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Music of the Soul: Stories of Transformation in Youth Choir

Transformed. It’s a word Christians often use to describe deeply personal, spiritual change that results in a transformed way of living. Though transformation happens at an individual level, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Relationships, environments, circumstances and opportunity all play a role in providing the chance for God to transform our hearts into something that looks more like the heart of Jesus. What’s our role? Saying yes.

Ruben Alcala is quite familiar with transformation and how it has shaped his faith and understanding about God’s plan and purpose for his life. One of his most profound moments of transformation happened in a choir in Houston. But in order get to that moment, we’ve got to start with high school.  

Ruben’s first dance with music was short-lived. After a brief stint in middle school band Ruben dropped out to pursue high school football. Not finding satisfaction in that pursuit, he accepted a friend’s invitation to join choir his junior year and completed high school as an active choir member. Even though music began to make its way into Ruben’s heart, it wasn’t until after his first year of college that he realized the impact that music was having on his purpose in life. 

“In terms of choral music, it connects people in a way that nothing else can. It’s like everybody has the same pulse for just a little bit. Music gives you the chance to relate to something beyond yourself, and gives you a chance to escape from everything else.” 

Ruben took a leap of faith after his freshman year by changing his major from biology to music and transferring to Houston Baptist University to study under the director of choirs, Dr. John Yarrington, who just happened to be a former music director at McFarlin. It was during this time that Ruben experienced deep spiritual transformation.  

“I went away from church for a while until college. I remember singing in Dr. Yarrington’s choir and having a transformative experience and thinking that’s what I want to give to kids.” 

Ruben’s passion for choral music shines as he conducts the choir in a song.

Ruben finished his undergraduate in Houston and moved to Norman to complete his masters at OU. While he was there, Dr. Yarrington connected Ruben to McFarlin, and he spent two years as a McFarlin choir intern helping lead Sunday morning worship and directing the Chapel Choir and Canticle Singers. He took those experiences with him as he taught in OKC and Houston over the next eight years. 

In March of 2020, Ruben was in New York with his high school spring break choir tour when he got a transformational call. He’d been accepted into the PhD choir program at OU and would be moving to Norman in the Fall. This great news was interrupted, though, by a global transformation: Covid-19 was in the United States and it was spreading fast. NYC shut down 2 days later. The trip was cancelled early and thankfully everyone got home safely.

Spiritual transformation doesn’t stop when the world is on fire. In fact, it is sometimes in the chaos that we make our most profound life transformations if we turn a listening ear to our Creator. Ruben didn’t know what the future held for his family and for the world, but he trusted in God’s plan and timing as he and his family packed up and found a new home in Norman. 

We’re training them to be leaders in the church and leading service the entire time, just like the adults do. It’s really unique what we have here.

After settling into a new home with his wife and two children, Ruben began singing in McFarlin’s choir and was welcomed back with open arms. 

“It was a very surreal moment because it was like all of a sudden I’m back and there’s old friends you know, but there’s new people. It felt very much like coming home to something.” 

 When the youth choir position opened up last summer, Ruben knew that this was an opportunity to fulfill his passion to help kids deepen their faith through music and find a place to not only belong, but to be leaders in the church. 

“I want them to be in choir talking about what we’re singing about, to see them lead in different aspects and grow in their faith. We’re training them to be leaders in the church and leading service the entire time, just like the adults do. It’s really unique what we have here.” 

Over the past year, Ruben has seen transformation in his own life, both professionally and spiritually.  

“You know, I’ve been going through my own journey, kind of figuring out life after the pandemic and being a parent now which is a big thing. But just seeing the outpouring of love within church, being able to worship with the people you work with and the commitment of the staff here has been insane.”  

 His transformation reflects the transformation he sees in the life of choir members as well.  

Within music ministry, these are tight-knit groups. They just have so much genuine love and care for each other. People have gone through highs and lows this year and it’s been incredible to see people rally around them. I’ve served in a lot of churches and I’ve never seen something quite like this.” 

Andrew uses his voice as a way to worship God and serve others.
Youth Choir members rehearse hymns for leading worship on Sundays.

On an individual level, one youth choir member stands out to Ruben as someone who has seen transformation on a personal level. Following in the footsteps of his mother and grandmother, who are longtime McFarlin members, Andrew Schoelen has found purpose and transformation through music, community and serving others. Music has always been part of Andrew’s life and plays a major role in how he spends his time. 

“Music is kind of a personal thing for me. I grew up around it and it was such a big influence on me. I just find comfort in it.” 

Andrew joined children’s choir in elementary school, then added bell choir, youth group and mission trips to his regular schedule. Over the years, his faith has grown in transformational ways on mission trips and through the relationships he’s built in choir. This year has been especially transformative for Andrew in his personal walk with God and in his identity. 

 “I feel like I’ve changed a lot just mentally, physically, spiritually. And I feel like God’s helped guide me through that whole process and still going. I’m finding myself figuring out who I am. I’ve become more confident, like with this. A year ago I would have never said ‘yes’ to this interview.” 

Serving others has also deepened Andrew’s understanding of showing the love of Jesus to others. Through youth choir tours and spring break missions, Andrew has seen the impact of serving others firsthand: 

“Every time I go on a mission trip, just the reaction of those we’re helping really affects me. Whether it’s something big like building a house, or helping with costs, or just serving food. The love of Jesus just flows through all of us and it shows me the kind of difference we are making. It’s beautiful.” 

Ruben and Andrew can both attest to the transformative power of God’s love and grace lived out in community. But it takes courage to say “yes” to letting God shape our lives in a way that reflects the heart of Jesus in this world. Are you ready to say “yes”?  

Interested in joining Bonus Years?
Contact Stephanie Miller or visit the Senior Adults Page to learn more.

Stephanie Miller: or 321-3484 ext. 115