That magical time of year when anything can happen, or at least that’s what I like to think. It’s a break from the routine of life: from school, from work, from closed-toe shoes, from pants and sweaters, from the mundane routine that can get boring and stale and old. It means seeing family and cousins you haven’t seen for a while, visiting new places, and reading at leisure for more than a few minutes at a time.
When I was a kid, summer meant a break from school (even though I was one of the weird kids who really liked school and eagerly awaited buying supplies like pencils and notebooks and colorful folders). My family usually took some sort of vacation, even if it was just camping in a state park. One of my favorite vacations involved camping with my cousins when I was around five or six. My cousin Jamie was three weeks younger than me, and being two towheaded kids, we looked like twins and were inseperable. I have no idea how long that trip was, but I have fond memories of Jamie and I hiking our campsites together, seeing Mt. Rushmore, and exploring Story Book Island in South Dakota. When I was older, we still went camping, but then it was my brother that tagged along with me, even though we had that unspoken sibling agreement to ignore each other completely when it was convenient, and to “not touch” each other in the minivan.
When I got to high school, summer meant one thing: New Way Singers. I had the privilege of being a part of Nebraska Christian College’s New Way Singers program for four years, every year I completed a year of high school. This meant rehearing with about a hundred and twenty other high schoolers for several days at the beginning of June, then sending us all out on three tour buses around the Midwest to perform concerts every night at churches for a week and a half. The three tours would then come back together for a final concert a the end of the tours.
Forty-plus kids on a tour bus with handful of adults for two weeks? What couldn’t be fun about that?
I had a blast! I got to do three of the things I love: sing, worship Jesus, and make new friends. We would start each concert with the New Way Singers theme song, which would start with our group of forty singers at the back of the sanctuary. The music would begin and we’d start snapping our fingers to the rhythm, marching up the aisle in pairs of two. When we reached the stage and mounted the risers, we’d keep our backs to the audience until the last singer had reached the stage. Then, on cue, we’d whip around and start singing:
“Start the music! Let the melody begin! Our song is just waiting to be sung!”
After each concert, members of that congregation would volunteer to house us students for the night. Believe me, I’ve stayed at some interesting places! Elderly people who wanted nothing more than to hear about our lives, young couples who were on fire for Jesus, and families with kids who wanted us to play with them: they all came to our concerts and opened their homes and hearts to us. There was the one couple who had four of us girls stay in a trailer on their property and had a composting toilet. There was the teenage daughter of a single mother who let us sleep in her room, but she had to listen to Michael W. Smith’s “Friends are Friends Forever” song to go to sleep. I think it looped about 15 times before I finally fell asleep that night. I still can’t hear that song without shuddering. (Sadly, it’s the weird homes that I remember most!).
While the performing was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of New Ways, the friendships and memories I made are also high on the list. From staying up all night talking on a backyard trampoline, and riding roller coasters until we threw up, to “cruising” through someone’s (extremely small) hometown late at night and praying together with new friends, it was two weeks of my life that I miss just a little bit every summer.