Alaska Choir Trip Continues Decades-Long Tradition
When asked to name their favorite memory from their time at Lubbock Christian University, alumni will give a variety of answers. For some, it was being part of a particular club show in Master Follies, while others may recall a moment when a professor went above and beyond for them in a difficult time. Still others remember a mission trip, a powerful chapel service, or an award recognizing their academic achievement. And while those are certainly among the top memories for students across the board, an overwhelming number of alumni would say that the chorus/choir trips were among their very favorite memories.
The LCU choruses and choirs have been touring since the university began in 1957. In the early years, they would sing for churches and schools in the area, then they ventured into Southern Texas and Eastern New Mexico. Ultimately, the choruses have been travelling the entire continental US, Hawaii, and internationally, since the late 1970s.
In more recent years, LCU’s choir program has taken an extended, mission-focused tour internationally every other year. Dr. Philip Camp, Director of Choral Programs at LCU, brought his first group on such a trip in 1998 to the Philippine Islands, and since then has brought the gift of music and the good news of Jesus to countries around the world.
“In 2000, we went Cuernavaca, Mexico, and then in ‘01 we toured in Australia,” he recalled. The following trip in 2003 brought the choirs to Ireland, and then in 2005 they returned to Australia. In 2007, they made their first trip to Ukraine, which would become a frequent stop as the group began to form lasting bonds with individuals, churches, and organizations like Eastern European Missions (EEU). In 2017, the group traveled to Romania, Croatia, and Austria, and then in 2019 they shifted to back to Ireland.
The next trip had been slated for 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic was still affecting travel in the months leading up to their departure, and the group was forced to cancel their plans.
“The entire reason we went to Alaska goes back our trip to Ireland in 2019,” Dr. Camp explained. “When we were there in Ireland, we met a student working with AIM (Adventures in Missions, a Lubbock-based missionary training program with which LCU has many ties), whose family had come over to visit from Alaska. His father, who is an elder and a preacher for the church in their hometown, followed us around Ireland throughout our 2019 tour.”
The time the gentleman spent with the choir students and staff quickly prompted questions about the possibility that the choir could visit his congregation in Alaska. At the time, Dr. Camp’s response was tempered, especially because planning for the next trip was already underway.
“At that point, we were committed to go to Croatia in 2021,” he explained. “I said, ‘Well, I would love to take the choir to Alaska, but I just don't know how we how we could fit it in—maybe someday.’”
Of course, when COVID-19 hit, all travel plans were changed and canceled. The uncertain nature of such trips continued through 2021 and even into 2022.
“Even during the school year ’21-‘22, there was a big question mark as to whether or not it would be a good idea even to take a big group overseas,” Dr. Camp recalled. “Even if individual travel was opening back up, it's more complicated with as large of a group as we have.”
Even so, what had once seemed a far-off possibility began to look more like the best viable option. “I remembered that invite to Alaska,” he said, “and I started searching to try and find a way to contact him.” It wasn’t easy—Dr. Camp hadn’t taken any contact information during their time in Ireland, so he had to go through the local AIM program to find the connections. Finally, in October of 2021, he was able to track down the minister in Alaska.
Immediately, the response was overwhelming. “He said, ‘Are you serious? We would love for you to come if y'all could do it!’” It wasn’t long before potential dates for an Alaskan tour were nailed down, plans were in the works, and what had seemed like a hail-marry attempt at a trip was suddenly becoming a reality.
“It was fantastic,” Camp said, astounded at the generosity of their hosts. “It all came together so well. We stayed with host families from the church the entire time. I offered to raise money for hotels for some of the nights, but the host church insisted on housing the students throughout the trip.”
Over the next few months, the choirs rehearsed music, raised money, and finalized plans for the eventual group of 30 students who would make the 12-day tour of America’s 49th State.
“It’s really a sacrifice for them to do it,” Dr. Camp emphasized. “There is a large financial commitment, and I would never make that mandatory for our students. Some of them have the means to write a check, but others barely can scrape together what they can. That’s when we work with those students to make the trip a possibility. We work together, and the Lord always provides.”
“Even beyond the financial cost, some students have weddings, or sibling graduations, or other time conflicts, and they just can't do it.” He chuckled, adding, “I'm always afraid I'm going to end up with 14 altos but only one tenor, three basses, and no sopranos—but it always somehow becomes a good balanced choir every single time, and this year was no exception.”
“In some ways, it's the best group I have all year,” he confessed, “because we've been together all year and they know the music. Of course, we have to tweak some things, but the end product is always fantastic.”
After the four-hour flight to Anchorage, they were met by members of their host church. “They rolled out the red carpet for us,” Dr. Camp recalled. “They met us at the airport and drove us an hour to the city of Wasilla. We were divided among host families, whom we stayed with for about a week,” he explained. “They provided us breakfast every morning, a good place to sleep, and even in some cases loaned us their cars to drive, just to meet at the church building every morning so they don't have to drop us off. We also borrowed church vans from the Wasilla and Anchorage Churches of Christ whenever we’d travel out from there.”
