When Shorter University Director of Choral Activities Dr. Stefanie Cash began planning the Shorter Chorale’s summer tour in Cape Town, South Africa, she held fast to a prayer she had recited many, many times before.
“For four years, I had been praying that the lives of our students would be changed forever,” Dr. Cash, who also serves as Associate Professor of Music, said. “My heart’s cry was for their worldview to be completely altered from an international trip. By God’s grace, and through the many wonderful people we met and the experiences we shared, I believe that was accomplished.”
At the start of the past academic year, Dr. Cash began carefully orchestrating the Chorale’s international trip, tailoring each selection the group performed during the year to culminate into a perfect mix of songs that would be sung on an entirely different continent before audiences who had experienced entirely different life events. As she worked to perfect the music, the then-upcoming international trip began to grow into a three-pronged tour that would span several townships of Cape Town. Months later, when the 21 Shorter University Chorale members, their accompanist Daniel Ng, and Dr. Cash boarded a plane bound for the South African port city, it was clear: They were on a mission to serve, sing, and see.
During the nine-day trip in May, Shorter Chorale members spent three and a half days working with Living Hope, a ministry aimed at reaching people for Christ by bringing hope and breaking the despair of poverty and disease. Through the students’ work with kids clubs and singing during church services and Bible studies, members of the Chorale experienced the distinct power of music and its ability to forge connections with people of different cultures, Dr. Cash said.
On the students’ first day working with Living Hope, they toured several of the organization’s ministry sites including a branch called Living Care. A chance encounter with an elderly woman being treated at the facility, which focuses on health care and ministering to the sick and dying, became a poignant experience for recent Shorter University graduate Ashley Poole.
“This sweet elderly women was so excited to see us. She came up to every member of the Chorale and learned each of our names. When she found out that we were a choir, she asked us to sing for her,” Poole remembers. “We sang the song that became our mantra while in Cape Town: ‘Come Unto Me,’ which was written by Shorter alumnus Cliff Duren.”
Duren’s song is based on Matthew 11:28-29, which says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” The song they had sung many times before suddenly took on a new meaning for the Chorale as they performed for just one person, she said.
“Every member of the Chorale was giving their all — not only as an act of worship to God, but also to bring hope and joy to this precious, elderly, sick woman,” Poole said. “I think this was one of the first times that everyone understood our purpose while in Cape Town. We were using our gifts and talents to share the love of Jesus and encourage her. It was a sweet moment that I know I will never forget.”
A couple of days later, after performing for a Living Hope support group for recovering drug and alcohol addicts, the Shorter Chorale again was moved by the reaction of those who heard them perform.
“On Tuesday, we sang for about 30 or 40 women at Bible study in Ocean View,” Dr. Cash said. “In preparation for going to South Africa, we learned different songs in several of the country’s native languages, and we sang for residents in their native languages. That particular township spoke Afrikaans.
“When we sang to people in their native languages, they went crazy, but I had not found a song in Afrikaans to take with us,” Dr. Cash continued. “So we asked them to teach us some songs in Afrikaans after we performed. We spent another 15 to 20 minutes learning Afrikaans songs and singing together about Christ. We could truly feel the Lord’s presence surrounding us.”
Then, Dr. Cash said, leaders opened the floor to anyone in the audience who wanted to say a few words. Four ladies quickly got up and began to speak Scripture over each member of the Shorter University Chorale. The women then took the time to talk to individual members of the choral group.
“They were very encouraging to our students about the gifts that God has given us and how we are using them for His kingdom,” she said. “It was a very precious time of encouragement.”
Poole, who begins her music education career as the choral director at Hiram High School this fall, said the opportunity to work alongside employees with Living Hope and sing for the ministry’s clients greatly impacted her own faith. She was challenged by the lives of those she met and was encouraged by the unconditional love employees of Living Hope showed to the people they served.
“It challenged me to serve sacrificially in my own community, just as they do in their communities,” she said. “I was reminded that, above all, we are called to grow where we are planted and serve the Lord wherever He places us. I was also reminded of how important it is for me to use my gifts for His glory.”
Poole said the Chorale had many memorable experiences in South Africa that helped remind her of the power of music. One such experience happened in a place that was once filled with pain and despair: Robben Island. Located in Table Bay, off the west coast of Cape Town, the island was home to political prisoners dating back to the 17th Century. Its most notable prisoner was former South African President Nelson Mandela.
