Epilogue from a Conductor:
As many of you know, my father Lester “Buzz” Sawyer suffered a massive stroke on May 17–the night before the Choir was to leave for Europe, causing me to join the Choir in Riga a day late. My father subsequently died while I was on the tour, but God was faithful and I felt completely lifted in prayer the entire time, knowing I had done the right thing, and what my father would have wanted me to do. On the brink of my 50th birthday, I have to say that this was probably the best two weeks of my life. Not the way I would have planned it, but surrounded by my Choir “family” during each day, and with their amazing singing in our concerts to keep us all focused on the task at hand, there was nowhere else in the world I could be but on this tour. My amazing wife Heidi, daughters Erika and Emily, and an army of friends from our faith community loved, supported and prayed us through a difficult two weeks. I am once again humbled and uplifted by God’s faithfulness, and the words of “…look up” mean so much more to me now: “O doubter of the Light, confused by fear and wrong. Lean on the heart of night and let Love make thee strong!”
What a joy it was to conduct this “choral Mercedes” and not to have to miss one single concert, and to get to see the response of our audiences to some of the best singing they told us they had ever heard. High praise indeed. Expectations were high. Singing is an art form that is held in highest esteem in the Baltic states. Part of what is now called “The Singing Revolution” in the Soviet freedom movement of the early 1990s, took place when over a million people from that region sang their solidarity for freedom by forming a human chain from the Russian border through Estonia and Latvia, and to the Lithuanian border with Poland. Our response to this was a musical program entitled “Sacred Bridges” focusing on the ultimate Sacred Bridge: The Cross of Christ, who came to be the bridge between God and all people of the world. No amount of resistance could stop this program from being heard. With the Apostle Paul, I say: But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words unto the ends of the world." (Romans 10:18 NIV) The trumpeters (...and trombone, shofars?) and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD...they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: "He is good; his love endures forever." (2 Chronicles 5:13 NIV)
In the short time I have had to begin the process of reflecting on my dad’s life, I am once again convinced of the truth of this statement which I have shared with the Choir and that I include at the bottom of my e-mails: "The use of a good life is to spend it for that which will live beyond it." (anonymous) By God’s grace, that is what we were engaged in during the past two weeks in the Baltics; spending ourselves for something greater and and further out of sight than we can even imagine. But, we had little glimpses of it during our time there. Those sneak peeks were glorious. The verse printed on our Choir shirts which are worn under our robes reads: I will not offer to the Lord sacrifices which cost me nothing. (2 Samuel 24:24) And that is always enough to keep us going, and doing what God has called us to do. Only He knows what we were supposed to accomplish during this ministry tour of a lifetime. We leave it in His hands. SDG Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone) indeed.
Conductor, the Northwestern College Choir; St. Paul, MN
May 31, 2010
"Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” – Psalm 139:7-10
We are back.
This morning found us doing last-minute souvenir shopping, packing, and saying goodbyes. We flew out of Helsinki and made it all the way to Minneapolis without any significant problems, and all of our luggage and robes made it! This was truly the hand of God as we had a 40 min. window to switch planes in Iceland – including getting through customs – and our plane was late getting in. We had one student who lost their passport on the first plane and we had to hold the second plane while we searched, but it was eventually found and the student and Dr. Kolwinska just made our flight. Smooth sailing through U.S. customs, all luggage present, and many hands making light work of putting away robes leaves us at the physical end of our tour. Yet we know there is so much more that is unseen.
As I sit here looking out over Maranatha lawn/sandbox (which has changed greatly since I last saw it two weeks ago) I am still processing what happened on this tour, what God has done, and what He will yet do, as I know many others are doing as well. We have all come back changed in one degree or another - whether by talking to elderly people at our concerts, striking up conversations at cafés and pottery shops, walking the streets and seeing the vast need, seeing the beauty of God in the flowers, or being impressed upon by His Spirit and given greater understanding of the words that we sing. There have been times when this tour has not been easy, and we have had to decide to persevere, yet this is the very thing we committed to do at the beginning of this year, and on this tour.
