Music Therapy by Jessica Hiemstra

Jessica Hiemstra
Jessica Hiemstra

Music Therapy by Jessica Hiemstra

Our guest blogger today, Jessica Hiemstra, writes about a topic dear to my heart.  As a chaplain intern at Providence Hospital (, I found music extremely helpful in ministering to non-verbal patients.  Young children, advanced Alzheimer’s patients, and people under stress respond to music in ways that can at times be dramatic. Jessica is a music student (see details below) and discusses music therapy in ministering to a student with autism.

Music Therapy

Two years ago I got an email out of the blue forwarded from my band director. It mentioned a woman seeking someone with musical skill to work with her son who has autism. At that point I was heavily involved with music and I love working with people so I decided to contact her and began working with her son. What a blessing this has turned out to be.


Her son, Michael [1], had difficulty communicating especially with someone he did not know, yet once I started to sing a song he knew (at his pace) he would sing along. The goal of each session was to get Michael to interact as much as possible through singing. At first he would sing the main word in the phrase of the song, but as time progressed, he was singing every word of every song with me.

Varying Routine

During the second summer I was determined to bring in new songs and chants. At that point, I was only singing songs in major keys (such as Mary Had a Little Lamb and Jingle Bells). Later, I decided to introduce songs in a different mode similar to minor (This Train is Bound for Glory and the Ants Go Marching). We then added chants with hand motions. At first I would just sing them to him so he could hear how they sounded and only a few days later he was already singing them with me and doing the hand motions.


As the second summer progressed, Michael’s behavior changed both in and out of the music session. Initially, it took the first five minutes for him to stop running around the house and to be seated, ready for music. By the end he was inviting me into the room saying “music!” as he recognized that when I came over it was time for singing. He would also say “all done!” when we finished singing a song, and by the last session of the second summer, he gave me a hug. The transformation from being just his music therapist to being someone he trusted enough to give a hug. This was far beyond any other reward I could ever be given.


Jessica Hiemstra is currently a student at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University ( working towards her Bachelor of Music degree in clarinet performance and music education. She loves sharing Christ through her teaching as well as with those around her on campus. Also, she is a leader in the River, the Peabody Christian Fellowship, and is active in sharing the Gospel on campus outside of organized fellowship. She hopes to teach both in the schools and privately in the future, while still remaining active in the church and in advancing the Gospel.

1/ Michael is a pseudonym.


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Present Suffering and Future Glory: A Chaplain’s Reflection by Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon

Our guest blogger today is Aaron Gordon.  Aaron works as a chaplain and will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on Sunday (see details below).  Aaron’s reflection provides a glimpse into a day in the life of a chaplain.

Chaplain’s Reflection

As I walk into the room, I am instantly disturbed by what I see. A man who looks like pale skin and bones, gasping for air. His eyes are wide open, but he’s staring into space. His throat is hooked up to a breathing tube. He is restlessly taking shallow breaths and moving his head subtly left and right. This man is actively dying.

After a moment of taking in the sight, I realize the room is eerily quiet. I feel a deep sadness. I speak to the man. No acknowledgement. Examining patient records, I see this man has Christian (non-denominational) listed as his religious preference. I tell him that I am here with him, that I am praying for him. I pray for him to experience God’s peace. I pray for him to have strength as he prepares to be gathered to his ancestors. I remind him of God’s love and covenant faithfulness. I remind him of God’s promise to remain faithful to all those who believe.

I pray in Jesus’ name. I linger for a moment after I pray. As I walk out of the door I think to myself… “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28)

I walk down the hall and check in with the head Chaplain. I want to make sure that we have volunteers to sit with this dying man while he is near the end. The head Chaplain has made sure that we do.

Now it is time for me to chart the morning’s activities. I have updated my patient lists, rounded with the nurses on the third floor, and visited a bunch of patients.

As I sat down to work on the computer, a man walked into the Chaplain’s office. He was having a tough time with his wife, and is at the end of his rope. We talked and prayed. He needed strength to continue fighting for his relationship. I thought to myself, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”  (Romans 8:35)

As soon as he left I had to help a woman find her way upstairs. Once upstairs, I met a volunteer who had just arrived to sit with the dying patient. As I was telling her the situation, a nurse informed us that he had just died not a minute prior. We immediately walked into his room. His remains were there, motionless in the bed. Everyone was gone. It was just the volunteer and myself. Later, the man’s wife and son arrived. They were tearful but also relieved. The volunteer and myself entered into the grief…

As I reflect daily on my encounters as a Chaplain, I often feel weary. These emotional bench presses are exhausting. But something keeps me going… the thought that this is all very normal. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17) With Christ we are heirs of God’s glory indeed. But we should not think it strange that we should also experience sufferingsespecially as we bear each other’s burdens.


