HIGHLANDS, NJ - At 6:30 AM on Friday, December 18, 2015, Project Compassion’s 17 Girls Christmas Chorus, from The Charles Finney School, Penfield, New York, loaded into three vans for a singing mission to Highlands, New Jersey.
Highlands is a seaside borough populated with souls still healing from the “awful pains” inflicted during Hurricane Sandy’s apocalyptic visit three years ago.
It was dark, windy, and cold when the chorus arrived at the CareOne at King James Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. Co-directors Jenna, 16, and Emma, 17, organized the choir in the dining room in front of a sparkling Christmas tree. The girls sang Chorus of the Bells in well-rehearsed, angelic harmonies.
“Their faces lit up,” said Arianna, 15. “It reminded me about my grandma and how she always loved to hear me sing." Ava, 10, was moved to tears when a resident asked, “I don't really know much about God. What do you know?" Ava told her what she knew and prayed for her.
We drove across town and the 17 Girls filed into the small home of a struggling family. We brought pizza and passed out Christmas presents. The oldest son was gripped by joy when he saw the skateboard emerging from the wrapping paper. His mouth stayed open. His eyes were unblinking. Jenna watched and remembered. “The look of pure delight on his face meant everything to me," she said.
The girls sang their full repertoire. Grace, 15, recalled, “When the kids opened the presents we brought, their faces started to glow. Those faces filled me with so much joy and showed me why I was on the mission trip."
The next day, the 17 Girls sang at a memorial event for Daniel Barden at Veterans Park. Daniel was a sensitive, joy-radiating boy whose life was stolen from the earth at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The 17 Girls sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel and the words fit the occasion. “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight.” The sounds that accompany tears were heard.
The poet Julia Kasdorf writes, “I learned from my mother how to love the living … I learned to believe I had the power to ease awful pains materially like an angel.” Finney’s 17 singing angels certainly eased awful pains in Highlands.
Gabby, 14, shared this profound reflection: “God puts certain people, in certain places, at the right time, to change people’s lives, and our lives.”
Project Compassion is an outreach of The Charles Finney School. Since September of 2012, student missionaries have traveled close to 40,000 miles bringing over 700 acts of compassion to struggling and broken-hearted people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Maryland, North Carolina, Missouri, Illinois, Mexico, and Africa. To learn more about Finney visit finneyschool.org. Project Compassion's website is dosomethinggreater.com.