Bel Canto Sings and Serves in South Africa

by Gina Ender

After studying away in South Africa in 2014, Alyssa Sheriff ’16 could not wait to go back to serve. A member of APU’s Bel Canto Women’s Choir, Sheriff decided to utilize the group’s musical talents and hearts for service, and organized the choir’s annual summer tour as an action team to the impactful place she studied in two years before.

“Being together through these experiences bonded this group in so many ways,” Sheriff said. “It was truly beautiful to be a part of.”

Bel Canto maintains a more than 40-year tradition of traveling every summer, but this marked the first year they coordinated with the Center for Student Action to expand the purpose of their trip. The choir visited Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg, the cities that house APU campuses for the South Africa study away semester, where students sang in schools, concert halls, churches, a daycare facility, and in people’s homes in impoverished areas.

“International tours cause us to open our eyes to a wider socio-economic demographic than typical West Coast tours, and give us a global vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Bel Canto director David Hughes, DMA, said. “Integrating education and faith are important and, just like U.S. tours, Bel Canto had opportunities to sing their full array of repertoire.”

Hughes said one of the highlights of the trip was the choir’s opportunity to sing alongside the Drakensberg Boys Choir for a large audience, many of whom travel internationally to see the Boys Choir perform.

The Bel Canto singers represented a range of mission trip experience, as this was the first time for some and a repeat opportunity for others. Nikki Riedinger ’18 had never been on a mission trip prior to this one, and said she was grateful for the opportunity to go.

“We were able to have in-depth discussions about all of the good things and the hard things we experienced, and being able to learn and grow together as a choir helped us to serve others better,” Riedinger said. “I know that my personal faith, and that of other team members, has been hugely impacted by this trip. I hope that, through God, our music and ministry brought a little extra joy to the lives of those we encountered. I know that God has and will continue to work through us in ways we can’t even begin to understand.”

Riedinger said the opportunity to speak and worship with the people in South Africa was revealing of the beauty and diversity of the Church. “No matter how wide the world may seem, as Christians, we all worship the same God,” she said.

Riedinger said she was humbled by the love she experienced from people she met in abroad. She said the hardships the South Africans face did not stop them from experiencing and sharing God’s peace and joy.

Michelle Hiatt ’17 said many of the choir members struggled with the reality of the sickness and poverty they encountered. She said that while the choir could not help them physically or financially, they were grateful to share all they could musically.

“God sends us out to show love to His people, and experience what it feels like to be a part of His global church body and praise Him together in the best way we knew how: through the universal language of music,” Hiatt said. “We learned a lot on the trip and made memories that will forever impact our faith. Hopefully we left those we met with some of that love and joy they gave us.”

Gina Ender ’16 is a University Relations editorial intern and a journalism major.