Aaron Gordon is a 34 year old graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary ( He is married to Jenny Gordon (32 years old) and has two energetic sons; Josiah (4 years old), and Ezekiel (3 years old). Aaron worked in the Engineering and Construction fields and volunteered in missions and youth ministry until God called Aaron and Jenny as full time missionaries to show the love of Jesus to those affected by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. During this time God revealed that Aaron had gifts of teaching and pastoral care which led him to Seminary. Aaron graduated seminary in May, 2014 and is currently serving in a one year call as a Resident Chaplain at the VA Healthcare System in Pittsburgh ( Aaron is interested in helping others to engage their faith in Jesus by meeting the needs of others and sharing the good news about Jesus Christ.

Aaron will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 4:00 p.m. at Centreville Presbyterian Church.  For directions visit:  

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Rare Human Being: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela by Rev. Sindile Dlamini

Sindile Dlamini
Sindile Dlamini

Rare Human Being: Nelson Mandela

Our guest blogger today, Rev. Sindile Dlamini, comes from South Africa.

Nelson Mandela Tribute

The outpouring of sympathy at the passing of Tata Nelson Mandela still intrigues me. (Tata means father in Mandela’s Xhosa language). The global leader has left an indelible mark in the lives of many people the world over.

When I spoke to a colleague recently, he continued to express his grief for Mandela describing him as a rare human being.  As I pondered, Nelson Mandela was indeed a rare human being who was marked for greatness from his birth.


At birth, he was given the following name: Rolihlahla. In our culture the naming ceremony of a child carries great significance as it determines a child’s destiny. When translated, Rolihlahla, means trouble maker. And Mandela would become a troublemaker of great significance as he dared to speak truth to power to the point that he was incarcerated for twenty seven years. At the dock, he dared to say he was even prepared to die for the cause of a free and democratic South Africa. In prison, he continued to be a troublemaker fighting for the rights of prisoners who were subjected to unbearable conditions. This caused him to win the respect of his jailers and on a wider context those who had imprisoned him to the extent that they were willing to begin negotiations for his release and set the stage for transforming South Africa into a democratic state.


Another flash back to his names–while he attended primary school, his Methodist teacher gave him the name, Nelson, after the great Admiral Lord Nelson, a British Navy service man. It was the missionaries practice to give African people English names when they arrived in Africa.  Perhaps most African names were a tongue twister and they wanted African people to assimilate to the religious culture. Yet, on hindsight, this has led to DuBois’s “double consciousness.”  Like Lord Nelson, Nelson Mandela led and lived a life of service, consumed with serving his people through the political machinery and movement of the African National Congress party; leading to his appointment to serve as the first black President of a free and democratic South Africa. In this position he modeled reconciliation, forgiveness, and social justice.


After his death, we continue to reflect on a life well lived, a life that fulfilled its God given purpose and destiny.  As a South African living in the United States I marvel at how much our histories intertwine. When I mention that I am from South Africa, most people will invariably ask me about Nelson Mandela. Indeed he is a rare human being who touched lives not only in South Africa but in Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

In Psalm 2:8,  the Psalmist poses the following question: “ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession”. Sublimely Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela asked the question and God answered a resounding, yes, as evidenced by his life, service, and rare status.

Biography for Sindile

HU Stage Rev Sindile Dlamini
Rev Sindile Dlamini

Rev. Sindile Dlamini comes to Washington DC by way of Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

In May 2011, she graduated with a Master of Divinity from Howard University School of Divinity. She started as the Research Assistant in the Office of the Dean and served as Secretary and Elections Coordinator for the Student Government Association.  In 2009, she was a Graduate Student Assembly Humanitarian Award recipient. She also received a Special Recognition Award from the School of Divinity Student Government Association.

She advocates for youth to participate in service projects in the city such as Martin Luther King (Jr) Day of Service and Howard University Alternative Spring Break Service Project. In this context, youth learn the value of giving back and making a difference in the community. In this way their service competence will effect positive generational change for the community, locally and internationally.


She is also an associate minister at Michigan Park Christian Church under the leadership of Pastor. Marvin Owens and has served as a Board Secretary in 2011-2013 and participates as a Christian Education teacher.  In addition, in the wider community she is a board member for Life Restoration Ministry, Baltimore, MD. She serves as a Diaspora Coordinator for Vuka Africa Foundation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Currently, she is a Professional Chaplain at Howard University Hospital providing pastoral and spiritual care to patients, families and staff. In addition, she has previously worked as a chaplain at George Washington University Hospital. There she strengthened her pastoral care skills with palliative care patients and the trauma unit.

Publicly, she has appeared on ABC, NBC Channel 4 and Sheryl Lee Ralph Radio Show. There she talked about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela and highlighted Mandela as a symbol of social justice, reconciliation and service and truth.

