By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — For at least one week in Nashville, barriers caused by race and religion were torn down as 117 children of diverse backgrounds came together to sing and learn musical skills.
At least 10 countries were represented at the International Music School held June 16-20 at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville.
Children at the event, which was sponsored by several Nashville-area churches, launched the Children’s Freedom Choir and presented their first concert at the conclusion of their week-long school. The choir included children of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and other or no religious backgrounds.
Organizers of the Children’s Freedom Choir are optimistic that the choir will continue to meet and sing throughout the year.
“The world has come to us,” said Terry Taylor, a member of Forest Hills Baptist Church and a former interim minister of music at Tusculum Hills.
Tusculum Hills is in the middle of a five-mile stretch along Nolensville Road in South Nashville which is home to thousands of internationals.
“Nashville had the fastest growing immigrant population in 2012 of any U.S. city,” said Paul Gunn, pastor of Tusculum Hills. He noted that 1,200 refugees resettle in Nashville each year and many of them are within a five-mile radius of the church.
At Tusculum Elementary School, located just across the street from the church, 26 languages are spoken and the number is rising, according to Alison McMahan, school principal.
“This Nolensville Road corridor is not something we can neglect,” Gunn said.
“We cannot miss this opportunity to reach these people for Christ,” the pastor continued.
“Tusculum Hills is in the heart of a foreign mission field,” he added.
Though children at the music school spoke multiple languages, music is the international language, group organizers observed.
That was one reason a music school was chosen as the event, said Terry Taylor.
Music is universal and it bridges language, Gunn agreed.
Taylor noted that while serving at Tusculum Hills he spoke with Gunn about the possibility of a children’s choir and using it as a way to reach the community.
Taylor, a member of Forest Hills Baptist Church, knew that his church had a ministry to internationals (Wings) in the Nolensville Road area.
Gathering people he knew who had a passion for sharing the gospel in that area, plans were launched to hold a music school and to begin the Children’s Freedom Choir. The choir will be based out of Tusculum Hills with the goal of reaching people of all nationalities, Taylor said.
Through various contacts, Taylor found other churches that were interested in the concept of using a children’s choir to reach a community with the gospel.
Gunn observed that because music is universal parents are less “suspicious” of an event held in a church. “Who wouldn’t want to send their kids to a free music school where they would also get two meals?” he asked.
In addition to Forest Hills and THBC, First Baptist Church, Nashville, was a prime contributor to the event, supplying both funds and volunteers. Tusculum Hills provided the facility along with several volunteers including Gunn. The People’s Church in Franklin provided several volunteers.
Taylor, who is managing editor of Growing in Grace Children’s Music Curriculum based in Franklin, noted that the school utilized more than 70 volunteers from 10 different churches. “There has been a spirit of cooperation among the churches,” he said.
Taylor noted that the leadership was united in their desire “to reach kids from all ethnic origins in the area.”
The plan is already working. Included among the participants were five Muslim children who recently escaped the violence in their home country of Iraq where their grandfather was killed.
The language barrier was a problem until someone contacted Arabic Baptist Church in Murfreesboro who immediately sent over a volunteer (Maged Boles) to help translate and communicate with the children.
Boles noted that the international music school provided an excellent means to reach the Muslim students with the gospel.
Boles observed that though Christians cannot go to witness in Muslim countries, “God brings them to us. Here, you can talk to them about Jesus.”
Seeds are being planted, he added. In addition, some seeds have already produced fruit as there were two salvation decisions made during the week.
God continued sending international children to the school throughout the week. On the third day of the school, a Hindu child came with parental permission to participate.
While the kids were at the school, an intentional effort was made to learn “their stories,” Taylor said. Kids were divided into smaller groups with a “tour guide” who worked to learn their names and something about each of the children and their families.
“The choir is the tip of the iceberg,” Taylor observed. “We want to have an infrastructure in place to minister to these children and their families and to meet their needs,” Taylor said.
Helping refugees is what led Jennifer Dial of Forest Hills Baptist Church to serve as camp director for the week.
Dial works with the Wings ministry at Forest Hills and enjoys working with refugees. “It is unbelievable what the refugee community goes through,” Dial said.
She observed it has been a blessing to get to know the refugees and to hear their stories and hear their hearts. “Many of them fled their countries because they are Christians,” she said.
In addition to providing training in music, the school provided another benefit for those who attended — two hot meals each day.
Taylor and Gunn both noted that some of the kids would have gone hungry had it not been for the food provided each day.
“Little kids are eating large plates of food,” Gunn observed.
He noted special care was taken to provide food they would eat. In checking with McMahan at the local elementary school, Gunn learned that “hot dogs and hamburgers were out.”
Instead, the Tusculum Hills kitchen volunteers provided meals with chicken, fish, fresh vegetables, and fruit, Gunn said.
Gunn noted that though the church is an older congregation in a transitional community they have been open to reaching their community with the gospel.
“They grew up in churches where Southern Baptist missionaries would come and share about their work. They have gone on mission trips over the years. Now, those people groups are coming to our church.
“They see it as a natural progression,” Gunn said.
Music as ministry
Paul Clark, music/worship specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, was excited when he learned what the churches were doing last week at Tusculum Hills.
“I was immediately drawn to get involved for a number of reasons. A primary one was that several TBC churches were involved in the effort using music as ministry,” Clark said.
He observed that the style of worship music of these congregations “is quite different one church from another, so I was attracted to the spirit of cooperation that overcomes stylistic differences in order to serve the purpose of Great Commission ministry.
“It is the heart of what we experience among our Tennessee Baptist Ladies Chorus and Mens Chorale and I wanted to see that spirit at work among those leading children in music from the inside, close up.”
Clark praised the efforts of all the volunteers who “have been phenomenal at demonstrating the love of Jesus even as the children have learned songs and motions, and heard the gospel story.”
Ministry can be replicated
Leaders involved with last week’s International Music School are hopeful that other churches will replicate it in their communities.
The effort at Tusculum Hills “is a model that other churches can replicate,” Taylor affirmed.
“From the beginning I felt this could be a model for other churches and communities in our state,” Clark said. He noted that sharing resources and getting at the mission where God has brought the world to us needs to be a big priority for Tennessee Baptists, including music ministry.
“Based on years of experience and observation I am convinced that music can have a powerful effect, and that has certainly been demonstrated in dramatic fashion this week,” Clark said.