As members of the Chorale made their way through the buildings of the desolate prison, imagining what it must have been like to be held for an uncertain period of time away from family and friends, their tour guide recounted his own experience as a prisoner on the island during the Apartheid movement, Poole said. Listening to his personal stories, it only seemed fitting to sing a prayer for peace in the dining hall, which was the last stop of the tour. They asked their guide what his native language was, and began to sing in Zulu.
“Ukuthula kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyenyez’ ukuthula
(Peace in this world of sin (Halleluja) the blood of Jesus brings peace)
Usindiso kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyenyez’ usindiso
(Redemption in this world of sin (Halleluja) the blood of Jesus brings redemption)
Ukubonga kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyenyez’ ukubonga
(Praise in this world of sin (Halleluja) the blood of Jesus brings praise)
Ukukholwa kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyenyez’ ukukholwa
(Faith in this world of sin (Halleluja) the blood of Jesus brings faith)
Ukunqoba kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyenyez’ ukunqoba
(Victory in this world of sin (Halleluja) the blood of Jesus brings victory)
Induduzo kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyenyez’ induduzo
(Comfort in this world of sin (Halleluja) the blood of Jesus brings comfort)”
“We sang ‘Ukuthula’ for him, which is a Zulu prayer for peace,” Poole said. “The song was especially appropriate, given our surroundings and the history that it represented. As we sang the song, we began to understand how desperately these people — and our world — need peace. The reaction of our tour guide made the impromptu performance even more meaningful. He was so touched that we knew a song in his language that he thanked us with tears in his eyes.”
Such transformational moments, which Dr. Cash describes as “God moments,” were brought up each day. She said listening to their stories further reinforced that her prayer was being answered.
“To watch them talking about story after story where they were impacted was incredible,” Dr. Cash said. “You go on these trips wanting to serve and wanting to be a blessing to others, and most of the time it’s us that comes back completely changed — which was my prayer for four years. That is an amazing feeling, and I am so blessed to have been a part of this experience with these students.”
Poole said that she has had the opportunity to go on several international mission trips, each of which has reminded her that although we may all speak different languages, have different cultural backgrounds, and have different stories, we serve the same God.
“I was touched again and again by the worshipful experiences that we had with the South African people,” she said. “The fact that music was the means to close these gaps changed my worldview.”
On their last night in Cape Town, the Shorter Chorale performed a joint concert with the University of Cape Town. It was to be the seniors’ final concert as members of the Shorter Chorale. They had seen and done so much over the course of the days they had spent in South Africa, and they were exhausted.
“When you’re tired, you don’t sing in tune,” Dr. Cash said. “A lot of the students told us later that they really didn’t want to do go on, that they were done, but we chatted about how this was our ministry, how we needed to do this for God. We knew we had an audience in which many of them may not know Him, so we needed to share our music and sing about God through the texts that we had.”
The Chorale began with their African pieces, with the intent to transition into to their English selections.
“We started with a song in the language known as Xhosa. We started singing and the audience just went crazy, and as soon as the audience got excited and began ululating, saying, “La, la, la, la, la, la!” and clapping and cheering, everything changed with our students,” Dr. Cash said. “They were so energized by the response of our crowd, so we sang the other African piece that we had. Again, there was such a strong response that I decided to change the program right then and there to do all four African pieces. The last one was ‘Tshotsholosa,’ their unofficial national anthem, so I asked the audience to sing along with us.”
Poole described that moment as one of her most exciting performances.
“When we began to sing this piece, the audience and the University of Cape Town choir stood to their feet and began to sing with us,” she said. “The energy in the room was electric, and that was the most fun that I have ever had singing.
“As is tradition, the Chorale ended our portion of the concert with ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,’ she went on to say. “When the song began, everyone in the choir began to hold hands, a lasting symbol that although this was the last time that the choir would exist with these particular people, we are still family, bonded by our love for Christ, music and each other.”
As the connection that music can have across cultures and languages again emerged, Dr. Cash’s prayer was answered. Worldviews were changed, not only for Shorter’s students, but for many people who were in the room that evening singing together in harmony.
“That was a very powerful moment,” Dr. Cash said. “Even our bus driver said it was evident that Christ was a part of our music, which made a difference to him, which made a difference to us. We were part of something bigger, and my prayer was answered.”
SEE A GALLERY OF IMAGES FROM THE TRIP
Founded in 1873, Shorter University is a Christian university committed to excellence in education. The Princeton Review annually includes Shorter on its list of best Southeastern Colleges. Shorter University is a member of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Shorter offers traditional bachelor’s degree program in 48 areas of study, online courses and degree programs, undergraduate programs for working adults, and master’s degrees. Shorter is online at www.shorter.edu.