Therefore she desires that her gift and calling advance the kingdom of God in all spheres of society.

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Guest Blogger: Jesse D. Colón

Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church
Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church

This morning we welcome our first guest blogger, Jesse D. Colón.

Jesse D. Colón Arroyo, is a loud NewYorican who loves God and Music. He studied music in Puerto Rico and served as the Director of Music Ministries for 7 years at the church his parents founded as a mission, “Evangelio de Amor”, alongside his older brother and current pastor, Justin.  He moved to Virginia with his wife and two children in 2011 and now currently serves as a Music Coordinator at Riverside Presbyterian Church in Sterling, Virginia.


What is worship?  As a music leader in church I found defining this word harder than I thought.  It’s a word used many times to describe a type of service in church and other times referred as the musical section within the order of a service.  But if we adhere to these definitions we’re limiting worship to something that happens a day of the week or an hour within the day. Is worship done with afterwards?  Though many may agree with this perspective, it is my understanding that God has more in mind.

Looking at the word

Oxford Dictionary explains its origin from Old English–“weorthscipe” ‘worthiness, acknowledgment of worth’ (worth-shipping)

This definition could lead us to understand worship as acts of recognition.  Something we say or do to demonstrate that the object of our worship is worthy.  Some people might be okay with leaving it here but this perspective is limited.   It could be made into a checklist of things to do, and as soon as we’re done with the list, one could interpret that we’re done relating with God.  This could not be further from what Scripture teaches us.  Yes. God is worthy, but a single act of recognition is not enough.  As reflected in the Jesus of the gospels, the God I serve is worthy of my time, worthy of my attention, worthy of my affection, worthy of my resources, worthy of my service, and worthy of everything I am or have. Worship is more than just an act but also an attitude, a way of living, and a life surrendered completely and wholly to God.  All the acts of recognition we can come up with are merely reflections of what worship causes in our lives.

What does the Bible say?

The first appearance of the word “worship” in scripture is in Genesis 22:5 when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering to God.  The Hebrew word used is shachah which literally means to prostrate or bow down.  In Genesis 24:26 we can understand this meaning because it’s very direct in saying: “Then, the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord”.  Interpreting these passages support the perspective that worship is an act of offering up or sacrificing something to God.  But we should ask ourselves: what does God want us to offer or sacrifice? In the passage of Genesis 22, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac because it was all a test of obedience and trust in God.  1 Samuel 15:22 explains it clearly: “…Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

God wants us. From creation to Moses and the Ten Commandments to Jesus dying on a cross, it’s always been about God reaching out and us reciprocating.

I think this couldn’t be any more clear as when we read: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). 

What’s more revealing is that worship is what we live for and what makes us human. Thomas G. Long expresses in his book Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship [1]:

“Worshiping God is not simply a good thing to do; it is a necessary thing to do to be human.  The most profound statement that can be made about us is that we need to join with others in bowing before God in worshipful acts of devotion, praise, obedience, thanksgiving and petition.”(17)

A passage that gives light to this statement is Isaiah 43.  This is a beautiful chapter where the prophet is revealing God’s word to the people of Israel and he starts by saying in the first verse:

“But now, this is what the Lord says-he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israeleveryone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:1,7).

Granted that this was written specifically to Israel, if we understand that today we are his children and his people, then here’s what we were made for.  Worship is not something we do on Sunday mornings, but what we were made for–we were created to bring God glory.  This reminds me of a Tim Hughes song called “Living for Your Glory” where there’s a part he sings: “in everything I say and do, let my life honor You, here I am living for Your glory”.

Walking this Path

I don’t know who coined the phrase “We are what we Love”.  However, I think it gives us insight on how we can start to live this life of a worshiper described in Romans 12:1–to feel completely whole and human as God intended us to be from the beginning.  Bob Kauflin expresses in his book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God [2]: “while it’s simplistic to say worship is Love, it’s a fact that what we love most will determine what we genuinely worship”(25). Kauflin goes on to say:

“For years we’ve read or experienced firsthand the “worship wars”-conflicts over music styles, song selection, and drums. But far too little has been said about the worship wars going inside of us. And they’re much more significant. Each of us has a battle raging within us over what we love most –God or something else.”

The Great Commandment says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27).

No matter what stage or season in life we might find ourselves the life of a worshiper is constantly asking this question:  do I love the Lord my God with all that I am? That is worship.

Worship Workshop

On Saturday February 8, 2014 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Jesse D. Colón ( and Noemi Simmons ( are hosting a Worship Workshop at Riverside Presbyterian Church (  A continental breakfast and lunch will be served.  If this is interesting to you, please contact Jesse or Noemi for more details.


[1] Thomas G. Long. 2001.  Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship.  Herdon:  Alban Institute. (

[2] Bob Kauflin.  2008. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God.  Wheaton: Crossway.

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