Throughout their 12-day trip, Wasilla, Alaska was the group’s home base. They performed formal concerts in Wasilla and Anchorage, engaged in various activities with their host church, and enjoyed plenty of sightseeing during their stay.
“It was it was tremendous,” said Dr. Camp. “We did a lot of events with the church, worship related and of course, our formal concert, and then also did the same thing in Anchorage.”
Other performances were less formal, such as a performance at a local retirement village. All the residents gathered in the common cafeteria and shared a meal with the students, and the choir gave a small performance. The mayor of Wasilla was also present, and she greeted the visiting group, thanking them for taking the time to share their talents.
“We joined a Wednesday night service with the church, as well,” Dr. Camp said, explaining that unlike many services, it was simply an evening of singing together. “We also shared a Tuesday night Bible study with a lot of our hosts. We always hope that whenever we go on tours like this, that we're a blessing to our hosts, and I think they really were encouraged,” he added, “though I think they probably encouraged us more.”
Several of the students who went on the trip offered similar sentiments.
“Getting to go to Alaska for our choir outreach tour was such a blessing in so many different ways,” said Madalyn Franklin, who was a freshman the year before the Alaska trip. “Having the opportunity to do mission work with some of my closest friends not only brought me more joy, but also strengthened the bonds that had been formed with them throughout year. I noticed that as we all got closer, the more we began to love and serve each other and as a result, the community around us.”
Robert Cantu, another student finishing his first year at LCU, agreed. “Going to Alaska with choir had such a powerful impact on me! We were able to use our gifts to connect with people that we never could have before and share the gospel.”
Recent LCU graduate Rylee Hubbard, the choir vice president for the 2021-22 school year, echoed their words.
“Going to Alaska and reaching out to people through music was truly an amazing experience,” she said. “I loved the fellowship and hospitality of the people we met in that beautiful place. Singing about Jesus is the best way to make friends. Dr. Camp truly cares and uses the choir to strengthen the students’ spiritual walk with God, and the Praise Choir has been such a blessing to me.”
“The whole week while the choir was in Alaska, I saw people filled with spiritual growth at devotionals and formal concerts, as well as community concerts at nursing homes,” explained Kenzie Morris, who served last year as the Praise Choir’s Chaplain and is the 22-23 Choir President. “We sang about the love of the gospel, and that love carried past the listening audience and into the community as they shared the message we sang.”
A surprising impact of the trip was one that echoed half a world away, even though the trip itself was closer to home than had been originally planned.
“We had a new album that just been released, and as we often do on tours like this, we offered them to our audiences in exchange for donations that we give to a local charity, usually an orphanage or organization like that,” Dr. Camp explained. “Well, their hearts were pricked by all the mayhem going on with the war in Ukraine, and they decided to send the funds we raised there. Over the course of the trip, we were able to raise $2,000.”
The funds were distributed to local charities in Ukraine that Dr. Camp knew of because of past trips and connections there. “That held extra meaning for us, because we've been to Ukraine, we’ve sang there, worshiped with them,” he emphasized. “We still know people there, people who live there and are struggling—that gift was special.”
Aside from the spiritual and missional work the choirs did on tour, they also took time to enjoy the world around them. “We spent a lot of time just seeing Alaska,” shared Dr. Camp, “and that was astounding.”
While the group didn’t venture into nearby Denali National Park, which is home to the highest mountain in North America, they did get to stop in Talkeetna, a village near the park that serves as the base for many climbers who plan to ascend Denali.
“We made a trip to Seward as well,” Dr. Camp explained, “and enjoyed a three-hour cruise along Resurrection Bay. We saw all kinds of wildlife including humpback whales, and it was just a phenomenal day.”
“We were also able to grow closer together on our many sightseeing adventures,” Cantu shared. “I’m so glad that I decided to join choir this year, I’ve made friendships that I’m sure will last a lifetime. This choir is like my family and is one more reason that I decided to call LCU my home.”
For Dr. Camp, watching students form such strong relationships continues to be one of the biggest rewards of trips like these. “It's always special to see these students come together. The relationships that form, especially when you see new friendships that bud, it’s really fun to see. Sometimes they include romances, those are kind of fun,” he added with a chuckle before reminiscing on several couples that have formed on such trips.
Those relationships and memories that students create throughout trips like the most recent tour in Alaska serve as an anchor for so many alumni of LCU’s choral programs. Like choir alumni from years ago, they will look back on these memories as some life-changing and some of their favorites.
Kenzi Morris and Madalyn Franklin each summarized that feeling perfectly. “The LCU Choir is a network that is rooted on the love of Christ, and not only does our collective voice impact the Lubbock community, but it impacts the world through the power of the message we sing,” shared Morris.
Franklin added, “Because of LCU, I have experienced first-hand the meaning behind the verse John 15:13: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ I got to witness my friends serve the community of Alaska and grow in love. Our trip to Alaska was one that incredibly encouraged me in my walk with God and my community because of the loving service embedded into LCU choirs.”