I have been so blessed by being allowed to blog about this part of our journey. Though it has often been a struggle trying to process what I am thinking and experiencing internally, figure out the most important things to share, and then try to find the words for them, it has been such a blessing being able to share with you, and to know that you have been praying for us – we really could not have done this without you. I would ask that you would continue to pray, not only for our choir members that God would continue to change them, but also for each person that came to hear us sing, each person we talked to on the street, and each person we may have no clue we even impacted, that God may make Himself known to them. It amazes me to think that he knows us completely, and as the Palmist says, I can go to Helsinki and back and not escape the presence of the Lord – what an awesome God we serve!
So many thoughts in my head, yet I think they are getting more jumbled as I am approaching the 24-hours-awake mark. Yet this I know, that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.”(Phil. 1: 6). May we continue to grow and build each other up as we become more like Him, and as He continues to work. Thank you –choir, associates, and those back home – for allowing me to take this journey with you. I can’t wait to see what He will do next!
Continually by His Grace,
Anna M. Osborne
May 29, 2010
It is finished – yet it has only begun.
This morning found us bussing out of Turku and heading for Helsinki, amidst constantly changing weather – from sunshine to rain, drizzle and spitting. Today was a day of realizing changing times and seasons as our time here in the Baltic States is drawing to a close.
After lunch and some free time in the city center of Helsinki, we had a guided tour of the city, which was rather amusing at points as our tour guide related various different customs to us, told us about the public healthcare system, showed us her old kindergarten school, and overall had a very friendly and joking demeanor. Upon checking into our hotel and settling in, we found ourselves confronted with a buffet so expansive that it could not possibly be conquered, though many of our men made valiant efforts. Admitting to a rather joyous defeat, we headed off for the Temppeliaukio Church.
The Temppeliaukio Church, otherwise known as the Church of the Rock (more info at wikipedia.org/wiki/Temppeliaukio_Church) is where we were blessed to sing tonight. As I am still processing so many things, it becomes more evident to me that this was quite possibly the best place to perform our final concert. This church is actually carved into the rock, and the roof compels you to look up into the light. There is no way we should have been able to perform as well as we did – one of our best concerts for this tour – yet I can only attribute it to our choir being established and firmly grounded on the Rock Jesus Christ, and constantly looking up into the light of His face. As we offered Him everything that we had to give – our sickness, exhaustion and frustration as well as our exuberance, joy, and love – He took our helpless selves and transformed us into a work of beauty, using us to make His name great and greatly known. Though there was the bittersweet realization that this was our last concert – and for some, the last choir concert of their college career – there was also the knowledge that this is just the beginning. This is not only the beginning of a new chapter of life, but this has just been scratching the surface of the glory of heaven, and an eternity in the presence of our Lord. What a humbling honor to know that it is not in our own goodness or worth that Christ decided to use us, but because of His great love we are allowed to experience His presence and share Him with others.
Tomorrow we will get to participate in a worship service, and will spend some time debriefing as a choir before heading home on Monday. The beauty is that though we may be done with our “official” concerts, we still have an Audience of One in everything we do, and God is still moving and working in us individually, as well as a corporate body. Please join us in praying that He would continue to be glorified in us, every moment of every day, and especially in the remaining moments of this tour.
In utter amazement of Him,
Anna M. Osborne
May 28, 2010
Another day of this tour has come and gone, and the end is quickly drawing nearer and nearer. While this is the case, we are constantly being reminded by both our leadership and by God that our work here is not yet done: we power on by the strength and nourishment that God is providing us with, and constantly become more dependent on Him. We covet your prayers and ask that you continue to pray that God will provide us with strength to endure this race which has been set out before us.
