More than music in Mizoram

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Southern California Divisional Youth Band ministers in India.

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Eight thousand miles from home, The Salvation Army Southern California Divisional Youth Band (DYB) celebrated its 30-year anniversary with a ministry trip to Aizawl, Mizoram, India, June 30–July 11.

Located near Myanmar and Bangladesh, Mizoram is part of The Salvation Army India Eastern Territory, with headquarters in Aizawl. This part of India is largely Christian.

Bandmaster Garry Lawrence conducts the group. Southern California Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Kyle Smith traveled with them, providing spiritual guidance.

Along with teaching and sharing music, group members participated with the local Salvation Army in various activities and visited a Salvation Army home for boys and a motherless baby home. On several evenings, the DYB split into groups to visit different Salvation Army corps, interacting with the youth there.

“We were very delighted for your visit,” said Henry Hauchhum, Salvation Army Youth Leader at the Chanmari West Corps. “We feel very fortunate that God has brought us together to praise his holy name. We hope you also enjoy our meeting, items and activities.”

On July 4, band members began painting a partially built dwelling for homeless mothers and babies. The local Salvation Army hopes to finish the first floor and build the second floor when it raises enough money. The DYB worked here for two days.

“This is an amazing opportunity for us all to see The Salvation Army in action here in India,” Smith said. “It makes me proud to be a part of something so special.”

Halfway into the trip, band members were still waiting for their instruments.

“We haven’t played together as a band yet, but we know that even if we never play a note on this trip we are ministering to these lovely people,” said band member Ashley Stillson. “We have been blessed by the people here in Mizoram.”

On July 5, band members prepared for an evening rehearsal—their first. Since their instruments had not arrived, the India Eastern Staff Band shared theirs so the DYB could prepare for its mini music school—two days of teaching 100 songsters, 100 timbrelists, and 60 bandsmen, concluding in a July 7 music festival.

Music school began. Timbrel leaders reported that the language barrier caused a rough start at first, but that soon passed and the students caught on quickly. Meanwhile, the band worked on two songs, “Glory Hallelujah” and “Montreal Citadel,” and the songsters practiced “Covenant” and Living Waters,” arranged by Kevin Larsson.

During the music festival at the Bethlehem Corps, the DYB presented 10 band pieces, a hula, and an original vocal solo by Shalini Henry-John. Mizoran youth performers included several soloists and a young people’s choir.

The next day the DYB enjoyed “sports day” featuring many Mizo traditional games.

“One [game] included bamboo walking stilts and that was really entertaining to watch as Americans fell off of them in a very dramatic fashion,” DYB member Suzanne Swenson said. “It definitely brought a lot of laughs to the large audience of youth!”

Members visited Aizawl’s busy mall, where they found a local bakery and became “best friends” with the shop owner when they purchased most of the treats in the shop, Swenson said.

On their last day, Sunday, the DYB split into nine groups and visited different corps. They came together for lunch at a local hotel, and afterward walked to Territorial Headquarters where a local TV station interviewed them.

That evening they participated in a prayer meeting at Aizawl’s Bazar Corps, performing several musical selections; Henry-John gave her testimony.

Most members stayed up late that night, savoring their last hours in India before setting off on the 36-hour journey home.

And the DYB’s instruments? They never did arrive, due to an embargo at the India border; they are on their way back to the U.S. The magic, however, didn’t reside in the instruments, but in the individuals who played them.

From reports by Ashley Stillson and Suzanne Swenson

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