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Benoit Doppagne/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images

Musicians perform at an elderly home in Belgium. (Benoit Doppagne/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)


Singing for the suffering

A Belgian choir takes it talents to locked down nursing homes

Like office workers across Europe, Luiza Chrzanowska found herself sidelined by COVID-19. A day job as an economist with the European Commission at its headquarters in Brussels turned into teleworking from home, alone. The ecumenical choir she leads, Chapel for Europe, took a sudden sabbatical as the coronavirus canceled events.

Closed borders and travel bans meant the Catholic evangelical could not return to her native Poland. “Missing Easter breakfast with my family has probably been the most difficult thing for me,” Chrzanowska told me when I reached her by phone in the Belgian capital.

Her choir no longer met for singing, “too contagious,” she said, “so we had Zoom rehearsals instead.”

That’s when Chrzanowska and several choir members from the Well, a cross-cultural evangelical church in Brussels, had an idea: They could take their singing to the suffering.

The group began with an impromptu Sunday afternoon concert outside Cinquantenaire, a private elderly care facility with hundreds of residents in the Brussels suburb of Etterbeek. The musicians, about 15 altogether, added another home for the elderly about five minutes’ walk away, where the mother of one of their members resides.

In early May when they began, COVID-19 deaths in Belgium had come down from several thousand a day in April to perhaps 600 a day, more than half of them in nursing homes like these. But a strict lockdown, already in place for six weeks, continued. Only food shops were open and shopping was limited to one person per family. Residents could leave their homes for one hour’s exercise per day, and police used drones to monitor social distancing. At the nursing homes, relatives couldn’t visit and residents were confined inside their own rooms.

Chrzanowska’s outdoor concerts quickly became anticipated events, and the singers learned to recognize each resident at his or her window. Some stood, obviously waiting for them, while a saxophonist roused others from rest. Accordion and trumpet players also accompanied the singers, with everyone in the group using their allotted exercise time to make the sessions happen.

Harmonizing outdoors and with distance takes a lot of improvising, said Chrzanowska, but soon she learned those indoors were calling them the “Choir of Love.” They were making a difference, said relatives and staff.  One resident attempted suicide early in lockdown. She became the first to stand on a balcony awaiting the choir’s arrival. The Cinquantenaire director, seeing the effect, rented a hydraulic scaffold for the singers to be lifted to the windows of each floor.

“People join us in the street too. We choose songs they know, and it means so much that we are coming to show our love. There’s real bonding going on,” Chrzanowska said. “Even if you go for half an hour, it matters. It’s doing unto the least of these for all that Jesus has done for me.”

On a Sunday in June, one of the regulars didn’t show at her window. “We feared she had died of COVID-19,” said Chrzanowska, “but as we were finishing, she appeared. She had just taken a nap and was late. So we stayed longer to sing just for her.”

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Ray Mickshaw/Fox

(Ray Mickshaw/Fox)


To Hollywood, with Legos

Creativity and teamwork led Tyler and Amy Clites to a Lego Masters championship

Be in the world but not of it: A familiar concept for Christians, but easier said than done if the world is Hollywood reality TV. Just ask Florida couple Tyler and Amy Clites, champions of Fox’s new show Lego Masters.

Tyler, who has built with Legos since he was 2 years old, works for an independent online company designing instructions for creative brick models. His office is a spare bedroom lined floor to ceiling with white plastic drawers of bricks. The bricks are organized by type, as Tyler demonstrated, pulling out a drawer to reveal yellow 2x2x1 cylinders. Amy, a piano teacher, had no Lego-design experience before meeting Tyler. “I married into it,” she laughed.

The competition, which took place from November to December 2019 and aired this spring, consisted of 10 Lego “builds” based on different themes and judged for technical level and artistic appeal. Each round lasted 12-15 hours nonstop, and at the end of each round the judges sent one team home. Tyler and Amy had been married only about a year when filming began and hadn’t gone through any major stresses together.

The first round was especially rough. The challenge was to build a theme park, so Tyler designed an egg drop ride as the central feature. The elevator mechanism didn’t work until the last minute. The Cliteses were still getting used to the TV show world, the pressure of the clock, and building together. Plus, Amy is pregnant and had some first-trimester nausea.

The Cliteses live in Bradenton, Fla., but the competition took place in Los Angeles: Coming from conservative backgrounds, the couple felt drained by the long days filming in a highly secular atmosphere, where profanity was prolific. For Amy, who had been a missionary in Uganda 10 years earlier, it felt like returning to the field.