This morning began at 9:30 a.m., as choir members and associates came from a variety of overnight hosts, including the Turku hostel and home-stays. The weather today was once again cool and cloudy, and the sky couldn’t seem to decide exactly what it wanted to do (many umbrellas made frequent appearances as the day progressed). After a quick stop at a spa-hotel (as coffee is an absolute NECESSITY this late in tour), the choir took a short bus tour of several Finnish Isles. I was pleasantly surprised by the freshness of the air when we stepped off the bus: thousands of pine trees and open water create a sweet, woodsy fragrance. After our tour (which took us through several churches), we were free to find lunch in a small village a few kilometers outside of Turku. After lunch, we returned to the busses and made our way back to the church in Turku. Upon arrival, we were granted a (mandatory but MUCH needed) hour of silence before our rehearsal for the concert. Choir members found themselves sleeping in pews, reading, listening to music, and just spending some time relaxing in silence. A rehearsal followed. After our own choir rehearsal, we were joined by some of the choir members from several local choirs, and we rehearsed Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” which we sang in Finnish at the end of our concert.
A quick snack followed this rehearsal, and before we knew it, we were done with our full concert. The audience was supportive and responsive, and it was clear that although the choir is exhausted as a whole, God is still able to use us for His ultimately glory--no matter what we are feeling, or how we feel we did. Following the concert, we were served a dinner provided by our concert hosts. After the meal, we were serenaded by the local choirs, and also joined together with a few of them to sing “El Hambo.” Following this celebration, choir members dispersed to their respective living environments until we meet again tomorrow, and depart for Helsinki.
We look forward to seeing what God has in store for us tomorrow as we sing a concert at the Rock Church in Helsinki.
In Christ alone,
May 27, 2010
Today dawned cloudy and early as we had a 6:30 a.m. departure to catch our ferry from Estonia to Finland. Now, when I was told we were taking a ferry, I was thinking something the size of a tugboat – little did I know it would be this gargantuan hunk of a ship the size of a cruise ship! Though it was a bit windy, the rain abated and it was a lovely sight watching the fog hiding the tops of the skyscrapers as we pulled out of Tallinn.
Two and a half hours later we arrived in Helsinki, Finland for a quick lunch stop and we were off again, this time by bus for a 2 hr. trip. We had some free upon arrival in Turku, which I enjoyed by perusing through the market square, spending some time at the local library, and walking by the river. Many people went to the nearby cathedral noticing the differences in Finland compared to the past countries we were in. This is a much more prosperous country and looks very much like Minnesota though there are many bicyclists traveling in town. We all reconvened for dinner at a wonderful restaurant, complete with entertainment spontaneously presented by members of our tour.
Evening time found us splitting off – some to home stays for the night, and some to a hostel. More exploring was in order for those staying in the hostel, as well as some shopping for clothing, chocolate, and the like. A local café was a point of interest for some as they had some wonderful hot chocolate and music. I am at the hostel, and actually listening to the sounds of my roommates sleeping as I finish this post. Though today has been a travel day and has felt rather choppy, it has still been a good day. Please continue to pray for health as we have several people struggling with colds and sickness ; pray that we would be able to finish this leg of the race strongly. It is starting to dawn on us that this tour is almost over – in some ways it feels like it just began, in other ways it feels like we have been here for years. As much as we are looking forward to being home and seeing all of you, we also want to faithfully finish the work that God has given us here. We may not even know exactly what that is some of the time, but half of the fun is in the journey. May you cherish these next couple of days with us as we look forward to what God still has planned to do through us.
For His Glory,
Anna M. Osborne
May 26, 2010
With an intense balance of singing and touring, our last day in Tallinn proved to be exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, and bittersweet. Our concert this evening at St. Olaf Church was beautiful and inspiring, and the responsive audience allowed us to witness God’s work within the people of Estonia. It becomes more and more evident every day of this tour that we are here because God willed us to be here, and that our purpose is not only to sing, but to witness to people through song and human interaction. One woman who attended our concert in Narva travelled three and a half hours today to attend our concert in Tallinn because she was so impressed and blessed by the work of this ensemble (and ultimately, the Lord.) It was so reassuring for us to personally witness the effect that our hard work and year-long dedication to choir is able to produce.
