UK Tour 2018 – Week 3

In May of 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to take Lubbock Christian University’s singing group, Best Friends, on a 3-week tour of the U.K. This is an overview of the trip, in three parts. Continued from Part 2.


Leicester

After driving through rain while going through Stoke (yes, rain), we arrived at Paul’s house. Paul has been a serious blessing to our group. He is basically a crazy nut. That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell (ha, see what I did there?). Paul has been the extra energy we needed to get through the middle of this long tour. He was always positive and encouraging and has done an absolutely fabulous job. It was also a blessing to get to meet his family. We spent that evening eating and relaxing in his home.

The next day was actually a day off – one of the few we actually had in the tour. Although we were technically off duty, that didn’t keep us from doing lot of walking. We spent the better portion of the day playing around in Loughborough, shopping, eating, playing and sleeping in the city park. And eating, did I mention eating? I had a piece of fish that was so big, Jonah could’ve been inside.

We also took a short trip to a working monastery in the countryside. We arrived just as the monks had begin singing. It was in the style of Gregorian chant, although it was in english and accompanied by softly strummed guitar – played lute style. Afterward, we spent quite a bit of time in the bookshop and roaming the grounds. It was a very relaxing and focusing experience.

The next morning, we chose to stay in our homes and sleep as long as possible. My host we’re a wonderful older couple (not that much older than me) and we got along wonderfully. She had a completely terraced backyard that they had turned into a fabulous garden. She was a florist by trade, and it was reflected in the yard. My bedroom was upstairs and overlooked the garden. The house was remote enough that you heard nothing but birds in the morning. It was so wonderful to wake up with an open window, the sound of birds and the site of that backyard. I could’ve stayed there a week. It was 3 nights as it was.

The concert that night was well attended. They sat out 75 chairs in a small building and most of them were filled, which was a wonderful amount for the church there. They said they had about 15 visitors from the community who had never come to their church before. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do over here. It was a highly successful night, all around… even if Carter had a fever which broke halfway through the concert. He had a good layer of sweat going and looked pretty woozy, but he toughed it out.

Northampton

On our journey south to our final destination, we made a stop in Leicester and did some shopping at a really big indoor mall. Behind that were blocks and blocks of outdoor markets and shops. We even went to the local cathedral where Richard the Lionhearted is buried. We were turned away because a worship service was happening. That was strange, not being allowed to enter the church because a service was in process. Oh well…

When we arrived in Northampton, we went to the home of the minister. The preacher there is the cousin of our driver, Paul Hill. This was Paul’s last stop and he handed us back over to King Richard for our final few days. We also got to meet a team of campaign workers from MTSU. They had arrived just a couple of days earlier and were still adjusting to the time. We were two and a half weeks into the new time zone and pretty much exhausted. So, we fit well together. They cooked burgers outdoors and things got loud and crazy. And it was Michael’s birthday. After that, we called it a night and checking into our hotel for the next 4 nights.

Which brings us to the great Northampton Flood of 2018. Carter and Jeremiah were sharing a room at the hotel. The cold tap on the bathroom faucet was faulty… you had to turn it about 6 times for the water to even come on. Apparently Carter only turned it 3 or 4 times and nothing happened, so he assumed it was broken. Jeremiah had a bit of a stomach bug and Carter had filled a glass of water for him from the tub. After that, they both took a sleep-aid and went to bed (with a noise machine playing in the room).

They were awakened the next morning at 7AM by a very angry maintenance man. As they went to the door, they realized the floor was wet and there were about 30 towels piled up in the bathroom. That was only the beginning of the weirdness. The story they were told goes as follows:

Apparently, sometime in the middle of the night, the maintenance man and the evening manager had pounded on the door for 40 minutes (?) before letting themselves into the room. The small plastic sack that had formerly housed a bar of soap had fallen into the sink at some point. That was followed by the cold water tap deciding to come on by itself (since it was still on 3 turns and not completely on or off). That overflowed and flooded the bathroom and about half of the bedroom. It also leaked through the floor and into the rooms below (he was on the 3rd floor). The two men proceeded to soak up the flooded bathroom with armloads of towels. Then, they closed the door and left. Carter and Jeremiah heard none of this. They slept through the entire episode.

