“They [the Boko Haram] come into your house and carry your last child and cut the child’s neck right in front of you. They ask ‘Do you still want to confess about your Jesus?’ If you say yes, they will take the next child and kill them one by one until they end up with you,” said West African native Lillian Ateh, Master of Divinity student at Fuller Theological Seminary.
The Boko Haram is one of the largest, well-trained groups responsible for killing Christians and their families. With stories like Ateh’s in mind, Vanguard University Concert Choir has partnered with Fuller Brehm Center and Friends of Music from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church under the leadership of Dr. James Melton.
The project, commissioned by Brehm New Music Initiative, recorded testimonies of Ateh and others like her to raise awareness of the ongoing issue of persecution. Titled “Consolation for the Suffering,” the recording aims to shed light on the hardship not often seen for Christians in places like Orange County.
The director of Concert Choir Dr. James Melton partnered with Fuller Brehm Center and Friends of Music from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. This partnership was vital for completion as it was commissioned by Brehm New Music Initiative.
Dr. Edwin Willmington is a Director and part of the Brehm Center for Worship. This project was inspired by a conference that he attended and has been in the works for two years. He composed all the music himself.
Some of the goals that Dr. Melton had for this project was to create an awareness of the persecuted church, encourage believers to pray more and to create good music.
“My aim was to produce world Christians and not only to create good music, but to create an awareness of what’s going on with brothers and sisters in the world,” Melton said. “It has been a great partnership [with Fuller] in the gospel.”
According to Melton, his partnership between Fuller Brehm Center and Vanguard was just the right fit as Fuller has the largest mission intercultural studies program of any seminary throughout the world.
Due to having approximately 160 voices on the recordings, the project was a success with a mix of younger voices from Concert Choir along with mature voices from St. Andrews and Fuller.
Before Christmas break, students were rehearsing pieces for their annual Christmas Fantasia performance and worked on music for this album as well. Students came back from break and recorded during the third week of January. The recording process took three long days of the weekend, and the final project was completed towards the end of January.
Sophomore Rachael Peterson is featured on a song called “Sanctus,” which means “holy” in Latin. Her involvement in the recording process has led her to a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the lyrics.
“It’s been a growing experience realizing that the small sacrifice we have to make for this project can’t even be in comparison to the reason we’re doing this project,” Peterson said.
The first concert of this project took place on Sunday, Feb 11 at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena where diverse cultures gathered to worship. Melton described this experience as “a taste of heaven.”
“It brings awareness because we live very much in a bubble,” Peterson said. “It was a reminder to not take for granted the freedom and how much we have and how we need to partner with our brothers and sisters and pray for them.”
Wesley Goss has been in Concert Choir for the past two and a half years, and after the first performance of this album, he was moved and challenged in powerful ways along with other students.
“The topic is intense and sobering,” Goss said. “If anything, it made me look at my faith and what I believe in and it made me wonder ‘What am I doing for that sake?’ It made me want to take action to do something.”
One of the songs called, “No! In All These Things,” contains the message of hope and encouragement to those suffering. In Romans 8:37-39, the apostle Paul wrote “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
Willmington didn’t want any recognition for the work that he had done, but wanted the focus to be for those who suffer.
“Willmington didn’t want people to clap after songs to receive glory or recognition for himself, but he wanted the audience to be present to take in the meaning behind the lyrics,” Goss said. “He [Willmington] told the choir that once he left the stage the concert was over. It was a humble ending to the concert as he stepped aside.”
The album cover by visual artist Andrea Kraybill is titled “Red Doors.” It is a picture of a bright fire truck red door that is slightly cracked open. This opening in the door represents a welcome with a glimpse of gold that is noticeable behind the opening.
The meaning behind this picture, as explained in the performance program, comes from a tradition that began in the Middle Ages where the church doors were painted bright red as the color represents several things: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the blood of the martyrs, a marker of refuge, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
“Throughout the concert what was emphasized most was prayer,” he said. “I think what we can take away is that we can all do a better job at praying for these people and praying for ourselves that we would take up the same type of resolve and the same type of intensity to go and fight for our Christian faith.”
Some of these songs such as “Agnus Dei” and “The Lord’s Prayer” will be incorporated in the set list for the Concert Choir Spring Tour.