July 15, 2011
By Jennifer Willis
The power of music can cross barriers, as eight GCU students and Campus Music Minister Gabe Salazar recently saw for themselves.
Spending 16 days in Rwanda, on the continent of Africa, Salazar and the students had their eyes opened in ways they never would have imagined.
Gabe Salazar makes a new friend on the recent mission trip to the African country of Rwanda.
"You can really only say so much about a trip like that," said Salazar, the director of GCU's New Life Singers. "It's something people need to experience. Our kids came back with a completely different perspective on things, wanting to make a change in their lives and others'. It had a significant impact on all of us."
Salazar worked with the Africa Mission Alliance, which helped the group plan its activities. The team spent its time visiting with families in remote areas, working with children at two elementary schools run by AMA and helping to build a mud brick house for a widow with two small children.
"There were 400 kids at each school and only a handful of us," Salazar said. "The kids are so starved for attention that they swarm you and fight the crowd just for a chance to grab on to one of your fingers. It was a little overwhelming at first, especially since we didn't speak the language. We couldn't tell them 'no' when one would push another one just to get to you."
"They were so full of love and joy, though. It really was infectious."
The highlight of the trip was the opportunity to spend time with the Asante Children's Choir. The choir is made up of 24 children ages 6-11 from East Africa, a region recovering from years of civil war and genocide.
"Asante" is a Swahili word meaning "thank you" in English. According to its website, the choir is "dedicated to spreading love, hope and joy while raising awareness for the desperate plight of orphans and other vulnerable children."
Aileen Galaz says the group from GCU connected in powerful ways with the children on the trip.
Salazar and the GCU students taught the choir songs in English, and the choir taught them traditional African songs and dances.
"We really bonded with the Asante kids," Salazar said. "There were definitely some tears shed the night we had to tell them goodbye."
Blogs from some of the students on the trip seemed to echo those feelings.
"We have been spending every evening with the Asante Children's Choir," wrote Jeanette Montenegro, a sophomore music education and Christian studies major. "The first night they performed for us, and even the toughest of us could not help but break down into tears. Their faith and love for Christ is so strong and truly an inspiration and reminder for us of how great our God is."
Another highlight was when the GCU group was invited to lead worship for one of the local churches.
"Music is the universal language," Salazar said. "We weren't able to have a conversation with them, but we were able to connect to them through song. That was pretty cool."
Aileen Galaz, a music education and English major, said as much in her blog.
"That Sunday night we attended a church service where we had the privilege of ministering though song!" she wrote. "After we led the congregation in a couple of songs of worship, their worship team continued and it was an amazing experience.
"Whether through worship or the Word, we were all touched and had an amazing encounter with God."
Salazar hopes to make this a yearly trip and possibly even take it to other parts of the world.
"For a bunch of kids who had never traveled outside of the United States before, they all really want to go back," he said of the students who made the trip. He's also hoping to bring the Asante Children's Choir to Phoenix during its U.S. tour later this year.