While thousands of Northwest audiences have thrilled to the music of the Oregon Adventist Men's Chorus since its inception in 1994, Lou Wildman, OAMC director, has always believed the group's mission is bigger than any musical event. "God brings us together for ministry," he says thoughtfully, "and that ministry happens in ways of God's doing, far beyond what we could ever imagine."
Their recent mission to Romania is yet another confirmation of God's leading through a series of remarkably divine appointments.
The initial invitation came following the group's appearance at the 2000 General Conference session in Toronto. The request from one of Romania's conference presidents sounded much like the Macedonian call to the apostle Paul, "Come over and help us." And, like Paul, Lou knew this opportunity would take faith — a lot of it.
A Divine Connection
But even at that early stage, God was forging another critical connection in the heart of Alin Apostol, a young Romanian man.
John and Karen Wesslen, pastoral couple, became impressed with Alin while on a short-term evangelistic trip to Romania. John's church in Portland sponsored Alin at Walla Walla College to study theology and music. During the five years he was in the United States, Alin jumped at the opportunity to join the OAMC group. Amazed and inspired by what he saw and heard there on the risers, in the midst of the music, he felt a vision begin to form — to duplicate the OAMC experience in his home country.
Upon his graduation and return to Romania as a pastor, Alin began organizing men in local churches to recreate what had so impressed him during his five-year connection with OAMC. The first year, only 50 men gathered for a festival. He was disheartened — he had hoped for so much more.
Then he echoed the invitation to Lou and the OAMC — "Please come over and help us." Lou's initial thought was, "We can't go to Romania. Where would we get the time, or the money?" And then, he says, "I remembered...I was the same person who said we couldn't go to the 2000 General Conference session. And I was the same person who said we would never be able to join Jere Patzer at his meetings in Africa. And I decided we should just let the Lord provide the answers."
A Matter of Faith
And so a couple years later, through countless e-mails, phone calls and prayers, plans were made. The day came when the OAMC planning committee saw they had 100 people signed up, with airfare paid to go, but no resources to feed them, transport them or pay for concert halls.
Lou prayed, "Lord, we've put our feet in the water, and we're now up to our knees. Could you part the waters a bit?" And the answers started to come from all directions. For instance, volunteers sold 32,000 pounds of apples with proceeds going to help the project. By the time of their departure, all the needed funds were in hand.
Lou recalled former North Pacific Union Conference president Bruce Johnston's challenge years before: "What do you say when the Lord says, ‘Go'? You say, ‘Yes, Sir!' and you go."
And so, they went. The OAMC group arrived in Romania in time for the Eastern Orthodox Easter season in mid-April. They brought their musical ministry to a country still burdened with the lingering results of Communism, but with a long and rich heritage of choral music.
Immediately, the singers from both continents began to blend into a brotherhood of voices during two days of rehearsals at the Adventist seminary in Cernica. "At the first rehearsal in the chapel of the Romanian Adventist Theological Institute (Institutul Teologic Adventist), in the village of Cernica near Bucharest," writes OAMC member John Korb, "200 men from two choruses, originating from two continents thousands of miles apart, finally joined together and lifted their voices in praise to God. At that moment, all the hopes, dreams and miracles prayed for since our first invitation to Romania more than ten years ago came together in four-part harmony."
And then, the tour — crowds streamed into concert halls in Galati, Bacau, Iasi, Botosani, Tirgu Mures, Brasov and Bucharest.
From Strangers to Family
Initially, the Romanian men had planned to join the first couple of concerts and again at the end. There were no funds to support the combined groups for the whole tour. But, as Lou puts it, "The Lord opened the storehouse of heaven." And for the entire time, both groups shared seats together on the buses, roomed together and ate together. Men who didn't speak the same language, communicated with each other, sang and prayed with each other. "And when we went home," Lou adds, "we felt like we were leaving family behind."
Gary Parks, East Salem pastor, found an especially strong connection, as he and some of the younger members of the combined chorus often found themselves during the tour at the back of their bus, in deep conversation. "We weren't talking about the usual stuff. I found these guys were really hungry to deal with deeper spiritual issues."
Ian Edgerton, a young man from the Oregon chorus, joined in the discussion. He felt a spiritual change take place in his own life. "The first three days in Romania felt more like vacation than a mission," he says. We were all roaming around the city and exploring. But once we got on the road and started our tour, the trip began to take on a different flavor. Members of the chorus began to share about their lives and get to know those around them. Several days into the trip, I was invited by Pastor Gary to join him and the younger group of guys in the back of the bus. He asked me to share my life story. That was not as easy as it sounds. I, like many, have a tendency to hang onto the hurts and tragedies in life instead of sharing them and letting the wounds heal. I shared about my struggles for ten years with drug and alcohol abuse. It was an amazing moment. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders."
Ian did something more. Pastor Parks asked him if he wanted to make a public change and be baptized. Ian said, "Yes!" What had started out as a trip about music turned into a dramatic, heart-felt decision for Christ.
Indeed, the music was grand. Often chorus members felt as though they had been surrounded by angel choir. But as OAMC members have reflected upon the journey, the most lasting memories are those international bonds of friendship forged during hours together; of life-changing conversations and prayer.
At one point in the tour, shocking word came that Alin's mother had just been diagnosed with cancer. It was late; most of the men had already retired for the evening. But as the word spread from room to room, the group members made their way down to a hotel meeting hall, where they encircled Alin and his brothers in a ring of prayer. It was a powerful, bonding moment, with Romanian and English languages mingling in prayers to a heavenly Father to whom language or disease is no barrier. Since then, through the support of friends, Alin and his mother have found expert diagnoses and care in the United States. The prognosis is good.
Beyond that family crisis, Alin saw his dream come to life, as more than 200 men joined in the final festival concerts. He believes the enthusiasm around Romania will continue, and the Adventist churches will realize a greater presence and impact than ever before. On the final Saturday of the trip, the combined group participated together in a communion service. As they individually knelt to wash each other's feet, they reaffirmed a spiritual brotherhood that very well could last throughout eternity.
Oregon Adventist Men's Chorus members initially went to bolster the growing men's chorus movement in Romania — what Alin likes to call the Romanian chapter of the OAMC. They went to provide additional programming for the widespread Adventist television and radio ministry throughout the country. They went to help build up the churches, to encourage their Romanian brothers and sisters through personal fellowship and sharing. And in going, they inevitably found their own faith and spiritual commitment strengthened.
As Pastor David Schmidt, OAMC president, puts it: "In 1994, our vision was for one concert, one Easter weekend. God's plan was for 15 years of ministry. We never could have imagined that He would bring us to Romania."
More than ever before, Oregon Adventist Men's Chorus members ardently believe that through the medium of music, God has wrought a wonderful ministry, and that He, indeed, is able to do "exceedingly abundantly above all" that they could ever imagine.
Many more photos and journals about the trip are available online at http://oamcromania.blogspot.com/.