Handbells in Armenia

by Jill MacKinney '05

On May 3, 2003, I set off with the APU Handbell Choir for a weeklong tour in Armenia. While the focus of this trip was to minister to the Armenian people through music, we also had the opportunity to serve in the community, as well as visit several places of particular cultural significance.

Our choir not only performed for different groups of people in various locations, but each person was also given the opportunity to tell about themselves and share their individual testimonies. At each performance, the audience learned about the history of handbells. Conductor Donavon Gray, DMA, gave an open invitation at the end of each performance for people to come onstage and test out the bells for themselves and ask any more questions.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting different areas of Armenia. Some were very sobering, such as the Armenian Genocide Museum, a destitute refugee camp, and a city that was shaken to its core 14 years ago by a massive earthquake. The earthquake, measuring approximately 8.6 on the Richter scale, killed more than 20,000 people. Some of the other places we visited, like ancient churches sculpted out of mountains, or a lake that sparkled and stretched for miles, were awe-inspiring in their beauty and history.

While in Armenia, we enjoyed wonderful hospitality from the host church in Armenia’s capitol, Yerevan. As a way to express appreciation and leave a lasting contribution, our choir spent time with a group of musicians from the church, teaching them to read handbell music and play bell-like instruments called hand chimes. The musicians from the church were quick and eager learners, performing "Jesus Loves Me" in their Sunday church service after less than a week of rehearsing with the chimes. We were actually able to leave the three-octave hand chime set in Armenia, so they may continue to minister to the church with their music.

Another major area of the trip was service, and we were able to interact with a number of Armenian children during our travels. Perhaps the most fulfilling activity we enjoyed was when we got to pass out shoeboxes full of gifts to children in orphanages and poverty-stricken villages through "Operation Christmas Child." I feel so privileged to have been able to see the end result of kindness shown by the Christians all around the world who had put these boxes together. For as long as I live, I will not forget the joy I saw in so many tiny faces because somewhere, somebody chose to be Jesus in a stranger’s life