A Gospel Choir in China, Part 2

Last week we posted the first part of an article from Territory about the Baoti Cornerstone Choir. The first part of the article interviewed the choir’s director, Huang Bo about his conversion to Christianity and subsequent call to start a gospel choir in Xiamen.

This week in part two we see how Huang has led members of the team to grow both in their performance skills and in their faith.

Lay down Your Pride and Praise God Here on Earth—a Story of Baoti Cornerstone Choir

(Continued from part 1)

As Director Huang Bo sees it, every brother and sister in the choir is beautiful. Each one is joyful and devoted, never calculating nor complaining about how much they have given to serve. All the Cornerstone members take time from their busy weekday schedules in order to serve in the choir. When they gave a TV performance, they were even evangelizing backstage. During the production of this album, the crew were amazed, “We’ve never seen such a happy team before, not one quarrel in the whole week!” Many professional teams would have quarreled over disagreements.

While Huang Bo is very pleased with their growth, God continues to silently prune those who are seeking to grow with the team.

Yan Mei, one of the senior members of the choir, is sensitive to God’s—the potter’s— hand as she grows together with the team. She has been learning that growing means breaking self. Being aware of her hidden problems of self-righteousness, cold-heartedness, and pride, she is thankful for God’s molding through teamwork.

Director Huang is never afraid to be critical, but he truly hopes for my progress. Other brothers and sisters are also patient with me. My best friends, who truly love and care for me, are here. There are no perfect role models in the Choir. We are all redeemed sinners, being transformed and maturing together. God is so good, and I want to become better!

When Yan Mei is yielding and obedient, God’s grace can find her. She has learned to be more appreciative of others. “At that moment, I realized I have changed. I don’t know how, or when, or what triggered it. Such changes from within are more mind-blowing than any supernatural miracles.”

Jiaojiao became a Christian five years ago when she first joined Cornerstone Choir. Finding joy was her greatest breakthrough. At first she couldn’t understand why Christians always talked about “rejoicing.” Why should one bother to smile if there is nothing to be happy about? Later she realized she had hidden bitterness in her past that she was not able to face. If all enthusiasm for living is only empty hope for an unknown future, yearnings can never be fulfilled. Paul said in Philippians 4 “Rejoice always in the Lord” Indeed, one cannot rejoice in oneself but rather in the love of Christ.

During one Sunday rehearsal, I could not stop my tears when singing “To Love You Is My Joy.” Indeed, joy is a gift from God! God’s love poured over me and it felt like bathing in the bright morning sun. I had no idea what I was to do with my life or how I was to glorify God. I longed to know God’s plan for my life. At last, I have come to know his purpose for me through the ministry of the church choir. “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Now the Lord is my joy!

Li Weijian, another choir member, says:

I was a spoiled, only child growing up, and was often self-centered. Since I joined the fellowship, God asked me to give some part of myself to others in church, sometimes a most precious part to those in need. When I truly obeyed, I was crucifying my old self to please God. Whenever I sin in real life, I feel convicted to think that I should serve God in the worship team while still being hypocritical. So I repent and obey him.

Liu Yue, who just joined the choir one year ago, felt it was her curiosity about the choir that drew her back to church. She was already a believer but felt very depressed and isolated. She could not read the Bible or pray. On the Sunday when she returned to church, she burst into tears at the sound of the worship music, emptying her heart before God of all its bitterness, sadness, and guilt.

After the morning service, I told director Huang that I wanted to join the worship team. I didn’t understand what it meant to serve in this ministry. I could feel joy pouring in from God when I sang every worship song at every rehearsal or church service. Brothers and sisters often tell me that I seem so happy and my happiness flows over to them whenever I sing in worship. Thanks be to God! I can feel God’s joy and love, and I can’t help but express it whenever I worship. Such joy is not from man or any man-made thing, but from the eternal God. And it cannot be taken away! Praise the Lord that he has called and led me to join the Cornerstone Choir and transformed me through the ministry. In this loving team, I truly know his love for me. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I deeply know his presence holding my hand and leading me onwards.

“In whatever you do, music or anything else, when your team has been striving for constant progress through continued training, you will inevitably encounter a plateau where fatigue and slackness set in.” Huang Bo openly talks about such times that they have been through.

Especially in the first two years, his strict way to discipline was often misunderstood. “Why must we meet those high standards? Why must we practice more at home? Isn’t he a perfectionist?”

But in Huang Bo’s view, the need for discipline is not because they need to be perfect.

This ministry, like any other, requires the best sacrifice for the Lord. As God warns the Israelites in the book of Malachi, “You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.” If anyone claims to love the Lord but won’t claim responsibility for the service he is committed to, then it is not just a matter of professional adequacy. And, music must always allow for improvements. You cannot move on without having your next goal in sight.

The choir meets twice every week for rehearsal. When starting a new song, they first learn its spiritual implications and try to understand how man’s relationship with God is presented in the song, and how to sing with well-measured emotions. Worship songs are carefully selected for their theological backgrounds, and for harmony, tune, and musical accompaniment, which Huang Bo thinks will build confidence in the team. “Though we may not be the best singers yet, we can hope to improve if we know that the songs we sing are beautiful themselves. And it doesn’t worry me right now if someone takes a day off, because the next time he will see the progress we’ve made while he was gone.”

Director Huang does not usually spare his criticisms, which sometimes are just over a student’s failure to remember lyrics. Before long, though, everyone will be laughing off what was said. Such is the close relationship that master and students both enjoy. Sometimes mistakes are inevitable. Huang remembers at one prayer time before worship started, a choir member suddenly started crying and confessed how he hadn’t memorized all the song lyrics and how weak he was. But on the stage, all turned out excellent. That weak person also performed exceptionally well. Huang reminded the team, “Do you think this is your doing? Obviously, God has hidden our weaknesses.”  It was no time to be self-complacent. It was at just such a time that Huang Bo could see all the more God’s care and preservation.

As our interview draws to a close, there is one final question for Huang Bo. “What is your present trial after years of being refined in God’s hand?” He answered quickly, “It is still my pride. It is easier to do away with pride in things such as money and fame because I never truly cared too much about that. My inner battle is to fight my tendency to take pride in myself over personal achievements when I should be giving all the glory back to God. I can’t easily take complements from people. Every time I achieve something, I pray with thanksgiving and remind myself that I am only God’s servant. It is helpful to remind oneself in this way. And God can reveal to me my selfishness and those things I have been holding onto.”

Having come a long way, the Cornerstone Choir is not confined to ministry only within the church. They hope to spread their singing to wider spheres outside the church and into the lives of millions of young people. The album “My Song upon the Altar” was thus born.

Huang Bo says, “Ours is an amateur choir and this album is our very first attempt. It’s not satisfactory in some ways. I am not being too critical, indeed we must strive for excellence for God’s glory. We hope to produce more albums in the years ahead.”

Yan Mei says, “We may have to battle against laziness or lack of vigilance all our lives. Have we given back to God all the glory, recognition, and praises that we gain on the stage? There is a long way ahead to continue our worship in spirit and truth. The journey has just begun with many temptations ahead! I will rely only on God until the day when I shall see his face.”   

Editor's note: To hear the choir sing, click on the original article and scroll down to one of the four audio clips that are included in the post. 

Original article: 放下骄傲,在俗世中赞美神——保提基石福音合唱团 (Territory)
Edited and adapted with permission.

Image credits: Territory.