Before departing on a recent trip to the Balkans, our guide, Dr. Aaron Tyler, instructed and encouraged us in this way:

“As you prepare yourself for the trip, it is very important that you unpack. Unpack your expectations, your biases, your previously-held opinions about the way the world is in Bosnia, Croatia, and Turkey. Unpack your prejudices, even though they may be buried deeply or even sneakily hiding within you. See the people you meet for who they are. Open yourself up to take in what comes our way, and bring fresh eyes and open hearts to absorb what we will experience together.”

I took Aaron seriously. I tried to do that. Consequently, I was surprised in numerous ways and astonished on various levels. After twelve days in the Balkans, I venture to say I will never … ever … be the same again.

As many of us depart on youth choir tours this summer … Facebook indicates many of us are doing that … encourage your students to “unpack.” Travel itself is an education, and the fresh perspectives gained by visiting different parts of the country (and world) will produce life-altering advancements in young lives. These are good changes. Positive perspectives. Let us affirm our students as we observe them adjusting positively to the new worlds around them.

Likewise, as directors, let us unpack as well. Even if you have led 25 choir tours over the decades, this one will be a whole new opportunity and a totally unique adventure for all our students. The power of these journeys cannot be overestimated.

Let us never just “do another choir tour.” Rather, we must remember that we are radically impacting the lives of youth as we travel, as we observe, watch, look and listen. As we are given opportunity to sing scripture, to reach out in goodwill to others, and to make new friends, we are becoming church in the present tense.

So, sometime between our packing of bags and actual departure, let us all spend some time unpacking the baggage we don’t need … all that baggage that would keep us from having the time of our lives together.

And, by the way, did you know that the Alps run through the heart of Bosnia?

Neither did I.

That was one of several dozen sweet surprises I experienced.

But the real surprises came in terms of what I learned from the people. More about that in future posts.