This morning, the choir had a free morning to eat breakfast at the hotel, sleep in, explore the city, or grab some delicious European coffee at one of the many unique coffee shops. After our free morning, we met at the hotel and bussed over to St. Olaf Church for a rehearsal. The church was beautiful, and the acoustics were great for choral music. After some rehearsing, we had the opportunity to either return to the hotel or spend more time exploring the “Old City.” Also, one of the seven pastors of the church offered to take us up the top of bell tower. After an intense journey up about 250 stone steps, we found ourselves on the top of the bell tower, looking out over the entire city and Baltic Sea. The view was truly breathtaking (figuratively and literally due to the stairs!).
The rest of the afternoon was our own until an early dinner at 3:30. After dinner (which we had at the hotel), we left for the church to perform our 6:00 o’clock concert.
What was an incredible day has turned into an early night for the members of the choir, as we have to be up bright and early tomorrow to catch our 8:00 a.m. ferry to Finland!
Always under His mercy,
(On behalf of the entire Northwestern College Choir and Associates)
May 25, 2010
What an amazing day.
As we were getting ready to head out on a guided tour of the city this morning, the final box of robes and program box both showed up! As the carrier walked into the lobby he became slightly confused as to why so many people were cheering for him, but it was explained. We are so thankful that they arrived safely, and though some might disagree with me, I am glad they arrived when they did. Not only do we have them in time for our concert tomorrow, it was a constant reminder that we are not called to worship and serve God when it is convenient, or under our terms, but we are called to a lifestyle of surrender. We are also in the hands of a merciful God, and it is only in His strength that “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
After this joyous reunion we headed out on our tour. It included visiting the amphitheater at which the Singing Revolution began, eventually leading to Estonia’s freedom and independence. As I walked into the field surrounding it, I was overwhelmed with the weight of history represented around me, and the reality of the significance music has played in the lives of these people. I was even more overwhelmed as I discovered that we were actually going to sing from the amphitheater – to stand in the same place that this all began, and in some small way to be a part of the tradition that is carried on in this place. As we sang “Cantate Domino” (Sing to the Lord a New Song – from Psalm 33) it really did feel like a new song - one of greater understanding, and a greater sense of His faithfulness.
In case our musical experiences had not been expanded enough this morning, slightly later in the tour we were allowed the privilege of singing “Otche Nosh” (“The Lord’s Prayer” in Russian) in a Russian Orthodox Church, thanks to the work of Steve Benham. This is the second time (that I know of) that this song has made a massive impact – people at the church not only became silent as we were singing, but came up to us with tears in their eyes, thanking us for singing. It is very fitting though, that as we sing “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” He would complete His will through us to touch those around us. May His will continue to be done on this tour.
The rest of the day found people exploring and discovering this city, from chocolate shops, to water fountains, to panoramic views. The newlywed couple on tour with us actually saw a wedding at two in the afternoon today which was absolutely lovely. I greatly enjoyed watching the people of this city this afternoon; ladies walking home from work, children counting stairs as they scampered down several flights, and men sweeping off patios. Though it was a bit chilly, there was so much life and light pervading today, and was just a day of much-appreciated peace. This evening was a time of fellowship as I went to dinner with some lovely ladies, several people went to the local opera, and the seniors had Seniors Night Out. I would ask you to pray that as we continue to encourage and support each other, we would encourage and support those we come in contact with, especially at tomorrow’s concert.
In His Grace,
Anna M. Osborne
The Beauty in Traveling-a Tour manager's perspective
I love to travel. I’m not sure exactly why I love it so much. There is just such a rush discovering a new beauty in the world you didn’t know was there; hearing languages spoken around you and not really being sure what’s going on. Since I usually like being in control of my environment, I’m surprised at myself for enjoying that little bit of discomfort. There’s something very freeing to totally not understanding a culture or language or even what’s going on around me and not HAVING to know, but slowly discovering it for myself. I’ll sit in a restaurant and try to determine what the couple next to us is discussing by facial expressions and gestures. Grocery stores are one of my favorite things. If I’m looking for cream for my coffee, since I don’t read the language, I’ll pay attention to the picture on the front or the size of the container, the price and my best reasoning as to what might actually be cream. I go home with sour cream instead. Oh well. It’s the discovery of the unknown that exhilarates and frees me.
