Singing Churchmen bridge language divide with ‘music of the heart’

For Robert Beaver, a recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic with the South Carolina Baptist Singing Churchmen offered a hopeful glimpse of the hereafter.

Instrumentalists with the Singing Churchmen tune up for a concert at a Caribbean seaside park. The group is comprised primarily of ministers of music from Baptist churches in South Carolina.

Beaver, minister of music at Belton’s First Baptist Church, sang with 36 of his colleagues at a nursing home in Santiago. A woman stood and said, “We could not understand your language, but we heard you with our hearts.”

A few days later, as the men were presenting their final concert and worshiping at their host church, Beaver found himself singing along – in English – to hymns and praise songs his newfound brothers and sisters were singing in their native Spanish.

“I thought to myself, what is the language of God?” said Beaver. “I knew the answer was: music from our hearts, no matter the language. I then said to myself, ‘This is what heaven will be like.’?”

Charlton Bozard, associate pastor for music and adult activities at First Baptist Church, West Columbia, agreed. “Music and the Holy Spirit have the ability to cross cultural and language barriers with the love of Christ,” he said.

Don Albertson, minister of music at Ridge Baptist Church, Summerville, said that “no matter where we went, [God’s] praise was understood. There are no language barriers when we sing of his love.”

Albertson, Bozard and Beaver were among 37 musicians and worship leaders – a contingent representing the more than 70 active members of the Singing Churchmen – to travel to the Dominican Republic April 12-19 for the group’s biennial international mission trip.

The Singing Churchmen are made up predominantly of active and retired ministers of music from Southern Baptist churches in South Carolina. Mark Powers, director of the worship and music office of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, serves as director for the group, which presents concerts at churches throughout the year.

In the Dominican Republic, the men’s chorus presented 18 concerts in one week and sang four of their selections in Spanish. They performed at a men’s conference, a nursing home, hospitals, parks, elementary schools, a university and at several churches. Their concerts featured a variety of musical styles, including classical-sacred, contemporary, Southern gospel, praise band and barbershop. The touring group also included an instrumental ensemble.

In addition, the men conducted music workshops for churches, offering instruction for praise teams, choral and instrumental music, and handbells.

The host church for the group was Iglesia de Convertidos a Christo (Church of the Converted to Christ), in Santo Domingo. It was there, on the final night of their trip, that the Singing Churchmen paid tribute to one of their own, 87-year-old Tom Westmoreland, the group’s founder.

“Since Tom has been a key promoter of handbells in South Carolina since the mid-1960s, it was especially good to have him with us, as we were establishing the very first handbell choir, to our knowledge, in the Dominican Republic,” said Dan Williams, associate pastor for worship at Lexington Baptist Church.

The final concert also served to remind Williams of the “loving and giving nature” of the Dominican believers.

“They have the greatest gift of hospitality I have ever seen,” Williams said, “and they demonstrated that love for the body of Christ by housing us, feeding us incredible meals and embracing us as true brothers in Christ.”

The South Carolina Baptist Singing Churchmen donated a set of handbells to a church in the Dominican Republic during their recent mission trip there.

Lawton Neeley, pastor of Gilead Baptist Church in Jonesville, brought along gifts from his church members to present to the people he met in the Dominican Republic. One of the gifts was a banjo, which he played at several concerts. On the final night, he presented the banjo to the pastor of a church where four teenage boys were fascinated with the unusual instrument.

“Who knows,” said Neeley, “perhaps these four boys might be the beginnings of the first Dominican Republic bluegrass band.

“But more than that,” he said, “the South Carolina Singing Churchmen will be credited for everyone who comes to know the Lord Jesus Christ at Iglesia Bautista Ozama (Ozama Baptist Church) because, every time that little banjo is played in a worship service, the music will reverberate the love of our group in their ears.

“And every person who receives Jesus does so because our convention cared enough to give a Bible, or a witnessing bracelet, or a banjo, and to pray and believe that there is no price that can be placed on a soul.”