by Andrew Wainwright (Deputy Divisional Music & Arts Director)
For the last half century, the Texas Division has enjoyed a close relationship with The Salvation Army in Mexico, and during that time the Division has sent numerous music and creative arts groups, staff and resources to support the Mexico Territory’s music program. Further strengthening the links, delegates from Mexico have often come in the opposite direction and attended Texas’s summer camps, continuing to do so to this day. It is a relationship that has borne much fruit, and although it has been a few years since a group last went south of the border, those links were rekindled as the Texas Division’s premier youth band, Texas Brass (Bandmaster Andrew Wainwright), and Creative Arts (Leader Chloe Hu), both travelled to support The Salvation Army’s 80th Anniversary Congress celebrations in Mexico City.
As members of Texas Brass and Creative Arts convened on Camp Hoblitzelle on the evening of Thursday, February 24, a great sense of anticipation was evident as many looked forward to what would be their first visit to Mexico. Late-night rehearsals combined with a pre-dawn start the following morning meant for an exhausting first day, but the groups arrived in Mexico City relishing the challenges ahead.
The Salvation Army’s history in Mexico is rich and vibrant, a story which was to be unfurled during the four-day Congress through spoken word, music, creative arts and multimedia. Although festivities had already commenced prior to the group’s arrival, a welcome and celebration meeting held on the Friday night heralded the official start of the Congress. Supported by The Salvation Army’s world leaders, General André and Commissioner Silvia Cox, who were present for all the events surrounding the Congress, the Auditorio Siglio XXI was a sea of Salvation Army uniforms as formalities got under way in true Mexican style. For Texas Brass, this was a first opportunity to rub shoulders with the United Band of Mexico (Banda Unidos de Mexico), who would join together for a number of items during the course of the weekend. The fellowship and camaraderie that grew out of this partnership is something that will be remembered for some time to come by both groups, and is a facet almost unique to Salvation Army banding.
Saturday morning featured three simultaneous meetings for men, women and youth, with the Texas groups splitting up between all three venues, providing appropriate music and creative arts for each occasion, including a rendition of Star Lake (Eric Ball) that featured both Texas groups and the United Band of Mexico.
If the Friday night welcome meeting whetted the appetite for what was to come, then the entrée of Saturday night’s Mexican Party Festival was a veritable feast of Mexican razzmatazz, the centerpiece of which was an hour-long cantata which told the story of The Salvation Army’s 80 years in Mexico through song, dance, drama and no shortage of color. The endearing dance group from The Salvation Army’s local children’s home touched the hearts of many, while a costume parade showcased Mexican traditional regalia at its best. Texas Brass provided a number of musical items including Mexico’s signature march, Zacatecas, and Mexico 70 (Ralph Pearce). General André Cox challenged each Mexican Salvationist not to simply reflect on the past, but to look forward to the future, posing the question, “What will Salvationists be saying about our generation in 80 years’ time?”
The Sunday morning holiness meeting provided poignant moments of reflection and contemplation, with dozens coming forward for the altar call which followed the General’s challenging message. Powerful testimonies told of lives changed through trust in God and how he had remained faithful through times of trials. Of course, a meeting of this nature would not be complete without the Founder’s Song, O Boundless Salvation, complete with all seven verses.
The highlight of the weekend for many was a march of witness, featuring both bands, Texas’s timbrels and numerous Mexican Salvationists, through the streets of Mexico City from Territorial Headquarters to De los Venados Park, where a crowd of several hundred had gathered for an open-air meeting. This was The Salvation Army at its most visible. Featured were the Mexican Territorial Timbrel Brigade, the Children’s Home Dance Group and Choir, a creative arts group from Puebla Corps and Texas Brass. General Cox again spoke with assurance, inviting onlookers to take the opportunity of accepting Jesus into their lives. If anyone was unclear about what The Salvation Army represents, then this was quickly dispelled in this declamation of faith.
Although the conclusion of the open-air saw the Congress officially draw to a close with many Salvationists going their separate ways, a number of meetings still presented the opportunity for The Salvation Army to proclaim the word to the public, the first being an inter-denominational meeting at La Santísima Trinidad, a Methodist Church in the heart of Mexico City. Here several representative speakers, ranging from local politicians to bishops, spoke of their admiration for The Salvation Army. Texas Brass provided a number of musical items – in addition to accompanying the congregation in several hymns, the band featured Time to be holy (Paul Sharman), I’ll follow thee and O Church Arise (both arranged by Andrew Wainwright), the latter featuring Matthew Burn in an extended trumpet solo, and vocalist Megan Lewis, who excelled in Bill Broughton’s big band arrangement of Now I belong to Jesus.
Later that day, Texas Brass and Creative Arts were to feature in a special concert held at the National Anthropology Museum Concert Hall. A near-capacity audience from various walks of life gathered to enjoy items such as Make his praise glorious (William Gordon), Cantus Lacrimosus from Stabat Mater Suite (Karl Jenkins arr. Andrew Wainwright), Tomado de la mano (Erik Silverberg), Amazing Race (Andrew Mackereth), El Es El Senor (Dean Jones), and Star Lake, which featured Texas Creative Arts in a timbrel routine. After a message from General Cox, in which he declared in no uncertain terms that our only way to salvation is through our Lord Jesus Christ, the band played as an encore the Zacatecas March, which was met with great enthusiasm, so much so a repeat performance was requested, resulting in a standing ovation!
With the majority of the group returning to Texas the following afternoon, it marked the end of Texas Brass and Creative Arts’ visit to Mexico City, although a quartet stayed behind to provide music at the Rotary Club of Mexico City. Here, General Cox spoke of The Salvation Army’s mission and close association with Rotary, before fielding a number of questions on various subjects.
As we reflect on 80 years of The Salvation Army in Mexico, we thank God for the work that has been carried out in that part of the world during that time, and pray God’s blessing on the next 80 years.