Yesterday I was reading through other people’s when I discovered that it was the 20th anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins. I immediately felt inspired to write a story from my life, even though it is a day late.
The year was 1989. I was trying to decide on where I wanted to go to college. I had narrowed it down to a Bible college primarily because I thought it would be easy. I went to visit five colleges in my search, but one weekend in November changed my life.
Ozark Christian College in Joplin Missouri was hosting their fall retreat for High School kids. It was called back then “The Ambassadors Rally.” Even though it was eight hours from home, my parents agreed that I could go with Kirk for the weekend. Kirk was my minister’s son and the grandson of the founder of OCC. For some reason that I do not completely understand as a father of teens, my parents let us make the trip alone.
Honestly, I do not remember the speaker or any of the breakout sessions. There are two things I remember from the weekend. One, my friend Kirk went to stay with his grandparents, and I was dropped off at college. I didn’t know I had to preregister for this event so I didn’t have a room. Two incredibly kind students named Doug and Troy took me into their room and gave me a place to stay. Later when attending college there Troy and I would become friends, and we have stayed in touch through the years.
The second thing that happened that weekend was a concert by Rich Mullins. At that time I had never heard of him. He was just a random artist trying to get a music career off the ground. Throughout the evening I heard something in Rich’s songs that I had never heard before in Christian music. His songs were a mixture of honesty and grace. Songs like “Elijah,” “Home,” “Ready for the Storm” and “If I Stand” spoke to me in a new and fresh way.
That day I bought all four cassette tapes he had for sale in the lobby. I took them home, and I listened to them over and over. In fact, it was only a few years ago that I finally throw those tapes out. They are the songs of my Christian life.
Over the coming years, I would purchase every Rich Mullins CD and listen to them repeatedly. I attended three more live concerts across the country. I read everything about Rich that CCM magazine published. Like the rest of the country, I sang the chorus to Awesome God as an early praise chorus.
His words shaped my life as he sang of God’s grace in the light of our frailty and faults. You may have never heard of him, or ever listened to one of his songs, but his shadow was cast over my life and helped mold me as much as any preacher or teacher.
When Rich died 20 years ago, I wondered who would fill the void of his life in Christian music. As of yet, no one has even come close. Christian music is made to sell, and popular culture has made everything sound very similar. Worship music drives the market more than personal reflection. Rich’s music and his life were unique. I thank God for Rich and people like him.