Somehow for some reason, God has given me the gift of travel in my job. I direct tours for ensembles. I love it as well but for totally different reasons. Since it’s my job, I must understand and know exactly what we’re doing and where we are going. What time we are leaving and how long it will take us to be there. It a whole lot like herding cats and sometimes very frustrating and yet for some reason, I love it. I love the look of discovery in the eyes of the student when they see beauty in the world they never knew existed. When you are on the road when 90 other people there is very little freedom but there is also the ability to connect with the people of a culture that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. I love that I was able to have a conversation with our local tour guide about what it was like to live as a child with Soviet occupation and not being able to speak his own language or fly his own country’s flag or even celebrate Christmas in public. They would pull the curtains of the window and quietly celebrate and then not be able to tell their friends because you just never know who you can really trust. After growing up like that, how did he learn to be such an open and delightful man? I love when the ensembles perform for an audience and they speak to each other even though words haven’t been used. “We are all part of the same world”, you see in each other’s eyes. There is acceptance and delight.
A highlight happened for me the other night. I’m on tour with our choir in Estonia. We are performing in an old cathedral that is located on the Russian border. The building was bombed in WWII and used as a warehouse during Soviet occupation. It has mystery and history in its walls. I welcome the people and hand them a program as they come in. They are a reserved people who usually only nod at my smile and poor attempt to say hello to each. But there is such resolve in their eyes, in the lines of their faces that has seen so much struggle and persecution. They have survived. They will survive. I am honored to have met them and be able in some small way to bring pleasure to their lives through the music that is shared. As the choir’s voices were raised in beautiful harmony and filled the dome of the cathedral, tears run down my face. Tears I don’t fully understand but embrace just the same. I am exhausted from little sleep due to jet lag and the busyness of the bus rides and schedule we must keep. Some of the tears might be for that. But mostly, I feel honored that for a tiny moment of time in history, to have known this place, this people, these emotions. I have discovered a beauty in the world I didn’t know existed. And for that reason, I will keep on traveling.
May 23, 2010
This morning found us coming together from all corners of Tartu – from home stays, the seminary, and the church – in order to be part of the morning worship service at Salem Baptist Church (where we held the concert last night). I was blessed to get to stay at someone’s house last night, and as I spoke with other choir members, the theme that seemed to pervade all our stories was the hospitality of the people in spite of their monetary and materialistic struggles. In the same breath that they were apologetic about not having more to give, they were giving us everything we could possibly want, and beyond that. We were able to worship with so many of these people this morning, and taking part in a service that was in a different language was a very unique and wonderful experience.
After church we loaded the buses and headed for Narva, with a lunch stop along the way. Alexander’s Cathedral was the venue for our concert tonight, and fit beautifully with so much of our music. This cathedral was significantly damaged during the Second World War, and is finally undergoing restoration. The architecture of the church is absolutely lovely, yet the raw, exposed, and mutilated damaged areas bring a greater understanding of what this building has lived through, and more importantly, what these people have lived through. We discovered that we actually got to open the concert season for the cathedral – as it is still under renovation they are only able to use it during the summer – and we had the privilege of being the first group to perform in the cathedral this season, and the first American choir ever to perform there. These people are so very gracious, and it was amazing to get to share music with them.
A late dinner at the hotel brought this day (or at least the scheduled portion) to a close, and brings me to close on this thought: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 124:8. Though this weekend has been a challenging in many regards (4 performances in 3 cities in 48 hrs) we know that it is only in the Lord’s strength that we are able to do anything, and in this we rejoice and take hope, knowing He will complete His purposes for us.
