A SONG CAN (begin to) CHANGE A HEART

“You sang that song two years ago when you were here and it really got me to thinking.”

I had just come off stage from my half hour slot at the London Correctional Freedom Rally, which is put on every two years jointly by Common Ground Ministries and The Gospel Echoes Team from Goshen, IN. The bearded inmate with no upper teeth, lots of tattoos and bright eyes, was smiling as he thanked us for coming.

“That song you sang about turning the wine into water [by T. Graham Brown] really spoke to me two years ago when you were here. I was angry, bitter, an alcoholic... I was out of control. That's why I'm here. I beat someone unconscious in a drunken rage. I'm labeled as a violent offender. My nickname is so vulgar, it's not spoken in polite company [think: proctologist]. When I heard that song, I decided I needed to change my ways.”

This man (let's call him Mike) went on to tell how he started to look for answers, and although I don't remember all the details, he ended up talking to the chaplain, committing his life to Christ and... “Now I attend chapel every time the doors are open. I am no longer angry. For the first time in my life I have peace. And for the first time in many years, my son and I have a good relationship. We didn't like each other, but now he calls me Dad, and he calls me his best friend.”

Then Mike did something that slightly shocked me. He pointed to a man sitting on the front row of the crowd and said, “That's him right there!”

His son was also in prison! I didn't ask too many questions, but it not uncommon for several family members to be in prison at the same time. Mike had his Judicial Release papers all ready to send in- meaning he could have been released last year- but he heard that his son was being sentenced, so he elected to stay in prison (!) and “welcome” his son in!

“I was the first person my son saw as he entered the prison gates! I was able to be right there at the entrance to meet him and help him understand the prison culture and protect him. He was as angry and bitter as I was, but we have mended our relationship and he has become a Christian. We'll both be released within the next year and we will be able to start afresh in the free world.”

Two weeks after this prison encounter I was singing at the Nappanee Apple Festival (Indiana) and a man came up to me and said, “Boy, you hit the nail on the head...” and then he got all teary eyed and choked up as he went on: “When you sang 'Branded Man' [Merle Haggard] I couldn't keep from crying. You're absolutely right- once you've been in prison you're a branded man. I spent time in prison for being stupid when I was young and the people here don't ever let me forget it. I'm a branded man.”

He went on to tell his story, but here's the point: Songs touch the heart. I am ordained to preach, which I love to do. And when I preach, I feel that people listen. But when I sing- there is power. A song is able to bypass the resistance, the resentment, the anger towards the church or parents or whatever, and it can speak to the inner soul in a way that a frontal confrontation, such as preaching, isn't always able to do. These stories convince me to keep singing.

“Singing seems to help the troubled soul...” -Johnny Cash

Common Ground Ministries

John was singing in a country western band at the time of his conversion in 1972. God changed his desire for stardom in Nashville to minitstry.

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