Yes, the story is strange and smells a little fishy – as did the room. But we can’t deny that they woke up and found the room as described. The maintenance guy had informed them that they were going to be charged for the damages to the room, which sent the guys into a bit of a tailspin. The next evening, Richard Sharpe had a conversation with the manager (I was present for this as well). King Richard is a wise and experienced businessman. He and the manager had a conversation that could only be described as the most civil argument I’ve ever heard. They were talking legalities and lawyers and things that would have most likely led to a fist fight in America. The whole thing was a bit surreal.

After about 10 minutes of passive aggressive arguing, the manager finally mentioned the cost of repair, which was roughly $230. I was expecting $3-4K with water damage. When I heard the cost (which the manager should have led with), I pulled Richard aside. I told him I’d prefer to go ahead and pay the amount rather than continue in the direction this was heading. Talk about burying the lead, good grief. Anyway, I gladly paid the money, the guys changed rooms and all was well.

That day, we took a trip into Londinium (the Roman name for London). We drove the bus into Wembley and parked at the Wembley church lot. Then, we took the Tube into the city center and jumped on one of the double decker open-top tour buses that runs around the city. That was a wise decision, as walking around London trying to see everything ourselves would have killed us. Or at least killed me. Besides seeing the normal things like Big Ben, Parliament, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace etc, we also saw Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross (Harry Potter) and 212B Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes). It was another great day.

After a good night’s sleep, Richard and I took a road trip in Willingham, a village about an hour east of Northampton. Willingham is literally my old home place. My mother was a Willingham. Her great X3 grandfather had three sons who left England in the early 1800’s to find their fortune in America. They arrived, married local girls and went flat broke. When the father died back in England, word was sent for one of the sons to return and claim the land and castle. None of them could do it. The castle and grounds passed to the Crown who tore it down and reapportioned the land.

I had a chance to do some searching around the village after I arrived. The local library had a lot of information, quite a lot. It would have taken days to dig through it, so I moved on. We found the local church, which mostly dated back to the 1500’s. It was an amazing place, full of history. The best part was behind the building. They had an ancient cemetery with headstones that were mostly unreadable. As we walked around looking at them, I noticed a very large tree with branches that hung down almost to the ground. Working my way under the tree, I found several headstones that weren’t visible from outside the tree. Two of them had the name “Willingham” chiseled onto it. I took pictures that I will do some digital forensic work on, but these had to be some of my forefathers. It was a special moment and a great morning all around.

The concert that evening was a special event as well. All of the places that we have sung at thus far have been individual events. Northampton is a UK-wide youth rally. Youth groups from all over the country were in attendance. In fact, we were told that between the seven cities where we sang and the people present at the rally, we will have touched every church in the UK. That’s a humbling thought.

As expected, our last concert was a wonderful event and the group sang really well. It was probably the best concert of the tour. The crowd responded great and the group sang their heart out. That night was followed by a morning of worship that was just as good.

The church in Northampton is a collection of 23 different nations, plus all the people who had come in from around the country. We had a fellowship meal (yeah, a potluck) after the morning worship. I had what was arguably the best lamb curry I’ve ever tasted. I wanted more, but it was gone when I went back. Rats. At any rate, it was a great experience to worship with a church that was so culturally diverse. It’s the way church should be, and I loved it.

Overall, the trip was blessed by God in ways that words can’t describe. Even the weather was perfect.  We were told that it was going to be cold and rainy for our entire trip, especially in Scotland. Wrong. God literally cleared the way and it hardly rained at all. We had a touch of rain on the first day in Peterhead. It didn’t rain again until we were in the hotel room on the last night, packing for our return trip.

Speaking of return trips, that went pretty smoothly as well. I got to unpack my backpack for a deep search, but other than that, smooth sailing.

I’ll sum it up by repeating what was told me at the end of the tour. Between the eight churches that we sang for and the UK-wide youth rally at the end, we effectively had an impact on every Church of Christ in the United Kingdom. That is most definitely something I did not think was possible. This trip has even laid the foundations for a similar mission-oriented trip by Acappella. This all started when Lacy causally mentioned Scotland as we we’re talking about the summer tour in early September 2017. You never know what God will do with an idea. May He receive the glory.

Comments

  1. Judy waggoner says:

    Thank you, Gary for taking these young people on such a wonderful trip and bringing them home safely.

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