by Keith Bordaeux
Christian Musician 1997
I have counted it as one of my life's greatest blessings to have known Rich Mullins, and have walked briefly with this man who struggled to be like Christ more honestly than anyone I have ever known. I have been asked to share my perspective as one who worked on Rich Mullins' behalf in booking dates at the William Morris Agency, and as his friend.
Those who knew Rich Mullins know that he loved to have some of his deepest and most focused discussions while going on walks. It was on such a walk on a humid night in Nashville in August of 1997 that Rich and I turned our conversation towards ministry. Rich shared with me some simple but profound thoughts on the subject. "Music is my occupation. My life is my ministry," he said. "Ministry is everyday. For example, how do I leave my hotel room when I check out? Do I leave dirty towels all over the place, empty cans on the floor? Do I leave the room destroyed so that when the maid comes in she thinks to herself, 'I am just a maid. My life is not important. I deserve this mess.'? Or do I pile my dirty towels in a corner and empty my own ashtrays? Do I clean up my trash so that when the maid comes in she thinks to herself, 'I am a maid. My life is important. I have dignity.'" Rich Mullins saw ways to share the love that Christ taught in the most ordinary daily routines and in so doing has challenged me to do the same. I believe that Rich lived as a pure example of what Paul described when he said, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain." Rich longed to be home. But he was determined to live as Christ taught while he was stuck down here in this mess. He had set up Kid Brothers of St. Frank to model the order that St. Francis had begun eight centuries ago and in so doing to model the life of Christ in a radical way. Rich Mullins always said that he was "too wimpy" to become Catholic and join the Franciscan Brotherhood. He took "unofficial" vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. He limited himself to an extremely small monthly income and was generous with the rest of his money. He longed to know fully who he was in Christ and to increase his faith through his obedience. And he trusted St. Bonadventure when he said, "That heart is free that is held by no other love than the love of God." He longed to love purely.
I was with Rich Mullins at his home in New Mexico the weekend before his death. He had not been home in six months because of summer touring and he was excited to be back. He was like a child in his enthusiasm to show his guests everything about his life among the Navajo Nation. The trip was scheduled to be a planning time for the new project Rich would be recording. I was there with Judith Volz and Jim Chaffee from Myrrh Records, Rick Elias, who would be producing the album, and Jim Dunning, Jr., Rich Mullins' manager. By the first day, he had the entire weekend planned for us. He definitely wanted everyone to hear the new songs and he wanted to discuss direction for the album and touring. But his primary love was evident in the amount of time he had blocked for us to see the Navajo Nation.
We spent four hours on Friday discussing business and the rest of the weekend experiencing the reservation. We saw Window Rock, where the central government of the Navajo people is located. He took us hiking in Canyon de Chelley to experience the beauty and grandeur that inspired "Cry The Name". We slept in his hogans [hoe-GAHNS], traditional eight-sided Navajo dwellings. We picnicked with his Navajo and missionary friends, and we visited a museum for the Navajo Nation. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was late Friday night, lying on the futon in his trailer with him and Judith and watching his favorite movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon about the life of St. Francis.
That beautiful weekend in New Mexico helped me to see Rich Mullins' heart even more clearly. He had such a strong desire to see the relevance of the Gospel of Christ made evident to the Navajo people. He shared several of his dreams with me. He had already been very involved in teaching the Navajo children and holding retreats and music programs. It was his dream to eventually assemble a choir of Navajo teens to travel the United States and to raise money for inner-city youth in poverty. This would give the Navajo youth a view of life outside of the reservation - a view that some never see - and also would give them a sense of dignity; that although they are in poverty, they could help others in the same condition.
Rich Mullins also spoke of organizing a camp to bring white and Navajo children together on the reservation. During the week the teachers would use diverse means to make the four individual gospel accounts relevant to the Navajo. He would do this by incorporating Navajo traditions into the teaching. For example, there are four sacred mountains bordering the Navajo Nation. There are four gospel accounts. Rich Mullins would apply one to each of the sacred mountains. The Navajo are a shepherding people in an arid region who have a real appreciation of water. Christ spoke endlessly of shepherding and of water. The hogans have eight sides. There are eight beatitudes, which, if we live by them and apply them to our lives, can be a strong shelter. It was inspiring to see how strongly Rich Mullins desired to see the gospel come alive in individual hearts. It wasn't about a four step plan or a memorized presentation. It was about meeting a person where they are and sharing Christ's love in a real and tangible way.
For the most part, Rich Mullins had found a balance between business and ministry. Music was very important to him, but the financial gains were the means by which he was able to live the life he wanted to on the reservation. He looked at touring as a major way to fund the work he dreamed of doing with the Navajo. But it broke his heart when I told him that we would need to do a full fall tour next year in support of the new album. I had never seen Rich Mullins' spirit so deflated. He had planned to start the after school music programs for the kids on the reservation in the fall. This program had been pushed back for two years because of other conflicts and it was finally supposed to happen.
Rich took Eric, one of the Kid Brothers of St. Frank, on a walk in Chicago the Sunday before his death, to tell him that he felt that God was not going to allow him to be a hands on participant in the work on the reservation. He would not be able to actually do the work he had looked forward to for so long. In tears he told Eric that he felt that God was showing him that his gift was raising money through his music to support the work and wanted Eric to pray about heading up the after school programs for the youth.
As I write this article, it has only been four weeks since the accident. Today is October 21st and Rich Mullins would have been exuberantly celebrating his 42nd birthday on this day. We were to have a huge party at his Tennessee home just outside of Ashland City. Recording on the new album was scheduled to begin yesterday. They were to shoot the videos in Israel in January. And Rich Mullins would begin writing the book to release in conjunction with the album. So many plans had been made and the future looked so bright you had to squint to see it clearly. But God, in his divine mercy, had radically different plans.
Rich Mullins has been given the ultimate future - he has stepped into eternity. He is walking clothed in radiance - rid of the skin that he wrestled with for so long. He has met St. Francis - the greatest influence next to Christ on his spiritual life. He is sitting at the feet of Jesus. I know that Rich Mullins is far happier now than I could ever imagine, but I am stuck in this world of gravity where it is often hard to stand. Rich Mullins would be about getting on with life. The call of Christ is fresh in my ears. I will follow that call.