When going on a mission trip, people will often ask: “What can I give to you to take?” And the answer is, whatever I can fit in my suitcase, they will make use for it. Now there are certainly items that are more practical than others, one of the things they have been looking for lately is musical instruments. We were blessed to have someone donate and restore a few violins. I received a violin as a gift from my parents a couple of years ago at Christmas and I have to say it has brought me so much joy. My pastor on the other hand asked if I could donate mine as well. There’s nothing worse than listening to someone ‘learning’ the violin.
St. Barnabas sponsored a trip to El Salvador March 4-11th with 11 members traveling from the parish. I have to say I wasn’t sure how much these violins would be appreciated. I usually don’t think of violins when I think of El Salvador. To the teams surprise the violins were a hit.
Sr. Rose, a member of the Cleveland Latin American Mission Team, was our gracious host throughout the journey. One of the things that I greatly admire about her is that she has this knack for helping people find their gifts and develop them. This could mean singing in the choir, playing football (American soccer), writing, and she’d even encouraged some of the kids to learn break-dancing. So at our very first meeting at the church Sr. Rose had a couple of guys who were ready and wanting to learn the Violin. Herbert and Abelardo sing and play guitar in the choir and they both wanted to learn this amazing stringed instrument.
Before venturing into the violin, Herbert and I bonded with something we were both comfortable with: the guitar. As he played and sang to me in Spanish, Herbert made the deepest eye contact. I was a little uncomfortable, why was I afraid to allow another man to look into my eyes? There’s vulnerability there, especially with music. He played songs in Spanish and I played my favorite in English, and then we played together one of my favorite songs: “Pescador Des Hombres: Lord, When You Came to the Seashore.” I remember learning this song in the seminary and thinking “Why are we learning a song in Spanish?” It would be almost a decade later that I realized the significance. Take every opportunity you can to learn something in another language. You never know how God will use it to help you bond with another member of the Body of Christ. Could it have been that during this moment it was the Lord looking into my eyes, gazing, kindly smiling?”
I would have the chance to gaze back in delight as I taught him the violin. After tuning up the instruments, I played the only song I know by heart: “Charlie Chaplain’s: Smile.” Then I handed one to him, and as he took it into his hands there was a sense that he was holding something sacred… and it was about to revealed the first time the bow was drawn across the strings. There’s nothing like that moment when the perfect sound comes forth from a violin. It is a rich, deep, penetrating sound that tugs at your heart. As I showed him the proper posture, cocked his elbow under the violin and held his arm in place guiding the bow across the strings the sound echoed from the wooden instrument. For a moment that’s all there was, he and I, and the perfect sound coming forth from the violin. I took a step back and just delighted in the wonder on his face as he made that sound.
I came to find that Herbert is pretty musically gifted. By the end of the first lesson he was playing the scales and by the end of the second lesson later in the week he played a song. Though he can’t read music, he “the Ear” for music, a gift I unfortunately lack. On the last day I would play a song from sheet music and then he would listen to it and play it back to me. I was amazed by how quickly he picked up and played this most difficult instrument. He was so excited to learn it, to teach others to play, and most important he wanted to play it for mass. That same evening he accompanied the choir at mass with the violin.
We probably all know someone who has had a whole world opened up to them through music. How much more is this gift appreciated by those who are poor? How much more is this gift of beauty appreciated by those who have very little? In the end every member of our team would find that their gifts could be shared, not only this, but anything that they shared was reverenced and delighted in by the people of El Salvador. Some gifts are more practical than others, but few have the power to unite like music. The El Salvador mission team is always looking for musical instruments that can be brought down when other parishes travel. I thank those who have been so generous in their giving and am sure that the Lord kindly smiles on your generosity. We all have gifts and there’s nothing like being able to share them with the poor. There is nothing like the gaze that is exchanged when a gift is delighted in.