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The Mystery Revealed

June 15, 2016
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Dana Effler reflects on the Variations Mystery Tour

The Variations Mystery Tour began to unfold as we pulled away from the church on Sunday, June 5 in a charter bus and a 15 passenger van headed northeast to Texarkana. We were loaded down with suitcases, musical instruments, snacks, water, 48 Variations and 9 counselors driven by our favorite bus driver, Anthony Washington.


We arrived safely at FUMC Texarkana where we rehearsed, enjoyed dinner provided by the music department and gave our first concert at 7:00 PM in their beautiful sanctuary.

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After the concert we took time for some group trust building giving each other a “Pat on the Back” writing in 2 words or less the attributes we saw in the person on whose back we were writing. Followed by some family group discussion and circle time – “You are a child of God, wonderfully and beautifully made. You are perfect in God’s sight. Trust in God and  trust in yourself.”


On Monday, the day began bright and early with a couple songs lead by Tim Johnson on guitar followed by a devotional lead by Variations president, Haley Allen.


Each morning, one of our seniors led the morning devotional followed by announcements outlining the day’s activities. On this day, however, we kept the mystery intact and boarded the bus with Variations still not knowing where they were going or what they were doing. The only thing they knew was that they were wearing the appropriate clothes and shoes. As we were arriving at our destination just outside Hot Springs, AR, they learned that they would be zip lining! And so we did! Big fun!

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After zip-lining, we were on the road again headed to Conway, AR where we sang for a very grateful audience at College Square Retirement Community. Afterward, the singers enjoyed visiting with the residents and having dinner in their dining room served by members of a local United Methodist Church – connectional ministry at its best!

Here is an excerpt of a follow-up email from the Program Director, Kevin Stowe:

We very much enjoyed your group’s visit last night.  It was certainly a huge hit! … Yesterday was the 72nd Anniversary of D-Day. The group should be proud to know they performed for a room full of Veterans last night.  A couple of Distinguished Flying Crosses, too… If your tour bus needs somewhere to stop in Conway in the future, you can count on College Square! 

We were very glad that we included A Salute to George M. Cohan on our program with songs like “Yankee Doodle” and “You’re a grand ole flag”!


Following our time at College Square Retirement Community, Variations were given a private tour of Hendrix College and then frozen custard for everyone at Andy’s.10 11

On Tuesday morning, we were out at 8:00 AM headed for Little Rock where we put in 3 hours of service at the Rice Depot Warehouse, a division of the Little Rock Food Bank.

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Then it was on to Fort Smith, AR to sing an evening concert of the First United Methodist Church.

See for yourself:
Psalm 139 Allen Pote
Gaudium! (Joy) Audrey Snyder 

Wednesday brought us to Parrot Island Water Park for some outdoor fun. We were very grateful for beautiful weather!


After a morning of fun in the sun, we traveled to Fayetteville, AR for rehearsal, dinner and an evening concert at Central UMC .


On Thursday morning, we warmed up singing Pass It On and Sanctuary during our morning devotional time and then boarded the bus for our final concert at Methodist Health and Rehab Center in Fort Smith.  A record crowd awaited our arrival. Among those in the audience was a lady on the front row with a twinkle in her eye. She had just celebrated her 104th birthday and had received a letter from President Obama. She was thrilled to hear our Salute to George M Cohan and said that she was in the audience to hear James Cagney’s original performance of George M, adding that we were every bit as good! Of course we really appreciated that!  At the conclusion of our performance, the singers visited with audience members and gave them the flags we used in “You’re a Grand Ole Flag” as a parting gift.

See for yourself:
“You’re a Grand Ole Flag” from A Salute to George M. Cohan arr. Mack Huff
Visiting with the residents
More visiting…

Then we headed to our yet undisclosed final destination. As we got closer, some began to guess that we would be spending the last two nights in Broken Bow, OK at the Lake View Lodge. And they were right.

After getting settled, swimming and dinner, we had our first group activity, a trust walk. In pairs, one partner was the shepherd, the other the blindfolded sheep. Midway along the trail, they swapped roles.


Then they had family group time to discuss their experiences on the trail followed by a full group devotional focusing on Luke 24: 13-35 (The Road to Emmaus).

After sunset the seniors built a camp fire and treated everyone to Smore’s.


On Friday, we had fun kayaking on the Mountain Fork River followed by pizza, mini-golf and ice cream.

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On Saturday morning, we packed up, had our final devotional by the lake, and headed for home.


One last stop at Wesley UMC in Greenville, TX to have a little barbecue and our closing ceremony.

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Our mystery tour turned out to be quite magical in many ways. We made beautiful music that made our audiences smile. We learned a little more about trust – trust in God, trust in our own abilities, and trust in the love of friends and family.

FirstChurch, you were very well represented by this extraordinary group of youth and adults!

Thank you for your support!

Want to know more?

We would love to meet you! From our Rotunda Theatre to the magnificent bell tower, we have lots of corners to show you and a great history to share. We look forward to answering your questions about our ministry, theology and outreach, and invite you to join us for a tour.

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