By His strength alone,
Anna M. Osborne
May 22, 2010
If Minnesota’s “state bird” is supposedly the mosquito, I’m certain that it must be Estonia’s as well. While the buzzing pests are multitudinous and twice the size of Minnesota’s, this choir is counting it a blessing that we have safely traveled from our first Baltic destination to our second. A few hours on a bus this morning and afternoon had us arriving at Salem Baptist Church in Tartu, Estonia. We praise God for his sovereignty and guiding hands in our travels.
Salem Baptist Church is a beautiful facility boasting a modestly-sized sanctuary with very high, light wood ceilings: the perfect environment for live choral music. After a rehearsal in the performance space, the wonderful church-staff and volunteers prepared us dinner. It was a time of great food, wonderful company, and preparation for our concert. We were able to sing our “Thank You” song for the servers--inserting the Estonian word for “thank you” in the mix at the last second. This language made for an interesting jumble of words...i.e. “When we sing in Estonian” <----- typically a two syllable word. After dinner, we dressed for our concert, which today meant our tour-polos and black pants/skirts (we’re still missing robes that were lost coming here!) and had a devotional time.
The concert itself was quite the experience. The small sanctuary was quite full of local people and church members who appreciated our music and ministry so much. Also in the audience was Mark Jennings, the composer of one of our settings of the ancient poem “O Crux.” Following the final set of the concert, we exited into the street for our ceremonial tour huddle, only to be herded back into the church to sing an encore for the completely standing audience. It was so apparent that God was working through us and our music to touch the hearts and lift the spirits of the people in audience. It was wonderfully reassuring to know that even when small things may go wrong in a performance, or when we are extremely tired from jet-lag or the heat in the church, God can still work through us to touch so many individuals. His presence was evident tonight.
Following the concert, some of the choir members headed out to local home stays with families from the church, some students left for a nearby seminary to stay in, and many of us are here in the church for the night.
As tour continues, we would ask for continued prayer from you. As I’ve mentioned previously, it is incredibly encouraging and uplifting to know that we have all of you friends and family members back home who are adamantly supporting us through prayer. I ask for prayer specifically for the box of missing robes we have yet to receive. Pray that God would help that box find us (especially as the likelihood of finding it got much slimmer when we moved out of Latvia). Also, prayer for general health in the choir would be extremely appreciated. Some singers are battling colds and allergies, and for others, jet lag is providing less than the optimal amount of energy needed for a journey like this one.
We miss you all, though we are incredibly uplifted to see the work that God is doing in these countries.
Always under His mercy,
(on behalf of the entire Northwestern College Choir and associates)
May 21, 2010
By the grace of God we received Dr. Kolwinska’s trombone and the rest of everyone’s luggage today before our first concert. We are still missing one box of robes, which meant that the most practical fix was to have five people sit out the concert. Fortunately we had some people who were not in full voice to begin with, but please continue to pray that the robes will arrive…especially before we leave tomorrow morning to head for Estonia.
Our first concert was wonderful, and we have also officially been initiated by Latvian bugs as massive horseflies were attacking Mr. Sawyer and Shaylee Carlson during the concert – no harm done. Aside from the bugs, I loved the rest of our audience. Many of the people stayed to talk with us and take pictures after the concert. Maria Notch, wife of choir member Jacob Notch, also informed me that while we were singing “Otche Nosh” (The Lord’s Prayer in Russian), many of the audience members began to sing along with us. If the only thing we were able to do during our concert was minster to them by singing the Lord’s Prayer with them, that would have been enough, but we were able to worship with them by sharing with them through so many other songs, which was truly a gift of God. The history of the Riga Dome and the spiritual changes it has undergone is also quite …. A brief history and spot to begin more research can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riga_Cathedral.
Tomorrow dawns bright and early, as we head to Estonia. Your continued prayers are greatly coveted, as we know that anything we do is not in our own strength, but we as a choir and the body of Christ know that “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” – Exodus 15: 2
In His Service, Anna M. Osborne
May 20, 2010 Hello friends!
