by suffering.”

“What is required of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

On Sunday morning we had learned the fax machine had been stolen from FBC. On Sunday afternoon, en route back to Prague we decided to take an impromptu offering for FBC to replace the stolen equipment. Our group pooled our loose Czech coins and currency and collected over 6600 crowns, or over $325 US dollars to present to Pastor Solc.

On Sunday evening we returned to FBC to share a full concert. We should not have been surprised that the congregation returned in large numbers. Russians, Romanians, Brittains, Czechs and Americans all joined in voice to sing “How Great Thou Art.” Our choir and orchestra sang with missional passions. As one choir member said, “I was exhausted prior to the concert and energized afterwards.”

After a long, long day, and long walks from the hotel to the bus parking area, we gathered in Old Town Square dressed in concert formals at 10 p.m. for a group photo. Then the group turned in for an evening of much deserved rest.

Today is Monday, a free day for sightseeing and touring. While some slept in, many of us arose for an early breakfast and brisk walk to the Vtlava River and the historic St. Charles Bridge. Near the bridge there is an excellent photo spot in a floral garden overlooking the river with Prague Castle atop the hill in the background. This scene will adorn the photo albums of many members our tour group.

We have heard the FBCP enjoyed a good day of services and we have already received a photo of the “Here Ye Choir,” courtesy of Myron Almond.

I enjoyed an early breakfast with Bill Morrison just before he returned to Old Town Hospital to check on Avery. Bill is meeting with doctors this morning to discuss Avery’s possible discharge later this afternoon. Avery was spirited and gaining strength yesterday following her surgery on Saturday evening. The Morrisons are tentatively planning to complete the trip with us, but will quickly alter that plan for an early return trip home if Avery has any complications.

Other than Avery, everyone in our group is healthy. And we are learning with illustrative clarity a new Bobism: “to be on time is to be late and to be early is to be on time.”

Our group departs Prague for Vienna tomorrow morning at 8 via motorcoach.