My freshman year in college, I was involved in the student ministry organization on my campus. Like one would assume, I participated in Bible studies and did various small acts of service around the campus with my friends. During the spring semester, a few of us decided we wanted to visit local Catholic schools and do “clown ministry”… spreading fun, positive messages, and a little bit about God. We would dress up in whatever we threw together, silly mismatched things, and do our hair all crazy. We had clown names, we found childrens books about God to read to the kids or to act out in a skit, pretty much made it up as we went along. But we enjoyed spending time with the kids, we tried to make talking about God an easy thing, and the kids and teachers were happy. That was the most important thing.
My friend Amy and I spent one afternoon at a local elementary school visiting the lower grades and reading a book and talking to the kids. That evening, we were supposed to attend a concert by a Christian recording artist I had never heard of. He was playing a small Baptist church in a nearby town, and since we didn’t know anyone else, we decided to go to the concert in our clown outfits and makeup. As usual, I had just put random clothes together and worn my hair in ponytails, sort of a vintage, floral hobo look, not your typical loud, bright, polkadotted thing with a red wig. Unusual, and with a painted face, but not traffic-stopping enough to distract people from the performance.
During the first half of the concert, I began to really enjoy the music and was especially impacted by the stories he was telling between songs. His down to earth way of speaking to the audience was very unobtrusive, very non judgmental, and he could really make you think seriously about your heart, the path you’re on, the way you treat others, that sort of thing. The only song in particular that I recall from the concert was which was on Amy Grant’s album “The Collection that I owned.
At some point during intermission, someone from the concert staff came up to Amy and I and told us that the artist wanted to meet and talk with us. I think we were just in a hallway in the church, and he asked us a few questions about our outfits and what we did with our clown ministry, encouraged us, asked us about our college majors, that sort of thing. Because I didn’t know who he was, I wasn’t the least bit starstruck, but enjoyed feeling sort of special and singled out by him. I didn’t end up buying any of the CDs, but a few years later, remembered hearing some of his music when my college roommate started playing his newest album.
The artist I met that day was Rich Mullins. He had a huge following in the Christian Contemporary market, and had quite a bit of additional success as a songwriter for Amy Grant and other artists from the 80s and 90s. The during his concert was one of his own, but Amy Grant had much more success with it. During my last few years in college during the mid 90s, his “The World As Best As I Can Remember It, Volume 1″ CD was in constant rotation in my car, and its an album that has stood the test of time for me. There are many references to nature, and maybe because of that, it seems sort of timeless. It does take me back to college, but I think the songs and their craftsmanship continue to be pretty relevant.
He was a very humble, honest man. He worked his way through college at a parking garage, he lived simply, and he was very generous with his time and money, whether he had a lot or a little. He was the kind of Christian that seems pretty rare these days.. living alongside the unsaved, loving them where they were and being real with them, rather than sitting in judgment in the pew at the church of white privilege and avoiding the unsavory, the poor, the homeless, the unchurched. He never thought he was better than they were, they were just people, living life, like him. And they needed love, and they needed God. And he wanted to serve them and show them his Jesus.
He passed away in the fall of 1997, and although his death occurred around the same time as Princess Di and Mother Teresa, it was his loss that impacted me the most personally. His music was an example of great storytelling, full of metaphorical language and poetry. It was often emotionally raw and stripped down to a few instruments. He had great talent and a beautiful heart, and I wanted to share him with you.
The is my favorite song from the album
Calling Out Your Name
And here are a few of the others to give you a general idea of the sound
Step By Step
Where You Are
Jacob and Two Women
I See You
I hope you’ll click through the links I’ve supplied and get to know Rich and his life and music. He’s worth remembering.