Our Church choir takes to the Alaskan water to sing in remote villages.
We've Come This Far by Faith
Dorothy, our choir director, donned her life jacket and stepped into the kayak. She settled herself in the cockpit and looked up at us.
We all looked at each other.
"Um, Mother Righteous?"
"Yes," she replied.
"You don?t get into the kayak until after we put it in the water."
"Oh, really?" Everyone laughed, and she got out again, to resettle once the kayak was launched. The choir watched her paddle around the little harbor with awe. Nothing fazed her.
Dorothy had had her hands full with us. A sixties-something Black lady trying to teach a bunch of white ladies how to sing gospel is no easy task. How to ad lib, to project, to move and to clap on the two and four (not on the downbeat). She did all that, though, with the exception of moving. We did move, but not altogether. The sopranos started moving to the right, and pretty soon the altos were moving to the left, and I don?t know what the tenors were doing.
Still, we loved it.
"Why do we do this?" She asked in the middle of one rehearsal.
"Because it's fun!" one of my friends shouted out.
"No!" Dorothy admonished us. "We do this to praise God and give him the glory, to bring his love to people, to help them come to love him and praise Him, too."
And so we did. We taught our Lutheran congregation to stand up and clap, and sing along with us. Then we began to sing in other Lutheran churches, and local neighborhood churches, "to share what God is doing for us." We sang for small churches full of elderly white people who sat silent and motionless during our performance, and afterwards gushed about how wonderful our music was and stuffed us with wonderful, homemade, Lutheran food.
Soon the question arose: What should be our next trip?
Jean and Carol had a friend in Alaska who was with LAMP, Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots. He wasn't a pilot, but he ran a refitted 60 foot fishing boat as a floating church between islands and communities (many of which had no roads, only docks) in the Inside Passage. He had enough accomodation for us and our stuff below decks, and would be happy to have as for a week in the summer.
So, we flew into Juneau that August, and Elvin picked us up and took us to his home base in Wrangle. We boarded The Christian and set off for a week on the water.
I love boats. I love the water. I love the motion of the waves. Not everyone does, I realize this, but most of us did ok in spite of things. But as for myself, I was in seventh heaven. Lots of singing and lots of water-what could be better?
Even though I did have to climb into my top bunk using the only one square foot of floor space there was in the cabin. That caused a few laughs, especially from across the hall where some of the older members of our group were trying to get into the upper bunks. And shoes! We had several of the teenage members of the Shelton Family Band (plus dad Al) on board, and their gigantic shoes took up a lot of hallway space!
There were a lot of adventures: kayak lessons, netting chunks of floating glacier to cool our evening beverages, soaking in the hot springs, visiting the bear sanctuary ("If you see a bear," instructed the ranger, "just make a lot of noise." Well, noise we could handle.)
However, we were there to sing God's praises at as many of Elvin's congregations as we could. And sing we did.
We'd dock at a village, walk to wherever the church or meeting place was, and Elvin would begin with a prayer and introduce us. We'd start off with something a bit familiar, like "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." Of course, we did lean during the chorus, and encouraged the people to lean to the left and lean to the right and sing, "Safe and secure from all alarms." Then maybe Dorothy would lead us in "I Love to Praise His Name," with lots of clapping. Most of these folks did clap, too. And we'd end with our signature piece, "We've Come This Far by Faith," which really seemed to say what we wanted people to know about us. "He's never failed us yet."
And afterwards, the fellowship and the food! Grilled salmon, fresh caught, and fry bread. Yum. As we talked with the people, we realized that they rarely saw visitors and that we were a real treat just by being there. However, it was the people's response to the music which was incredible to me. We had worked hard to sing well, it's true, but we sang because we could hardly help it; it wasn't really any trouble for us. God had, however, opened up hearts and produced a blessing that seemed so out of proportion to what we'd put into it, that I was amazed. How could just our singing bring so much delight in the Lord?
Well, that was it, see. We didn't do it, God did. He brought us together and filled us and the people with his own joy.
We've come this far by faith.