People smiled at the small group of carolers, dressed in traditional Charles Dickens attire, as they entered the hospital lobby in Mestre. The carolers made quite an impression in sweeping velvet dresses and capes on the women and jaunty suits and top hats on the men.
They were there to sing Christmas carols for the hospital’s patients. The Frontier Holiday Carolers, a music ensemble from the Frontier School of the Bible in LaGrange, Wyoming, consists of students from across the United States under the direction of Ken Stearns. For 12 years, Stearns has assembled groups that travel around Italy over the Christmas holidays to share the Gospel of Christ through song.
There was one small hiccup in the plan this day, however. The hospital activities’ director wanted them to start singing on the top floors and work their way down, so they got on the elevator. The doors closed, then the elevator jerked upward a couple of times, stopping somewhere between the first and second floor. The elevator’s communication system wasn’t working well, cell phones couldn’t get a signal, and the elevator grew quite warm. The choir even tried singing a song in hopes of getting someone’s attention. Finally, they were able to reach security through the intercom. After being stuck for 35 minutes, the hospital maintenance workers maneuvered the elevator back to the first floor. The carolers burst into a short rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus upon exiting!
After this bump in the road, the rest of the day was a wonderful time of singing and meeting with patients. People enjoyed the music, and the carolers were able to share pamphlets explaining the Gospel as they chatted with patients. They were even invited into the intensive care unit. It was a blessing to be able to bring a smile to the faces of those gravely ill patients.
The carolers are warmly welcomed everywhere they travel throughout Italy, including stops in Rome, Venice, Faenza, Forli, Umbertide, and many more places including The Republic of San Marino, a small country within the borders of Italy. They draw a crowd whether they are performing in schools, churches, restaurants, nursing homes, or outdoor markets. The caroling team even had the privilege of singing at a private Catholic school, something that is very unusual. Choir members shared their faith and testimonies with the young Catholic students during the performance. The nuns were excited about the carolers being at the school and even fed them desserts and espresso after the concert.
One question and answer session after a concert at a public school led to an interesting encounter. The students had just listened to the testimony of one of the carolers. A girl asked, “Do all of you have a special story like this one?” It was wonderful to realize that the girl was really thinking about what was shared. Testimonies can have a deep impact on people because it’s unusual in Italy for someone to talk about something so personal.
The carolers hope that their ministry has a meaningful impact on everyone who hears their Christmas carols and the message of the Gospel. “The scope of their ministry is incredible,” said Carmen Chugg, a worker in Italy who hosts the group. “They open doors that never would be opened for us if they weren’t present. They are truly a gift from God to the work in Italy.”
-Written by Lisa H. Renninger with contributions by Ken Stearns
-Photography by Ruth Stearns