As tour continues, God’s ever-present grace and mercies are becoming increasingly more and more evident in a multitude of ways.
When the day began, a bountiful breakfast was made available to us at our hotel. Buffet lines of fresh fruits, meats, and various carbohydrates (perhaps the lightest and most deliciously flakey croissants I’ve ever tasted) greeted us, accompanied by the news that some thirty of our missing suitcases and equipment boxes had arrived at the hotel. While our prayers have been answered (Praise the Lord!), there are still several individuals who are luggage-less, and would appreciate greatly continued prayer for the safe and timely return of their belongings. We have yet to receive all of the choir robes, and with a concert in less than 24 hours fast approaching, the missing boxes could potentially create an undesirable wardrobe dilemma. Plus Jeremy Kolwinska's trombone is still missing. We all thank you all so much for your prayers, and ask you to continue to pray for us specifically regarding these matters. We know that God has a plan for our concert, and anxiously await that time of worship while preparing our hearts and minds for what we have been rehearsing so diligently to accomplish.
Following our first breakfast in Latvia, the group split into two groups for a guided three-hour tour of the city. The tour took us on two motor-coaches through various parts of Riga. The time was well balanced between viewing attractions from the bus and walking through the streets. The varying architecture of Riga’s buildings, churches, and cathedrals is truly beyond words. Elaborate brick work and carved statues make frequent appearances on the exterior of nearly every building in the city, and rustic cobblestone roads compose the paths through outdoor plazas, streets, and alleyways. While some of the architecture is more modern, we also were able to view establishments built during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Restaurants, shops, and outdoor markets create a vibrant atmosphere unlike any city I’ve visited in the United States. A city-tour highlight occurred a few minutes after a Latvian man with a grungy french horn innocently asked Natalie Cromwell where our large group was from. Naturally, she responded by telling him that we are from the United States. Five minutes later, the same man (in harmony with another man--this one holding a tuba) serenaded us in the streets with our own country’s music--”America the Beautiful.” Some choir members joined them in singing, while others listened and enjoyed.
Following the city tour, choir members were able to spend the majority of the afternoon exploring the city, finding lunch, shopping, relaxing, etc.Other individuals relaxed around the hotel--everyone seems to be dealing with the jet lag in their own ways.
All-in-all, today proved to be a successful, fun, and satisfying (albeit tiring) day. We look forward to tomorrow, as it is our first day of music-making in the Baltics. The choir will be presenting a concert at the Riga Dome church, a magnificent architectural structure and famous city landmark we were able to view (externally only) on our tour this morning. We were happy and relieved that Mr. Sawyer was able to arrive in Latvia safely this afternoon. I am sure that continued prayer focused on lifting up the Sawyer family would be greatly appreciated during this time.
Until next time--Blessings!
(On behalf of the entire Northwestern College Choir and associates)
May 19, 2010
I personally was very grateful for the reminder early on that God is still in control – sometimes we tend to forget. Like when 30 items of luggage were lost somewhere between the United States and Riga, Latvia, where we are all safely now. Most of the luggage lost were all of our choir robes and program boxes, but there are a select few of us who are missing our main luggage (note to self – good job on packing extra stuff in your carry on…maybe pack PJ’s next time).
Otherwise, Latvia has been wonderful so far. After checking in at our hotel, some friends and I headed out to find food and explore the Old City. After eating some delicious food and laughing at our ineptitude to figure out the exchange rate and tip, we headed out in search of some laid-back adventure. These adventures included taking rowboats out for a spin on a river, taking lots of pictures of old buildings, admiring St. Peter’s church, and conversing with a cute little old lady who was selling flowers on the bridge crossing the river we rowed on. She was so very patient with us, and one of the guys bought flowers from her that smelled absolutely wonderful. Street-corner musicians playing into the setting sun, laundry hanging across the streets a story up, and people strolling contentedly as evening fell brought a gentle close to a lovely day.
