In 2014, I approached retirement age after twenty years of full-time music ministry. I felt as if I had 'earned' my retirement from ministry, and honestly began to look forward to less travel, more family time, less activity, and more peace and quiet. Oh, my. You've heard the Yiddish Proverb, “Make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
In May of that year, I was on tour around New Zealand with a small band promoting the album Sanctuary. One evening, tired and functioning on automatic to some degree, I quite unexpectedly fell into a sort of trance as I was singing - I began to 'see in the spirit.' The hairs on my spine are prickling as I write this. I began to ‘see’ beyond the four walls of the church building we were in. Though I was singing to seventy people in the natural, I began to see multitudes listening in the Spirit. In the natural it was a white, middle-class Kiwi audience; in the Spirit it was many people groups, ages, and backgrounds - listening to my message of “Restoration at the Cross.” I saw that the message of the cross was true and valid, for all ages, across all cultures, for all time.
That night I prayed and sought the Lord, puzzled and disturbed by what I had seen. Immediately I began to weep. Over the remainder of the tour, whenever I came to pray, the tears began to flow. It was somewhat overwhelming, and I must confess puzzling. I am not unfamiliar with tears (as those who have heard my testimony will know), but this was different. Finally, I questioned the Lord about it. I felt him say: “Jules, I haven't raised you in ministry this far to farm you out! I have people for you to reach and minister to: the broken, the broken-hearted, the bullied, the burnt out, the depressed, discouraged, downcast, downtrodden, those with dysfunctional backgrounds, the fearful, the friendless, the hurting, the lonely, those who've been shamed, the suicidal, the traumatised, the wayward, the weary and those with wounded hearts and wounded spirits… Everything you have been through equips you to minister to these ones. I don’t want you to retire, I want you to go.”
At this point I was overwhelmed. I've battled low self-esteem all my life (due to an abusive past), so I struggled to receive this word. I thought, “Who, me? I'm nobody, I can't even sing properly.” The Lord listened to all my excuses and reasons why he had the wrong person, but I still felt called. After twenty days of prayer and weeping, I stopped giving excuses and prayed, “If you are commissioning me for the mission field, Lord, could you be specific about where?” I felt him say to make a list. So I made a list of eleven countries I could conceive of visiting. Yet I felt him say to add something else. I wrote eastern Europe at the bottom of the list. But then I felt God lead me to put it at the top. Whenever I prayed, I sensed the Lord confirming that I should go to eastern Europe.
And so it was that I planned a four-month eastern European tour, through fourteen countries. Beginning in Munich, Germany, in April 2016, I travelled to Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and finally back to Munich. What a trip! I drove 14,986kms solo in a Peugeot 208. I did fifty-one concerts and services in ninety-three days. The hosts were generally small to medium-sized churches and home groups. I sang also in a number of prisons and rehabilitation centres.
Ministering cross-culturally is challenging. But to some extent I was prepared. I had twelve songs translated into the host language (for the data projector or overhead projector - remember them?!). That way, the screen could show one line in English and one line in the host language. Those listening could choose to sing along in English (which many did) or their own language. Anything I spoke between songs was translated sentence by sentence, which forced me to be concise and bring a relevant message of how we overcome our struggles - by taking everything, on a daily basis, to Jesus on the cross. It was a revelatory message, well received by many.
While I was in Hungary I wrote an important new song called “Peace Will Come.” It seems like so many have lived for so long with the effects of wars and oppression, that peace is an elusive commodity for many. A few days after I wrote the song, I shared it with a small group in an Anglican chapel in Zalaszanto. They sang along in broken English and I was so blessed to see and hear how this song touched them, like a cry from the heart.
Many of the audiences were visually challenging with staunch expressions. Communism (which I see as the embodiment of atheism) has left a legacy of hard-heartedness, expressed with granite faces). I felt the Lord warn me of this several months before I left home. I sensed one of the main purposes of my visit was for the Holy Spirit to touch hearts that had been scarred by war and harsh governmental regimes. It was the Holy Spirit that would melt the harshness of granite.
After the concerts I would pray for various ones, and sell or give CDs away.
Some of the best feedback on tour was from those who had been suicidal but were encouraged by my practical message of how to find God in the wilderness. Others simply said, “Jesus is here!”The most common comments were, “We've never heard music like this!” (Their music is loud, upbeat and in major keys.. mine is quiet, melancholic and often in a minor key). It touched many hearts, like the Psalms touches hearts. I saw people crying at most concerts, which I took as a sign that the Holy Spirit was working in their lives.
I am glad I did not retire from ministry; reaching those who are struggling, those close to the brink in faraway lands was amazing. If you would like to read a day-to-day account of the tour go to julesineurope.wordpress.com.
I am now planning a 2017 tour to Scandinavia. If you have contacts in Denmark, Sweden, Finland or Norway, please email [email protected]
Story: Jules Riding
Jules has been in music ministry for many years. He has recorded twelve albums, and twice won Gospel Album of the Year at the New Zealand Music Awards. He has three Gold Albums and been a finalist in the Apra Silver Scroll Award. He has recently moved out of Auckland and lives on a rural property near Whangarei with his family, plus cows, sheep, chickens, a horse and a dog. He is currently planning a new album Rivers, which will include songs written in eastern Europe.
Photo Credit: Jules Riding