By Melissa McLaughlin
“That’s wonderful!” people exclaimed when they heard we were taking a short-term family mission trip to Haiti.
“What will you do there?” people asked with great enthusiasm. “Help with food, water, medical care, building homes?”
“No, we are helping at a Music Camp that is held at North Haiti Christian University (UCNH).”
“A what? A Music Camp did you say?” they asked again.
“Yes, we are helping at a Music Camp,” we repeated.
“Music ministry in Haiti? Really? Why?”
Music ministry in Haiti? Why? That is a good question and one we had to answer for ourselves before embarking on our family volunteer trip to help at the Music Camp held at North Haiti Christian University (UCNH) this summer. Yes, there are many obstacles to be overcome in Haiti – lack of jobs, lack of food and clean water, lack of adequate homes and clothing, lack of educational opportunities, lack of medical care.
Indeed, there are many, many needs in Haiti, but perhaps among the greatest is the need for hope; hope in something more than you can see with the human eye. True hope that can only be found in God. That is where the ministry of music becomes a formidable force.
Music has been a great reformer, great comforter, great communicator in all ages, in all cultures. Haiti is no exception. Music has a far reaching and sweeping impact on the people there, just as it does here in the United States. Music can be heard when working, when relaxing, when playing, when worshiping.
Have you ever felt a tear come to your eye upon hearing the first few notes of a nostalgic or special song? Have you ever felt joy rise within your chest at a song that lifts you higher? This is the power of music. Music, a creative gift given by a creative God. Music, a tool to express the deepest emotions within our hearts – joy, love, sorrow, pain. Music can speak when words cannot. That is the power of music.
The Music Camp at UCNH was started by Laurel Casseus, a Professor and Dean of Fine Arts at the University. Laurel was born in Haiti, the daughter of missionaries and founders of UCNH. Laurel could not help but notice how much music was integrally woven into the lives, culture and hearts of the people of Haiti. She realized that God could use this tool to reach and inspire people who might have no other chance of being touched through other means. And so she started the Music Camp.
When the Music Camp first began 37 years ago, there were just five choral directors who attended. Laurel and the early campers invited others to come, and come they did! The camp was a great success and has continued to operate successfully ever since.
The Music Camp at UCNH offers many life-giving gifts. To begin, students are provided with a safe and nurturing environment on the campus of UCNH, where the University facilities are well maintained and cared for with great pride. Students have clean water to drink, water for bathing and clean dormitory housing, including a soft bed for resting and sleeping. The campus also has modern buildings where classes are held for teaching and learning, bathrooms with toilets and running water, an outdoor amphitheater for large group meetings and a chapel for worship. Students receive three nutritious and delicious meals each day in a clean cafeteria. Many of the students are not able to count on these basic benefits at home, so a visit to the Music Camp is a welcomed retreat for the body. Clearly, the first ministry offered by the Music Camp is attending to the physical needs of the students.
Next, the Music Camp provides nourishment for the Christian spirit. Students are given Christian guidelines for how to conduct themselves before even beginning camp. This helps to set high standards for Christ-like behavior and attitude. Each morning, students start the day with Christian devotions lasting 30-45 minutes, where a message is shared by camp staff. Prayer is offered before each activity, meal and outing, showing how God is invited into each part of the day. Small group reflection and prayer time are also included in the daily activities. All of the music and talent that is shared is Christ-centered and sung or played to the glory of God. In this way, the Music Camp is a ministry designed to meet the spiritual needs of Christian young people.
Finally, the Music Camp offers extensive opportunities for musical growth and development. Students are invited to participate in a wide array of musical options. Daily music instruction begins with theory classes where students learn how to read and understand musical symbols and foundations. This is followed by a variety of choices for personal growth, including instrumental and voice lessons on a variety of instruments designed to encourage progress on every level. The afternoon concludes with large group combined choir practice where the voices of all participants are raised on high in praise of God! To end the evening, students share what they have learned that day at an evening concert. This is a gift to the musician, to the listener and most of all to God, the giver of the musical talents! These musical talents are then taken back to be shared in home communities and churches. Many of these students have gone on to study music at the University level and are now leaders in music ministries at their home churches. A testament to the work of this Spirit-led Music Camp!
The Music Camp at UCNH is a remarkable Christian ministry, as it brings together and provides for three great needs: physical needs, spiritual needs and musical desires of young people in Haiti. Through this program, students and faculty are treated with the utmost dignity by lifting up the whole person; body, mind and soul.
Make no mistake about it, the people of Haiti need jobs, food, water, shelter, clothing, medical care, education. But the people of Haiti also need hope. Sometimes this hope can be found in a song, a song that echoes deep within your own heart, that lifts you up from where you are and helps you to see and feel the presence of God. Sometimes, it is a song that renews your mind in Jesus and carries you through your darkest hour. Sometimes it is a song that helps you rise again and take that next wobbly step. Sometimes, the rhythm of the song is the only thing that keeps your feet moving forward. Sometimes, the people need a song.
Music ministry in Haiti? Yes, this is my song.
Where might you share a song of hope?
Psalm 6:1 NIV – Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Photo ©Melissa McLaughlin