Five years ago in 2010, a dream began to form in Gail Kerstetter’s heart.
While her son Devin was in basic training at Ft. Benning in Georgia, he attended chapel services each Sunday with fellow soldiers. Each week Devin called home to talk about what he learned in chapel, and God began to plant a seed in Gail’s heart. The director of music ministry and outreach and the University Singers at Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) thought: Why not connect the University Singers’ ministry to the U.S. military?
Gail co-directs the University Singers alongside her husband Bob. Both are ordained ministers with The Wesleyan Church. The group, composed of SWU students, is a “mixed ensemble that exalts Christ through a balance of contemporary Christian and traditional gospel music.”
Gail began to pray that God could make her dream become reality, something far beyond what she could imagine.
“Within a year, we received our first invitation to go to Ft. Jackson and Parris Island (both in South Carolina),” said Gail. On its first visit, the University Singers were invited to return during each training cycle for the next two years so as not to miss any rotation of recruits and Marines.
“During these rotations at Parris Island, we saw more than 9,000 recruits and Marines stand and say ‘yes’ to Jesus,” said Gail.
Fast forward to October 2013 when her dream began to expand. Could the University Singers minister to deployed troops? This was naturally near and dear to her heart, as Devin was later deployed in Afghanistan for a year. Doors opened and the University Singers are slated to travel to Germany and Italy in May 2015, ministering on U.S. bases and in hospitals. They are accompanying Dr. Gary Carr, associate military endorser for The Wesleyan Church, who will be visiting installations overseas. The group has named its project “Operation: Freedom’s Cadence.”
Some members of the University Singers know firsthand how important this ministry can be to troops. In the last 6 ½ years relatives of the University Singers members have deployed 26 times. No one knows that better than Corporal Chris Peck of the United States Marine Corps, a SWU student and member of University Singers.
“Chris has an amazing story about the loss of his best friend, killed by a sniper in Iraq,” said Gail. “His anger drove him for the next few years until he found himself honoring a core value of the Marine Corps (‘Commitment’) after attending a church service.”
The University Singers travel 10 weekends a semester to various military bases, churches and schools. All 13 members of the team are enthusiastic about and committed to communicate the gospel through music and faith stories to armed forces service members around the globe.