Tomorrow is another adventure…for some of us the first adventure will be figuring out what to wear…but life is so much more fun if you are in it for the journey, and not the destination. Bring on the adventure, for “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” – Lamentations 3:22-23
Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone),
Anna M. Osborne
May 18, 2010 Baltics Tour, Day No. 1
Dear beloved friends and family:
It is with great joy that I can report the safe arrival of the Northwestern College Choir members and associates to our first Baltic destination: Riga, Latvia. Though our travels were extensive and exhausting, they were also most certainly exciting. The simple fact that the choir was able to arrive at our exact destination in a most timely fashion is truly a testament of God’s great grace and power. Thankfully, the winds were blowing in our favor as we traveled today (...and yesterday!), and no volcano-related “turbulence” was able to stand in the way of our mission to arrive in one piece. God is truly good.
Our traveling escapades began at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday (Central Standard Time) as we gathered in the Robertson Student Center on Northwestern’s Campus to pack up the luggage and center our minds and hearts around what we are setting out to do. We were extremely blessed by the presence of Northwestern College faculty and staff who wished us well and came to be a part of our departure. It is such a blessing to know that we have adamant support in prayer by professors and college staff who care so much about us and our mission to share the love of Jesus through song with the people of these Baltic Nations. A short trip to the Humphrey terminal had us in and out of security and onboard our first flight to Reykjavik, iceland. Almost immediately following this flight, we boarded our second flight of the travel-saga, which took us from Reykjavik to Helsinki, Finland. Finally, once in Finland, we split into two groups. The first group (namely the soprano section and the robe crew) took the first flight to Riga. A four hour layover gave the rest of the choir and associates the opportunity to find nourishment (no meals or snacks were provided on either of the flights), stretch our anxious bodies, and “Catch Some Z’s” (to use Dawson Muska’s terminology). The second half of the group soon found ourselves on our final flight of the day(s). Perhaps what made the long day of traveling more bearable (besides the wonderful company we found ourselves surrounded by, obviously) was the fact that each of the three flights became progressively shorter and shorter.
May 12, 2010
My name is Anna Osborne, and I am very excited to bring you along on our tour of Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. I am a member of the college choir, and I will be one of the people giving you updates on where we are, how we are, and how God is moving. We look forward to sharing this experience with you, and continue to covet your prayers.
Over the past couple of weeks, it has finally registered with the choir that we are actually going on tour. Though we have been on this journey since last fall as we began preparing music, we are at last in the final climactic stages of seeing all the hard work pay off. Something that has made this trip seem more real was the movie The Singing Revolution that we have recently watched as a choir. It has given us such a greater understanding of the people, the culture, and how much they really need the light, hope and peace of Christ. If you would like to learn more about the history of the wonderful people that we will get to interact with, please visit www.singingrevolution.com–there is a trailer of the movie, and also a lot of historical information.
We also just completed both of our Bon Voyage concerts – one at Christ Presbyterian Church, and the second at the Cathedral of Saint Paul. We were very blessed to have so many of you there supporting and encouraging us, and very honored to be able to perform at each of the venues. Being able to share our music with you reminded us of why we are going on this tour: to serve others and share Christ’s love with them. I definitely got goose bumps thinking that I, an unworthy sinner whose righteousness and all goodness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), was allowed to be a part of the work that God is doing. What an awesome God we serve!
So amidst pulling together the last-minute details, finishing finals, drinking entirely too much coffee, and trying to remember everything that I am supposed to pack, I am constantly reminded that it is not about us, but about Christ working through us. We are so blessed that Christ has and is working through you as well – we really could not go on this tour without your support – not just financially, but especially your support through prayer. Please continue to pray that our hearts and attitudes would be that of humility and servanthood, that we would have unity as a choir as we love and honor each other as better than ourselves (Romans 12:10), and that through this we would also be able to love and honor those whom we meet. May He be truly glorified in all that we do and say.
Until next time,