August 28, 2019
The #MyWheaton blog shares first-person stories from Wheaton students and alumni.
Gospel Choir: A Glimpse of Heaven on the Wheaton College Campus
Tasha Pierre ’20 is a political science major with a minor in French and MAT in elementary education ’21 from Winter Garden, Florida. In this MyWheaton blog post, Tasha shares about discovering her identity through her experiences as a part of the Gospel Choir.
My senior year of high school, I decided my sole purpose in attending university would be to learn and be challenged by the material that I would engage with. When I arrived at Wheaton, however, it became evident that for the majority, studies came second to “intentional community.” Because I applied to attend Wheaton strictly for academics, this “intentional community” took me by surprise and frankly, I thought it was an invasion of my privacy.
What came as a tremendous surprise my first semester is the way we are quick to place labels on others rather than taking the time to understand their individual stories and the unique experiences which have impacted their lives and shaped their characters. If we know the story of one person that bears similarities to another person’s story, we tend to view them through the same lens. We do this in an effort to find common ground and to prove ourselves knowledgeable. We are quick to define for others what their own individual and unique experiences are, as if we know them better than they know themselves. Consequently, since coming to Wheaton, I have been forced to wrestle with my identity as a first-generation Haitian immigrant on a different level than I have had to in the past. Specifically, what it means to be Haitian American, part of the African diaspora, and what it means to engage with the social, economic and political issues occurring in my home country of Haiti while also engaging with those of the United States and doing so in a manner that is productive and not naive.
In Florida, when I am asked “Where are you from?” my answer without hesitation is “Haiti.” However, here at Wheaton, the answer to this question is one I continually struggle with. I find that I answer this question differently based on who is asking and where I sense the conversation is going. In the span of a few hours, I may tell one person I live in Florida and another I am from Haiti—the word choice is deliberate. Each time I answer, it is as if I am being disingenuous to myself and to them. Furthermore, I was labeled a “pastor's kid” and a “missionary’s kid,” a reality I had lived my entire life despite having no reason to be labeled as such. Throughout my first semester, I endured an unexpected struggle to feel as if I belonged and had a strong sense of cultural identity.
For this reason, Gospel Choir is a safe haven for me, a shalom, so to speak, because in Gospel Choir, whether it be a rehearsal, an event or a concert, I have been able to truly come as I am before the Lord and express myself in pure worship and praise to God.
In Gospel Choir I am not facing unrealistic social expectations; I am not asked incessant questions about my personal life; I am not forced to put up a facade of a joyful and optimistic temperament to put others at ease. In Gospel Choir I am able to come as I am, helpless before the Lord, in a state of vulnerability and praise to God. Simply stated, Gospel Choir has allowed me to just be and to have peace of mind—something that has become essential to my ability to thrive at Wheaton. It has been a tremendous blessing and a reality check to sing with the Gospel Choir and to be reminded of virtues and disciplines such as simplicity, silence, and humility.
To be part of the Gospel Choir is to exercise the spiritual disciplines of worship, praise and gratitude. To cultivate the fruits of the spirit, in particular faithfulness, goodness and kindness. To have an understanding of what viewing others in the image of God entails, and in so doing, to confront the biases and prejudices that you have. Being part of the Gospel Choir ministry means learning to genuinely care for one another, putting the needs of others before your own. To carry each other’s burdens, learning what it means to empathize with those who differ from you. And to be in meaningful and purposeful fellowship with the Body of Christ. Rehearsals begin with a time of praise and prayer where we share our burdens with one another and lay hands on each other in prayer. Then we continue with our repertoire and close in prayer and song. The purpose of this is to remind us that ultimately the work that we are doing is to glorify God with our bodies and our voices, not to perform. The reality as we know is that God does not need us to sing to Him. He does not need to be told that He is glorious, but when we worship we are reminding ourselves of His attributes and the promises that He has for us. In doing this we let go of the lies that we believe and we draw closer to God.
Overall, serving on Gospel Choir cabinet my sophomore and junior year has allowed me to have a greater understanding of the importance of this ministry and the impact it has had on our campus and the Chicagoland area. Singing in on campus events such as new student worship or all school communion and opening worship in churches in the area has allowed us to minister to others through black gospel music and to invite congregations to praise and glorify God in a style that they may not be accustomed to. There are no other words to describe the ministry of Gospel Choir other than beautiful—a group of ethnically and culturally diverse students united in our desire to worship and praise God through African American Gospel music. Ultimately, I equate Gospel Choir to a microcosm of the Kingdom of God—a quick glimpse of heaven on earth or on the Wheaton College campus. Through these past three years, I have seen For Christ and His Kingdom, the beloved Wheaton motto, actualized through the Gospel Choir ministry.