FBC Youth Choir taking the flavor of Texas to Ireland
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Members of the First Baptist Church Youth Choir practice some of their Texas tunes they will be performing on their upcoming trip to Ireland. U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall will attend church services Sunday, July 3, to officially send the group off as junior ambassadors of the United States.
Staff photo by Angela Pitts

July 1, 2005 -- A little Irish luck has found its way to 60 area high school students, who are also members of the First Baptist Church Youth Choir.

The FBC Youth Choir, made up of 84 participants, has traveled extensively to places such as Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Bahamas and will soon be performing in the country known for its lush green landscapes, leprechauns, shamrocks and St. Patrick.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of the Fourth Congressional District in Texas will attend services at FBC on Sunday, July 3, at 11 a.m. to officially send the group off as junior ambassadors of the United States, and present copies of a tribute to the choir that he entered into the Congressional Record on June 22.

"I look forward to meeting the members of the choir and hearing them perform," Hall said. "These young people have been a blessing to their church, their community, and to all those with whom they have come in contact through their extensive travels. I want to commend them for the great work they are doing in sharing their talent and their faith with people around the world."

Monica Helm, daughter of Charles and Sharon Helm, as well as a former member of the choir, is currently one of Hall's summer interns in Washington and helped facilitate the tribute to the choir in the Congressional Record.

"I really think we are Sulphur Springs' best kept secret," said Fred Randles, minister of music for FBC for the past 24 years.

The youth choir , which began under Randles' leadership in 1981, has performed on "Good Morning America," "The Early Show," at President's Park in Washington, D.C., Disney World, Parliament Square in Nassau, Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and last year at the Statue of Liberty and New York's Battery Park.

Randles said it was at last year's performance in Battery Park that he was approached by an Irishman who was so impressed by the group that "it would be wonderful to have these American kids perform over in Ireland."

"I guess you could say he planted a seed," said Randles. "I just started to pray about it to see what God would have us do."

Randles said he and his wife, Jane, decided to first make the trip to Ireland on their own, and they were met with a "huge welcome."

"We visited all these wonderful castles and various places," recalled Randles, who was surprised to discover that permits to perform at these locations were not even necessary.

"They really have a lot more religious freedoms than we do," he said. "We have all these limitations and permit requirements here in the states. My wife and I were just shocked."

Contacts were made and, according to Randles, doors starting opening.

"Renting equipment was a concern," Randles gave as an example. "but then we met a man there who said 'Don't worry. We've got you covered.' And then he even offered to have the equipment loaded and pick us up at the airport to get us to our first performance, which is three hours after we land."

For months now, the group has been busy with fund raising, choir practice and learning new choreography.

"We are a show choir," said Randles, who explained the group is anything but the traditional robed choir group. "There is lots of movement. We use flags, banners and have professional choreography.

"And this year, even though we don't do much dancing in the Baptist faith, we'll actually be doing the electric slide," he added with a grin.

In the past, the young people have entertained audiences with both patriotic and spiritually motivated performances, but this year, by special request from the people of Ireland, the show will have a distinct theme.

"Texas!," laughed Randles, who said he was trying to incorporate Irish costumes and music into the tour. "They said, 'No. We want to see Texas!'"

Wearing blue jeans, red, white and blue Western shirts, cowboy hats and cowboy boots, the youth choir will not only perform inspirational music, but tunes such as "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

While concerts take place at Powers Court Castle, Kilkenny Castle, Pebble Beach, Blarney Castle, Bunratty Castle, Trinity College in Dublin and St. Stephen's Mall, sponsors and chaperones will mingle with the listening crowd handing out free Bibles to anyone who asks for one, according to Randles.

After the group returns to Sulphur Springs, they will present a homecoming performance concert at First Baptist Church, 116 Oak Avenue, and share testimonies and pictures of their Ireland experience with the community on July 17.

"The kids have held fund raisers and worked really hard in preparation for this tour," said Randles. "They're all great kids with impeccable manners who will represent our country, state and county very well."

The Youth Choir has received numerous awards and honors, including certificates of appreciation from four United States presidents, the United States Congress, Disney World, Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the Governor of Cozumel, Mexico.

Below is the text of the text of a tribute to the choir that Congressman Hall entered into the Congressional Record on June 22:

HON. RALPH M. HALL OF TEXAS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

RECOGNIZING FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH YOUTH CHOIR SULPHUR SPRINGS, TX

MR. HALL. Mr. Speaker, today I am honored to pay tribute to the First Baptist Church Youth Choir in Sulphur Springs, Texas. The choir is made up of eighty-four participants. They have traveled to New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Canada, the Bahamas, Disney World, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mexico, and this year will be traveling to Ireland. On these trips, the choir performs concerts in areas approved by the city, usually outdoors where anyone who is walking by can stop and listen. While the students are performing, the adult sponsors talk to those who are listening and distribute free Bibles to anyone who asks for one. These high school students have been able to reach the hearts of thousands of people in a variety of places.

The youth choir began in 1981 under the leadership of the Minister of Music of First Baptist Church, Fred Randles, and his wife, Jane. The students meet every Sunday evening for rehearsal. Throughout the year, they perform at church services and at Holiday in the Park at Six Flags over Texas to help them prepare for their summer trip. During the spring, they begin to learn choreography for the songs they sing.

The choir has received certificates of appreciation from four different Presidents, the U.S. Congress, and Disney World Entertainment Industry. They have also been recognized by the Governor of Cozumel, Mexico, and the Bahamas tourist board, and they have had appearances on Good Morning America and the Early Show on CBS.

In addition to performing, the students also participate in a number of ministry activities. In Hawaii, for example, they conducted Vacation Bible School and Sports Camp, worked with people who needed help around their house, helped at homeless missions, and shared the gospel with people who live on the beach.

The First Baptist Church Youth Choir of Sulphur Springs, TX has not only been blessed by the opportunities they have had, but also by the people whom they have met and associated with in their travels, and in turn the choir has been a blessing to their church and to multitudes of people around the world. As they travel to Ireland in July, I ask my colleagues to join me in recognizing these outstanding young people and commending them for the great work they are doing.

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