Still there is hope

Posted by Joey Ooi on 4/12/24 4:20 PM

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I’d sung Praise His Names a hundred times before. It was not my favorite song, and up to this point, I was more concerned with getting the words right than I was about the song itself. But on the last day of the tour, in front of our audience of seven or eight patients in the memory care unit at Wesley Palms Retirement Home, San Diego, I could barely breathe through tears as I repeated the familiar but mysterious names of God over a simple melody.

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Professor Appleton invited the elderly at this nursing home to join on songs they’d know as we began singing hymns. Internally, I laughed, was cynical, and wondered how they’d remember words I couldn’t remember without dementia. I felt uncomfortable in nursing homes: believing that they were depressing and unsettling. I’d never been to one that filled me with joy. But to my surprise, as soon as we began the familiar melody of hymns like Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art, I could see tears in their eyes and their mouths moving with the Chorale on songs that I didn’t even know the words to. Afterward, I wept through my conversation with Miss Millie, singing her hymns and Christmas songs as she requested, and laughed with her and the other choristers as we talked about everything from her career as a secretary to potatoes and cheeseburgers.

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The Chorale had 10 performances over the span of a week. After landing on Tuesday, March 26, at 10:30 AM, the chorale headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego for a concert at 7:00 PM. To us, the time difference made it seem like we finished the concert at midnight, and we were getting on the bus at 6:00 AM the next day to sing at a public school.

On Maundy Thursday, the Chorale performed three times: at a private school, a public school, and a church. I was nervous because of my experience on tour last year, and I knew the rigorous schedule would be tasking. I saw it right away. In conversations with other choristers, people would describe their state of mind as “weary” or “overwhelmed.” The jet lag, lack of sleep, and hours of standing and singing left me feeling weak and dizzy. It felt like we were in a constant state of a flurry of motion.

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But this was a mission that Christ had sent us on, and that meant all our strength and encouragement would come through him and his people. I experienced the goodness and unity of his church as I talked with our hosts and concert-goers. At the first host home, the seven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son of our host immediately asked me how old I was, and told me everything that was interesting to them.

After excitedly telling me about what they were learning in school, little Malinda pulled out a carton of plastic Easter eggs labeled, “Resurrection Eggs.” Inside each egg, small items represented different aspects of the crucifixion story. There were crackers for the bread Jesus broke and coins for the money Judas received for betraying Christ. Malinda gleefully held the last of twelve eggs in her hands and asked me to guess what was in it, because it was a surprise.

“I don’t know, would you tell me?” I asked.

Malinda smiled brightly. “It’s empty! Because Jesus is alive!”

Malinda’s innocent retelling of the resurrection summarized the intent of the tour, themed Still There Is Hope, in a way that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Most nights, the chorale sang songs of the solemn and radiant love of Christ and the utter peace and joy we could find in Him. So, when we started feeling uneasy, weary, and joyless, we knew it was spiritual warfare.

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Early on, singers were sick or weak and lost their voices from the very beginning. On Saturday, a chorister received a phone call from home telling him that his eleven-year-old brother had been injured in a tree-felling accident and that he was in the hospital. I dealt with calls from two close friends dealing with depression and feeling joyless, and I struggled to muster up the energy to even put a concert face on. But we prayerfully pressed on, asking for his healing and his strength to sustain us. And he did. We saw his evident grace over us all.

Most days, one of the chorale council members shared a devotional on the bus, covering themes like trust, sanctification, praise, and gratitude. Before our concerts, Professor Appleton made a point to have a time of prayer and reflection. As a group, we shared how we had seen God's glory and goodness in the past twenty-four hours. The stories were incredible. Choristers shared about unexplainable strength during our 90-minute concerts, or of sacrificial generosity from host homes.

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Before our last performance, Professor Appleton asked us how we could reconcile horrible pain and the fairness of Christ, in response to one of the choral pieces we were doing called Jesus Thou Joy. One chorister reminded us that we didn’t deserve “fairness” and that Christ’s death and redemption of our sinful self was the only reason we could breathe our next breath. The fair thing would have been for Christ to strike us dead because we deserved nothing. Several of us repeated the echo of the reminder to give everything to Christ, including our sorrows. During a testimony in concert, another chorister shared, “It’s not that I can tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus because I cannot bear my own burdens.”

This tour breathed life over the story of Easter. Christ’s radical sacrifice for this world can only be responded to with gratitude. The walk of the believer must be saturated with gratitude because that is the only appropriate response to Christ’s death and resurrection.

In the body of Christ, there is so much to be grateful for. Everything from the beautiful Southern California landscape to the warm generosity of our host homes reminded me of the goodness of God that permeated our hurting world. No matter how broken our circumstances were, Christ’s victory over death on the cross also means victory over our circumstances.

I understood over this past week that God is God of all circumstances. Not only must we tell Him our joys and sorrows, He is sovereign over our joys and sorrows. After all, it was the sorrow of the cross that ushered in the eternal joy of life with Him. He is risen! He is risen indeed.

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 Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.


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