May 22, 2017
Writer: Erin McMahon
Thousands watched as the Collegiate Bountiful Chorale from Accra, Ghana sang "The Lord is my Shepherd" in the BYU-Idaho Devotional on April 25. More than 65,000 others saw the performance on Facebook.
A few days after the performance, student Mikelle Pouwer shared on the BYU-Idaho Facebook page, "Never have I felt so united as a church as I did this past Tuesday when a young adult choir from Ghana sang live at our devotional. So cool!"
For the first time, the BYU-Idaho Center broadcast a live video transmission from the other side of the globe. More importantly, it was the effort and preparation done prior to the broadcast that made the experience even more meaningful for all who participated.
"I had an amazing experience watching the students come together through music," said Pathway Managing Director JD Griffith. "For the choir members, I'm sure it was purely motivated by the feeling that they wanted to give back to BYU-Idaho." Griffith visited Ghana at the same time as the BYU-Idaho Collegiate Singers in 2013, when the choir invited Pathway students to prepare a few songs to perform during their tour performance. As a result of that experience, the Pathway students in Ghana have continued the choir ever since.
A year later, Griffith was asked to give a devotional address and had the thought of having the choir from Ghana perform the musical number. But without the technical resources, the opportunity wasn't logistically possible at the time. "Living conditions are very rough, and the economy of Ghana is very suppressed," Griffith said. "But the Ghanaian people are some of the most loving and Christlike people that I'd met. They felt like BYU-Idaho and Pathway had been a true blessing to them."
This time, four years after Griffith's original visit to Ghana, he decided to take the special opportunity to watch the students perform from a seat in the I-Center.
"It was amazing to sit in the congregation," Griffith said. "Even though I don't think I recognized any of them from when I was there, I felt a great love for them and a gratitude for their willingness to share their talents."
Great sacrifices were made and challenges were faced in order to make Griffith's idea possible. AV Productions Video Director Bret Barton and Media Systems Engineer Chris Smelcer made up the small video team that traveled to Ghana to record the performance.
Though all the paperwork was filled out prior to boarding the plane to travel to Ghana, customs officers held their equipment when they arrived. Without success in pleading their case, the AV team was expecting to be without any of their camera equipment.
"Over the weekend, we managed to create a plan B using local equipment of lower quality," Barton said. "But we were glad it all worked out."
The day before the devotional, with the help of Church employees in Ghana, Barton and Smelcer were able to retrieve their original equipment, and move forward with the performance.
In addition to the technical difficulties that arose, the choir members also went to great lengths to attend the performance.
"The night of the event, we actually had a rainstorm with thunder and lightning roll through," Barton said. "So a lot of the choir members were slow getting there, and some were worried they wouldn't make it."
Because of congested roads and high population in Ghana, it normally takes hours to travel from one end of the city to the other.
"Some of them had to show up early after work or school," Barton said. "Rather than going home because of the far commute."
The broadcast was a success in the end, but what happened after the performance was a celebration that Barton says he will never forget.
"After we gave the choir the sign that we were done, we heard the people behind us start clapping," Barton said. "The choir cheered and they all started singing in their native tongue."
The experience was unforgettable for so many, but Barton could tell that it meant even more to the Pathway students in Ghana who truly gave it their all.
"You could tell that this meant a lot to them," Barton said. "You could just see on their faces that they put everything they had into getting there and performing for us."