“I was doing special music at the Hood View Church one Sabbath when I noticed one the members eyeing me as he sang along. After church he found me and asked if I was interested in going on some mission trips with him. Sure, I said, having no idea what this was about.”
Thus begins the saga of Monte Church, Bruce Twing and the traveling guitar.
When Bruce was a teenager he lived with his parents in Guadalajara, Mexico. He loved to sing, so one day he slipped down to the market and bought an $8 guitar, hoping to learn how to accompany himself rather than search for a pianist to help him do special music. Later, at Thunderbird Academy, he’d watch the other students play and then go back to his room and practice a new chord.
After a year in Walla Walla, and two years in the army, Bruce came to Oregon and, in 1966, joined the Rose City Singers. When his first child was born, he settled down and started his own musical group, The Sound of Love.
My guitars and I are inseparable,” Bruce says. “It’s fun to get those close harmonies. Yes, harmony is where it’s at, but the best part of singing is seeing people’s lives change.”
Monte Church is the director of Native Ministries for the North Pacific Union Conference, a position that includes coordinating scores of worship meetings for Native Americans each year.
“It’s sure better with Bruce along,” he says with his typical Monte smile.
The two “missionaries” quickly became best friends and have traveled together for more than 12 years. New Mexico, Arizona, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska.
“We ‘ve experienced some pretty strange places, including a 260 degree Yupik sweat lodge in Dillingham, Alaska,” remembers Bruce. “That’s the hottest I’ve ever been! And I was so happy to be able to get out and roll in the snow after burning up in that sweat lodge. Sure slept well that night!”
Since Bruce’s wife, Cecilia, is a teacher at Hood View Junior Academy, she stays home most of the time. However, ask her about the trips and she will tell you stories all afternoon. Not stories about sweat lodges and airplane delays. Stories about the lives that have been changed at Native camp meetings all over the West.
“Once,” a favorite story goes, “the men were at a camp meeting where a woman in the congregation had just been released from prison. She was in prison because she almost beat the life out of one of her neighbors. During the meeting, she listened carefully and sang with great energy. When the men went back the next year that very same woman was teaching the Sabbath School class.”
“Our Native People are very honest and sincere,” says Bruce. “They can read your heart perfectly, and when we sing and speak about Jesus they hear, they let God change their lives. That’s what I live for, seeing those changed lives.”