By the time Kyle Bone got up to tell his story, he was tired. It was the first weekend of a two-week trip with the Salvation Army’s Pendel Brass and Singers group to South Africa, and the group had just spent an entire day teaching music.
But the South Africans in front of him didn’t show any signs of exhaustion, Bone said. They didn’t slouch or let their attention wander. Instead, Bone said they leaned forward, and listened intently as he described his Roxborough life and recited a Bible passage that he credits with sparking his spiritual awakening.
Bone was not the only one to notice.
Harold Burgmayer, the group’s musical director for the past 32 years, described a similarly intense focus on speakers or performers wherever the group traveled. It impressed both of them.
“We had children who were 8-year-old boys sit for two hours. That would never happen here,” Burgmayer said.
The musical workshops were only part of a larger trip that involved 39 Salvation Army students from throughout the region, who did everything from teaching music and donating instruments to renovating old buildings and painting orphanages.
And though the respectful attention that many South Africans showed to speakers impressed Bone, what really struck him was how they worshipped. People in the United States seem to drag themselves to church services like it is a chore, Bone described. But in South Africa, he saw a very different dynamic.
“They were so happy about singing and dancing that it kind of put us to shame,” Bone said.
“It’s not initiated from a platform. It just starts and they move, movement is a part of it,” he said, describing the congregation’s spontaneous coordination. “To me it’s like a river. The water’s flowing and it just moves through the room.”
Burgmayer said he tries to organize a trip every five years or so. But this one was different.
“This, to me, was the big one,” he said. And for good reason: the South Africa trip was a decade in the making.
The group was originally supposed to make the journey around 2001. But when the Sept. 11 attacks hit, the group diverted their plans and visited Argentina instead. Ten years later, they finally made it to South Africa.
It was the 16-year-old Bone’s first time out of the country, and it really put things into perspective for him. “Who am I to be whining about tests?” Bone asked.
A final stop at an orphanage just before leaving for home left Bone and Burgmayer with a haunting coda to their trip.
The three-story building housed South African children struggling with AIDS. Inside, quilts lined its walls, memorials for each child that succumbed to the disease. And although South Africa has 11 official languages, only English was heard within the orphanage, in hopes that learning it will increase the children’s chances of being adopted.
For Burgmayer, the visit was a fitting conclusion to the trip. It served, he said, “to remind us of the reality of what’s going on here.”