SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BAND MINISTERS IN HONG KONG AND MAINLAND CHINA
Give thanks with a grateful heart
The band performs at New Town Plaza
BY LAMBERT BITTINGER –
Twenty-eight band members from five different corps of the Southern California Division joined in an adventure that would change their lives: the Southern California Divisional Band, under the leadership of Divisional Music Ministries Director Kevin Larsson, traveled across the Pacific Ocean to support the Hong Kong and Macau Command Congress 2002 “Moving Forward in Faith.”
The special guests for the congress were Southern California Divisional Commanders Lt. Colonels Alfred and Sherryl Van Cleef.
Over four days, the band participated in nine engagements including two Festivals of Music, two school assemblies, two open-air meetings, two fellowship rehearsals and a Holiness Meeting. But what makes a band trip of this nature special are the connections made with the people.
During the nine engagements, the band played to more than 6,000 people. After each performance, the members of the band took the opportunity to speak with people in the audiences. These connections often transcended the inability to speak Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese.
The two Salvation Army school assemblies were special examples of the connections. The first assembly was at the William Booth Secondary School. The band members were asked to remain for a time after the assembly to meet with the 12th grade students in order to allow them the opportunity to practice their English. The second assembly was at the Anne Wylie Primary School. While these young students were waiting for the program to begin, the officer stationed at the school had them sing. It was both a moving and inspiring experience to hear these children sing “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” first in Chinese then in English. After the assembly, the children asked to have their pictures taken with members of the band.
The two rehearsals with members of bands from around the Hong Kong area were another opportunity to make connections. The international fellowship of Salvation Army music making was evident. The beauty of Army banding is that wherever you go, you can go to a corps with a band and play the same music as you play in your home corps. These times of sharing and fellowship were also very special.
A witness for Jesus
But it was the consensus of the band members that our train ride into mainland China to the city of Guangzhou (formerly Canton) was the highlight of the weekend. Traveling in our uniforms, walking around the business district of Guangzhou, the band took the opportunity to be witnesses for Jesus.
The venue for the evening concert was in the largest of eight state-approved Protestant churches in Guangzhou, a city of more than three million. The 4,000 member congregation worships in a beautiful 80 year-old church. When the band’s bus arrived at the church an hour before starting time, the band members found the church already filling up. By the start of the festival, there were more than 1,800 people in attendance with rows four and five deep standing in the back of the church, as well as in every doorway. A separate building, where a video feed of the concert was being shown, was also full to overflowing.
Aaron Stanley, Torrance Corps, said “This has been an eye-opening experience, especially in Communist China with the police always watching. It makes you appreciate living in the United States.” Joann Louangamath, Whittier Corps, said “China was the best part. Seeing so many people worshiping in a communist city, we can’t take our worship for granted.” And Cory Moore, Torrance Corps, said the mainland China visit made him realize “what it means to be a Christian, seeing how much people are willing to risk for their faith.” He said “It makes me think of how much more we can do in our own country; we take so much for granted.”
None of the members of the band will ever forget this time and experience. We may never meet with any of those people we connected with again in this lifetime. But each of us has the faith to believe that we will be re-united again when we all come face to face with the Lord and Savior of us all.
As the primary school children sang, each member of the band “gives thanks with a grateful heart” for the opportunity we had to provide some assistance to the work of The Salvation Army in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The people and the Army in China have become a part of our lives. For us there will always be a China connection.