Friday, August 22, 2014

Guatemala 2014 - A Thank You to Our Benefactors

I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)

Click here for a link to many awesome pictures of our mission, taken by our sound technician James! :)
I am writing to express my profound gratitude for your partnership in the mission of Celebrant Singers, and to share with you a bit about my team’s recent outreach in California and Guatemala. As one of our benefactors, I consider you a very important part of our mission team and want to assure you of my team’s daily prayers for you and your intentions.

The Guatemala Team of Celebrant Singers came together for 4 intensive days of rehearsal and spiritual preparation, and then started out on our 3-week mission. I originally traveled with Celebrant Singers on a 10-week summer team to Trinidad 14 years ago, and so I was amazed not only by the invitation to travel with the ministry again, but by the idea of preparing for the mission so quickly. Any musician knows how long it can take for a group to come together musically, and even that preparation does not take into account the need for spiritual readiness and learning to work together as a ministry team. Also, our team was extremely diverse in every possible way – we ranged in age from 17 to 79 years old and came from many different Christian churches, work and family backgrounds, and countries including USA, Canada, Mexico, France, Bulgaria, and Slovenia. Even before we set out on mission, I could tell that the Lord had something very special in mind for our team, and I can truly say that by the end of the mission we had become a family deeply bonded in faith, hope, and love.

Our ministry outreach in Guatemala far surpassed any of our expectations. We were hosted by a charismatic community of Catholic Christians who had been greatly anticipating our arrival and welcomed us with open arms. The hospitality we received was extraordinary, and our presentations of music, testimonies, and presentation of the Gospel message were received by more than 5,000 people in Guatemala City and Antigua. In every place we presented, we were greeted by a large crowd of people, usually with standing room only and long lines of individuals coming forward for prayer. The great sincerity and faith of the Guatemalan people was very moving, and it was clear that the enthusiasm they had in receiving us was their way of welcoming Christ himself into their midst. We were certainly undeserving of such hospitality, but truly honored to be welcomed as representatives of Jesus.

We returned to California to conclude the ministry with the France team at the 37th Annual Homecoming Concert in Visalia and the World Touch Partners Banquet and Concert. During this time, we were able to remember the larger scope of the ministry and the importance of all of our sponsors in a very special way. Of all of the music and ministry experiences I have had in my life, this summer’s was one of the most powerful and I cannot express my profound gratitude to you for making this possible. While words may fall short, I pray that grace will suffice and I assure you of my grateful prayers.

In Christ,

Leslie A. Elliott

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Time Is Now: A Tribute to Roy the Bus Driver

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

As some of you may have heard, I've been on mission with Celebrant Singers in California and Guatemala, which at least gives me a somewhat legitimate excuse for not writing for some time now. I do plan to write at least weekly from here on out, so hold me to it!

The mission experience this summer, though brief, was extraordinarily powerful and moving in so many different ways. Really, I'm rarely lacking words to describe anything, but in this case words really do fall short.

After returning from any kind of spiritual experience like this, I always find that the reality of daily life tends to smack you in the face again pretty quickly. That's not to say that what we experienced on mission wasn't real -- on the contrary, I'd say that it was more real in the bigger picture of life and eternity -- but to point out that it's easy to come down from that mountaintop experience and get dragged down by the minutiae of daily responsibilities and trials.

But there is one particular person that my mind keeps coming back to that I want to share with you now, a person who taught me in a very short time about what is really important. His name is Roy Dick, and he was one of our bus drivers.

Roy was such a kind and gentle person, so happy to be with all of us on the team, and to serve God and us by driving us to all the ends of the earth (or all the ends of California, at least!). He always greeted each of us with a hello and warm smile, and there are a couple memories of Roy that I'd like to share.

Roy took our team for a WalMart run before we were to depart for Guatemala, and not needing anything myself, I just hung around outside for a while. When I saw Roy, he asked how I was doing and if I needed anything -- he was always concerned for others -- and when I told him that I was fine, he asked if I might have time to run in to the McDonald's to grab a Big Mac for him. It was something so small that I did for him, but he was so grateful that you'd have thought that I went and bought him a new car (or an upgraded Celebrant Singers bus, perhaps?).

The next special moment with Roy happened on the afternoon on the Celebrant Singers 37th Annual Homecoming Concert. I had just returned to meet the teams for rehearsal, and when I went in to the building I had my children with me. I was in a bit of a hurry to get them to the restroom and then to get ready myself for the rehearsal, but we saw Roy in the hallway. He was so happy to see me upon my return to the team, and really excited to meet my girls. Because I was feeling rushed, I felt inclined to just give a quick hello and to keep walking, but I felt Jesus say to me, "Won't you stop and visit with me for just a moment?" Roy wanted to know my girls' names, to say hello to each of them individually and to see how they were doing. He was so kind. I found out later that it was actually his weekend off (the ministry sometimes has the volunteer bus drivers on a rotation) but that he had come anyway that day because he loved being around us and the music. My girls and I told Roy that we'd see him later, and continued on to prepare for the rest of the day.

That was the last time I saw or spoke to Roy. A few hours later, while the musicians were on a break from rehearsal, Roy took a misstep at the edge of the stage and took a big fall into the orchestra pit area. He was flown to a hospital for treatment, but he sustained such serious injuries that he died last Tuesday evening, the night of our final banquet and concert for this summer's outreach.

I learned so much in the few weeks of our mission, but the most profound lesson was learned from Roy's life and his sudden death: that we should never take one another for granted, that we should never pass up an opportunity to give and receive love, that we should always take an opportunity to serve others, to give, to love to the point of sacrifice. The time is now to love; we have no time to waste!

When I think of Roy, I think of this Bible verse about love in action:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12: 9-12)

And I trust that we will see Roy again, and soon. May the soul of Roy, and all of the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

As always, thanks for stopping by and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,