Marching band and missionaries are basically the same

by Amy Young on August 16, 2017

This truth hit me smack between the eyes.

I didn’t see it coming. I’m not sure I like it. (Hello, one seems fun but maybe a bit shallow and the other purposeful, deep, you know, important.)

But the truth is marching bands and missionaries are basically the same.

It is marching band camp season in the US. With an oldest niece as the drum major and a second niece is in the percussion section (her first year), let’s just say that the insight marched up to me.

Here is how marching bands and missionaries are basically the same

1. Regional flavors exist. Here is the U.S. it turns out that band in Iowa, Colorado, and Texas are, um, not the same. Mission work in Ghana, Thailand, and Brazil are, um, not the same.

2. The whole is made up of parts. Like other bands, marching bands are divided into sections. So, sometimes the flutes are off by themselves practicing their little fluty hearts out. Other times, the entire band is together working on their show. You, dear missionary, may be a part of a team, a city team, a region, and maybe even a much larger organization. If you get together for annual or bi-annual meetings, it’s kind of like seeing the show that God is working out through your different efforts.

3. The work is same-same, but different. Every year the marching band learns a new show. They do not pull out the show from the year before and dust it off. No, they learn a completely new show. Now, they are, for the most part, playing the same instruments, wearing the same outfits, and marching with the same marching techniques. Here is where missions can learn from marching bands: are you working on a new show? Or are you pulling out last year’s show? Worse yet, have you been playing the same show for the last four years. If you are bored, of course check with the Holy Spirit, but perhaps, you’ve been putting new wine in old wine skins, so to speak.

4. New members come each year. The nature of a marching band is that the commitment is four years, so that means every year there are newbies in with oldies. There are those who are familiar with what they are doing with those who are just learning. There are those who have never marched before and learning to march is actually harder than it looks. We are in a season of welcoming folks new to the field. It is exciting but,

5. Getting everyone’s feet going up at the same time and height takes a lot of practice. You do about 10 steps over and over. Most common word heard in this phase? “Reset!” Oh that everyone just got it right away. Instead, you reset and do it again. Which leads me to . . .

6. It can be less glamorous than it appears. What do most people see? Your marching band performance. Costumes, props, music, precision. What do they not come to watch? The three hours you were out on the practice field where you might spend a whole morning on 20 seconds of the show. When it comes to missions, what do most people hear about? The dramatic, the annoying (hello visas, I’m talking about you), the moving. Which can perpetuate the myth that everything we do is so fascinating we are basically floating through life.

7. Growing pains. Bands do not stay the same size year after year. Three years ago, the band was made up of 40 members. (Side note: it is impressive that a small band can produce a show as impressive as a band with hundreds. Size isn’t the key factor, committed members is.) Obviously this is a small marching band. This year, there are 70 members. Exciting? Yes. But that means the majority haven’t been a part of the band for more than one year. In a few years it could grow back to 50 or so. Bands do not stay the same size, and chances are neither has your organization or the number in your country of service.

8. The curse of history. Want to know who gave my drum major niece the most problems during band camp? The returning members.

Stop and pause on that one for a moment.

They have won state for five years in a row. They had a beloved band director retire over a year ago. Last year was the first year for the new (and talented) new director. There was a bit of bemoaning the good old days (“Why did you bring us out here to starve? We had it better in slavery in Egypt!.)

9. The blessing of history. With returning members and a history of state championships, the band isn’t starting from scratch every year. Instead they are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. They are adding to a story that started before them and will continue after they graduate.

10. In the end, it is worth it. Both marching bands and missions are about something bigger. Something that is living and dynamic. Something that pushes you to the limit physically without guarantees of glory. Something that offers a common purpose, fellow sojourners, and the chance to be a part of something that might not look like much on the ground, but the view from above? Now, that is something to behold.

Were you in a band? What did playing in a band teach you about missions? What instrument did you play?

(I was never in a marching band, but I did play about six different instruments. Not well, mind you: piano, flute, alto sax, guitar, drum, and violin. My true love? Public speaking.)

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About Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at The Messy Middle. She helped found Velvet Ashes and writes books to help you. Amy is the author of Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters from China and Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service. Looming Transitions also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook. You can listen to it too.

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