They faced many challenges. One was staying realistic about the outcome, since the winners would take home $100,000. Tyler and Amy had been planning to buy a house, and such a cash prize would help. So they started each Lego build with prayer: “Lord, make Your will our ultimate desire.” 

Tyler was more stressed by the idea of going home and losing the opportunity to try every challenge. Amid the pressure, he constantly had to remind himself not to idolize proving himself. He and Amy used their differences to complement each other: Amy was the planner and timekeeper, Tyler the designer. 

Amy pushed herself to engage and seek out deeper conversations with the other competitors. Although the producers didn’t give the competitors a chance to talk about their beliefs, they highlighted the Cliteses’ newlywed status in a positive, if caricatured, light. The couple dressed as if for date night and stole kisses onscreen.

The judges favored builds with strong characters and storylines, and that allowed Tyler and Amy to showcase both their creativity and pro-life values. One of their builds featured a giant super-baby saving the world from milk-stealing cats. Their prize-winning build, Treasure of the Griffin, depicted a mother griffin with realistically flapping wings fiercely protecting her young.

—Lego Masters is available on Amazon, Hulu, and Fox Now. Cautions: Mild bad language from one participant, and other participants include a homosexual couple.

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Cloud 9 Studios Apelo Inc.

(Cloud 9 Studios Apelo Inc.)


“Holy sandpaper”

Darrell and Catheleen Jordan fought throughout their first decades of marriage, but learning true love and respect helped their relationship thrive

14th in a series on long marriages

It was the summer of 1974 when 16-year-old Darrell Jordan visited the park with his cousin and noticed a teenage girl hanging upside down on the monkey bars. “She looked so cute,” Darrell recalls. “That was my wife.” Catheleen was only 13, but Darrell felt shy around her. Eventually, they talked, dated, then married in 1977, when Darrell was a college sophomore and Catheleen a high-school senior. 

Both had grown up in church but lacked examples of healthy marriage. Catheleen, the youngest of nine children, was raised by a single mom who eventually remarried. Her stepfather, a trucker, was constantly traveling and carried on affairs, Catheleen says. Meanwhile, Darrell, an only child, saw his parents fight, sometimes violently. Once, his dad broke his mom’s ribs. Another time, his mom shot and wounded his dad with a gun. Darrell resolved never to get divorced.

However, disagreements arose early in the Jordans’ marriage because of differences between them: Darrell was a quiet, focused person, while Catheleen was outgoing. She remembers feeling hurt when she wanted his attention but he became engrossed in listening to music or playing his trumpet. Eventually, her feelings would surface, and the couple would fight. Darrell apologized and assured her he loved her. Things would improve—until he found a new project. Catheleen remembers taking off her rings and threatening to leave. Yet they always managed to resolve their fights.

It was a selfish time. I wasn’t thinking of her like I should have.

A few years after Darrell and Catheleen married, their Christian neighbors invited them to a Bible study, and in August 1979 the Jordans went forward in a Baptist church to commit their lives to Christ. Darrell says he fully believed in the gospel a few months later, after hearing a TV preacher. As the Jordans grew in their faith, they committed to solve their disagreements with Scripture. 

But problems persisted. Darrell worked for IBM for 10 years, and in the 1990s entrepreneurship demanded his time and attention as he started his own computer business. Catheleen says she felt “95 percent of his time was working, and the other 5 percent we were in church.” She was homeschooling and caring for two babies and needed help. But when she told Darrell, he would remind her their situation would not last forever. 

In the early 2000s, the vocational situation changed, but the home situation didn’t: Darrell became a pastor, and for the first few years, he focused on ministry above his family. “It was a selfish time,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking of her like I should have.” 

Then, in a pivotal conversation, a friend asked if God had commanded Darrell to lay down his life for ministry. Darrell said no. The friend then asked if God had commanded he lay down his life for his wife, and Darrell was convicted. 

Around the same time, Catheleen was learning not to put Darrell in place of God. When Darrell disappointed her, she went instead to God for love and satisfaction. As Darrell learned Christ-like love for his wife, Catheleen learned to give respect to her husband, no matter how he acted. They learned to appreciate their differences: The focus that enabled Darrell to work on projects nonstop also made him a wonderful father, Catheleen realized. “When we did something, he was all in, 100 percent,” she said. “When he focused on me, I feel like a queen. I feel like there’s absolutely nothing he won’t do for me.” 

Now after 42 years of marriage, the Jordans say they are “deeply in love.” They live in Sterling, Va., where Darrell pastors a church, and most of their children and eight grandchildren live nearby. Darrell, 62, and Catheleen, 59, can see how marriage has helped them grow. “We call it holy sandpaper,” Catheleen said.

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