SEMARANG, Indonesia — A trip to Indonesia changed the way that 29 students see the world. From June 26 to July 14, the Chamber Choir of the Mennonite Children’s Choir of Lancaster (MCCL) participated in a GO! Summer mission assignment with Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM). 

The trip challenged participants to widen their worldviews in the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Before this trip, choir member Elizabeth Lantz was hesitant about interacting with Muslims, having had little exposure to adherents of Islam.

Rosemary Blessing leads the choir in singing at the palace of Prince Dipokusomo of the Surakarta Sultanate. Photo by Beth Hake.
Rosemary Blessing leads the choir in singing at the palace of Prince Dipokusomo of the Surakarta Sultanate. Photo by Beth Hake.

Recalling one of the choir’s performances, Lantz said, “When we stopped [singing], you could hear the call to prayer.” Coming from the local mosque, this loudspeaker invocation reminded Lantz and the choir just how different this place was from the U.S. The trip allowed Lantz to have several faith conversations with Muslims, changing her preconceptions. 

Lantz, reflecting on how this trip influenced her, shared how she felt in Indonesia, “I want everyone I know to be here, experiencing this with me.”

The choir, directed by Rosemary Blessing, had several once-in-a-lifetime singing venues: four airports, multiple museums, several Mennonite churches, two cultural festivals also featuring Muslim and Buddhist performances, a rice field, the tip of a volcano, two Islamic boarding schools, a palace, and one mosque.

Rosie Westgate (right) made a new friend at a boarding school in Banyutowo. Photo by Beth Hake.

Josh Blessing, trip chaperone and husband of the choir’s artistic director, shared about how the two schools were excited to have the choir sing. These visits provided unique opportunities for Christian-Muslim dialogue. 

The choir was able to sing in a mosque with no restrictions on references to Jesus. “Music can have that kind of impact,” said Josh Blessing, indicating that the choir was able to use music as a vehicle for mission.

These interfaith experiences were organized by the director of the Indonesian Mennonite Diakonal Service, Paulus Hartono, who has worked with peacemaking and Christian-Muslim relations in his city of Solo and throughout the country for the past 20 years. Following his experience with the Chamber Choir, Hartono posted a video on Facebook proposing three languages for peace: smiles, singing, and taking pictures. The choir members did, in fact, “speak” those languages of peace while in Indonesia.

In May 2018, five bombings took place in the Indonesian city of Surabaya — three churches were among the targets of the attacks. In the weeks leading up to the trip “it became quite important for EMM to be involved in this trip after the terrorist attacks,” said Troy Landis, EMM discipleship coach, trip chaperone, and former EMM worker to Indonesia. 

Both the Chamber Choir and an Indonesian choir sang in a rice field. Trip participants stop to listen to Indonesian music.
Both the Chamber Choir and an Indonesian choir sang in a rice field. Trip participants stop to listen to Indonesian music.

“We were able to get feedback directly from our friends on the ground in Indonesia, as well as from people who had served there in the past. This helped to quell fears of the MCCL board and parents,” Landis said. After intensive security analyses, EMM, its Indonesian partners, and MCCL determined that the risk level for the choir was low. 

However, families of choir members were given the final decision on whether to allow their children to participate in the trip. Nearly all of the families decided to continue as planned. Landis recalls one parent sharing, “We thought about it. We’re scared, but we’re going.”

Choir members used the entire year to prepare for their third international trip with EMM’s GO! Summer program — a short-term mission exposure opportunity offered during the summer, with both local and global opportunities. Previous international trips included locations such as Germany, Albania, and Bulgaria. 

The choir learned several Indonesian songs, and also visited the Philadelphia Indonesian Mennonite Church. Among multiple fundraisers for the trip, one was particularly noteworthy — a dinner featuring authentic Indonesian cuisine.

choir members
Choir members take a group “selfie” with new friends at a boarding school in Solo. Photo by Beth Hake.

Participants were required to go through an application process with EMM, slightly-abbreviated from the version that other short-term applicants undergo. Much like EMM’s other global workers, participants experienced discipleship, culture, and language training in preparation for this trip.

MCCL’s international trips with EMM are different than a lot of other international trips for students. “Many times you just show up,” said Rosemary Blessing, Chamber Choir artistic director. However, choir members did “what adults do before going into a missional context.”

The choir’s mission is to train children and youth to glorify Jesus Christ through excellent choral singing. MCCL’s five different groups — one of which is the Chamber Choir — have approximately 170 members representing 75 congregations from 17 denominations. A program of Lancaster Mennonite School, MCCL also includes students from 53 different schools, as well as homeschooled students.