Robert Hitt Neill Column
This is a religious column.
I just got home from one of the most entertaining, satisfactory, and spiritual weeks of my life. A group of Mississippi musicians were invited to attend the recent Kairos International Prison Ministry Winter Conference, for the purpose of leading the praise and worship sessions.
Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, where I lead the music, provided the church van for our 1007-mile trip, and St. Matthews Methodist Church in Madison, where Rusty Healy, one of the guitar players, worships, provided trip funds from their mission budget. Guitarists Jesse Heath, Mike Lewis, and Stephen Stuart, plus harmonica player Mark Propst, joined us on the Atlanta-bound van in Jackson, beginning with a group prayer.
Thursday evening, we led a couple of hundred Kairos people in a program that told the story of the music progression on a typical Mississippi Kairos weekend. Most of the audience was familiar with most of the songs, so they enthusiastically joined in as we explained how a music team in prison begins with familiar songs that the inmates – we call them residents – might remember from their childhood, like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” or “Down by the Riverside,” then moves into fun, active songs that tell stories, as in “Pharoah, Pharoah” about the Hebrew Children’s Flight from Egypt (No, Virginia, Pharoah’s army did not drown in water only knee-deep to their horses!) to the Kairos National Anthem “Lights of the City.”
As the weekend moves along, we gradually get into songs that mention the Savior: “Jesus on the Mainline” and “Jesus is the Rock.” By the end of the first day we say goodnight to our Heavenly Father with “Abba, Father” and “Yahweh,” then greet the residents the second morning with “Woke Up This Mornin’ with My Mind Stayed on Jesus” and “Somebody Touched Me.” Soon we’re doing “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” and “Alleluia, He Is Coming.”
We led the always-with-us audience through the Kairos Experience until they were deep into meaningful, closed-eyes, palms-up worshiping while I stood singing and waving my hand, in front of the strumming, harmonicing, harmonizing accompanists.
Then the thought hit me: I was right in between the strummers and the people, and their Praise, like unto the “Mighty Rushing Wind” of the Holy Spirit’s coming in the Book of Acts, was going straight upward toward the Throne of God.
And I was in the middle, so it had to go by me first. It was like getting caught between two tornadoes: I felt uplifted physically, and it effectively drained – no, more like sucked out – my own body’s life-juices. Can you imagine sweat pouring off of you, yet flowing upward? A sensation of all the hairs on your body standing upward, maybe like stepping on a city sidewalk grating that vents hot air?
Perhaps I’m not expressing myself well this close to the event, and maybe I should wait a while before writing about it. Yet I wanted you to try to get the feel of it, being in the middle of this much worshipful expression of praise.
Have you ever felt that you were, for a time, exactly where God had placed you, doing exactly what God would have you do at that exact time? That you were being used; indeed, almost being used up? That your Life’s Forces were not really drained, which implies going downward, but were certainly completely poured out for the moment, leaving you trembling with the sensation of being carried away by a Force beyond your imagination, yet still being held upright by that same Force?
It was thataway for us Mississippi boys at the KPMI Conference in Atlanta.
A lady stopped me to say how much she had enjoyed the Praise and Worship Service. “You know, you were right that the residents initially come to eat cookies and good food: ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’,” she quoted. Then she added: “But God is using y’all, and He blesses you through your ministry. Sometimes, the way to a man’s soul is through music. God bless you!”
He did that!