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Opening their mouths to sing, teach gospel

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The singers with the Tabernacle Choir and guests on tour to Europe June 12-July 2 had spent a little time one morning in Toledo, Spain, en route by buses from Madrid to Lisbon, Portugal. Walking back to a bus to continue the long day's journey, Stephen W. Carter stopped on a broken-tiled street to chat with a woman sitting in a doorway.

Fluent in Spanish - having served as a missionary in Colombia from 1971-73 - he introduced himself, handed her a card with a depiction of the resurrected Savior and photo of the Tabernacle Choir on its covers, and information about the choir and the Articles of Faith inside. A statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley about the family was on the back of the card, next to the illustration of Jesus. Another singer gave the woman a cassette tape recording by the choir.At first, the woman seemed somewhat wary that strangers would stop to speak. After a few seconds, perhaps impressed that Brother Carter spoke her language so well, she rose to her feet, stepped closer and listened intently. In an exchange that took probably no more than four minutes, he became her introduction to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He hopes that when missionaries come her way, she will remember the pleasant moments they shared.

Brother Carter's meeting was just one of hundreds such encounters during the Tabernacle Choir's tour in Europe. While inspiration might have come in a flash and the Spirit might have whispered promptings to be acted upon immediately, missionary work during the tour didn't just happen. Much planning and work were done in advance.

Thirteen months before the choir embarked on its tour to Europe, a missionary committee was formed among choir members, with Charles Sorensen serving as chairman. Others who served with Brother Sorensen on the committee during the tour were Frank Bentley, Nola Child, Jon Green, Julie Cawley-Hanson and Peggy Henderson. Other choir members served for a time on the committee.

"Some 50 people requested to be on the committee," Brother Sorensen said, drawing attention to how much interest choir members have in missionary work. (Each choir member is set apart as a special missionary; his or her position in the choir is a Church calling.)

In months preceding the tour, the committee met 16 times to formulate plans to help choir members in their callings as missionaries.

One of the most effective results of the committee meetings was the design and production of a 4-inch-by-5 1/4-inch card, which folds in half horizontally. It was this card that Brother Carter gave the woman in Toledo.

"There are multiple messages on a single card," Brother Sorensen said.

Sister Henderson said, "We wanted something to give people that would let them know that we are Christians and that would tell something about our beliefs. An attendant on our flight read every word of the card."

Sister Child said that one of the tour guides, upon being given a card, looked at it and said, "Ah, Christ. That's very good."

Choir members purchased their own cards in one or all of the languages of the audiences on the tour: English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. After the cards had been ordered, committee members realized that cards should have been ordered in Flemish and Dutch, also. Those cards were printed and made available to choir members at no cost.

"We had more than 34,000 cards," Brother Sorensen said. In addition to giving out cards, choir members also purchased more than 9,800 tapes or CDs of their better-known recordings. They gave away the recordings, primarily to people who were not members of the Church. In Marseille, France, choir members began a practice that they continued in other places throughout the tour: They gave hundreds of tapes and CDs to missionaries to distribute.

Brother Green spoke of the value of giving non-members, investigators or less-active members something tangible, "something that will keep alive the memory of this experience for them." He said that years ago, when he was a missionary, he left a Tabernacle Choir record, "The Lord's Prayer," with a family. Thirty years later, his companion's son went to the same area and, while tracting, met that family in the same house. The family happily greeted him. The parents did not join the Church, but their children did. They had listened to the record many times and were receptive to the gospel message.

Quite often, choir members on tour have only a few minutes - sometimes seconds - to meet people at concerts. Brother Bennett said that while choir members are pressed for time, guests traveling with them frequently spend a lot of time with people they meet. He said that his wife, Jean, met a man from India in Rome who expressed a great interest in learning more about Christianity. He said that she sat next to two women who had driven from Paris to attend the concert in Brussels. In both instances, Sister Bennett gave the women cards and information about the Church.

"I think there are a lot of parallels between our music and the way missionary work is done by full-time missionaries," said Brother Carter. "We sing Puccini and classics; we get the people's attention. After `talking' to them in the language of music, which is the international language, we deliver a message, we bear testimony in song. On this tour, after we sang the classics and all the other pieces, the bottom line was that we believe in God. We sang `I Am and Child of God.'

"We're here to sing, to touch lives in a way that they will listen to what our message is. We don't have a lot of time in deciding whether we will open our mouths to share the gospel message. If we don't open our mouths now, we may never have that opportunity again."