Is God a hit in country music popularity ratings?
Thanks to the international Gospel to Go's Nashville-based ministry, the answer is yes, according to a unique Christian eangelist with an unusual name who does a lot of his witnessing out of the glow of Music City USA's bright lights.
Tennessee native Bill Wolfenbarger's online Gos-pel to Go CD/tape ministry is not only impacting performers and back stage industry people throughout Nashville's music realm, it has exploded globally.
How special is Gospel to Go?
This ministry does not seek, nor will it accept donations, making it more than merely unique.
"Our messages are free to listen to online, download, and we encourage people to make copies and give them away," Wolfenbarger said. "Since we started the website four short years ago, we've had more than 90,000 hits from 80 different nations, including Russia and China. We've never accepted a donation."
Few media evangelists have ever stipulated no donations.
Admittedly, Wolfen- barger is among the more unusual behind-the-scenes' people who com-prise Nashville's country music family leading into the new century.
"Bill is one of those special people always asking what he can do for others," verified Hilda Stuart, mother to performing legend Marty Stuart. "That's not always the case in the music business, or any other profession. His Gospel to Go ministry is very fruitful, and extremely well done."
"I love that Wolfenbarger, and admire him so much," pictured legendary Music City scene photographer (Les Leverett. "After I'd listened to several of his Gospel to Go CDs, I told him that he was one of the best preachers I've ever heard. He immediately denied being one, but I countered by saying: 'Anybody who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ the way you do, is a preacher.' And I still believe that. There's no telling this side of heaven how much good he has done with those CDs. I pray that his ministry will go on for years to come."
Country Music's Christian witness has come a long way since early industry down-and-out songs show-cased getting drunk and falling off the bar stools, such as at Tootsie's Lounge of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s when the female owner used a hairpin to keep house control of those often-rowdy country croon-ers.
"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," is a typical song of that era that launched Kitty Wells' Country Music career in the early 1950s.
However, research shows most performers in the Country Music Family have roots in church music of their youth, and Wolfenbarger agrees.
"It is a family, but admittedly, there are stars who uplift themselves as self-made super stars not interested in reaching out in the name of Christ, and helping others within the industry," the Music City minister with an unusual name and uplifting soul-searching mission confirmed. "But then, there are super stars and legends such as Connie Smith who regularly showcase Christ and the importance of our Savior not only in the here-and-now, but in the heavenly for-ever-more. They know from where their gifts of heavenly-sounding music originates."
"Most of the truly great artists know their music-making talent is God-given," Wolfenbarger accounts. "And most performers (including Elvis Presley, Ricky Skaggs, the Whites, Marty Stuart, and John and June Carter Cash) have childhood roots in country churches."
Wolfenbarger is among the legions of impactful players comprising the behind-the-scenes' Country Music Family, but you won't often read the his name in bright stardom lights of musical Tennessee Tinseltown USA.
Like many country music players, past and present, Wolfenbarger's childhood was not easy.
Although born on the perimeter of the bright lights of Music City, the 56-year-old Wolfenbarger was homeless as a 7-year-old boy, along with three younger brothers.
"However, I can't remember not having faith in God," notes Wolfenbarger. "Through that faith, even as a child with difficult times in life, I knew there was a victorious light at the end of the ordeal."
"God has always provided 'a way' when there seemed 'no way,'" Wolfenbarger testifies. "One day as I was driving down the road, I wondered why my childhood was rough, when I always tried to have faith and do what I should, and the Holy Spirit revealed to me in the voice of my mind and heart: I was forging the metal.'
"I was so humbled by that answer about my difficult childhood, it has enabled me to help other people who face similar adversities in life. Thanks to God, I was doing it before I realized I was doing it. I can relate to hurting people and also show them with faith and Jesus in their lives, they too can become victorious and overcome the obstacles of life."
"It's the Gospel of Christ that changes lives," Wolfenbarger proclaims. "I know, because God took the broken life of a little boy and made him a Man of God…thus, was born the Gospel To Go ministry."
A 2011 interview set the table of his troubled early life.
"My earthly father had split, after becoming addicted to alcohol," he accounted. "Mother had emotional problems of her own. My younger brothers and I ended up living in a trailer with an aunt and her three children. That made 7 living in a trailer, with many meals of white gravy and a single slice of bacon on our table, on the good days, but, we still had something to eat.
"But then when our aunt decided for the good of she and her children, we became homeless when she moved to another state," Wolfenbarger confirmed
God took over from there, he credits.
"We had been attending an Assembly of God church in Mt. Juliet (suburb of Nashville) when a faithful Christian man came up to me during a fateful service, and instructed: 'You're moving in with me, and your brothers are going to live with the preacher's family.'" Wolfenbarger accounts. "I recall all my earthly belongings were packed into a single cardboard box. That struck me.
"And when I got to my new home that first night, I was the only one there at the time, and recall sitting down in the middle of the floor, and recall I broke down in thankful tears, realizing that for the first time in my life, I was inside, safe and snug, in a real home," Wolfenbarger recalls. "It was then and there that I made a promise to God to help his people, especially those in similar circumstances…"
The minister within the Country Music Family cannot recall not believing in God.
"As far back as I can remember, I have always had a strong faith in God," Wolfenbarger declares.
He uses a parable to set the stage of his adult ministry life.
"When I was 5 years old, we were visiting grandparents and all of us were down at the creek swimming," Wolfenbarger traces back to a wilderness in Kentucky. "My (blood) father was in the creek and beckoned me to jump in, assuring me that he would catch me. I was scared to do so because I didn't know how to swim. But the one thing I did know was that my father was in the creek and if he told me to jump and that he would catch me, I knew he would.
"So, I became the obedient child, and took the step of faith and jumped," Wolfenbarger noted. "I knew he would catch me. I have often had that story replayed in my mind when the Holy Spirit has directed me to do God's work. I know in my heart and mind, I can't do it myself, but if my Heavenly Father has promised me that He will guide me, I can jump in, and take the step of faith to do His work."
The early childhood turmoil seemed endless to a little boy. He describes a child's faith.
"My family went to church until I was about 4 years old," Wolfenbarger traces back in time. "Although I was very young, I recall hearing the old-timey preaching, gospel singing and gospel bluegrass songs. The music touched my very soul in ways that continue today. Grandmother always had that faith those songs and sermons were describing.
"We stopped going (to church) when my father became addicted to alcohol," Wolfenbarger notes. "My family went through very tumultuous times that resulted in my parents divorcing when I was 8 years old, then re-marrying and divorcing again when I was 10. It was during those difficult years between 4 and 10 years old, I learned to lean and rely on God to keep myself and younger brothers safe during the turmoil going on between my parents. In turn, my faith grew even stronger."
Wolfenbarger cites other ways God has favored him in life.
"In high school, sure there were boys and girls who made fun of me being without parents, without a new car when I was 16 years old," he recalled. "But I look around today at some of those who seemed to have everything handed to them in life, and sadly, they remain without an anchor today to base their lives on…serving Christ is the anchor of life."
He describes another miracle.
"I'm a communications engineer, with no college education," he described. "It's divine providence that God opened those doors to me without any degrees. Faith carried me to a successful communication engineering career. Faith carried me through the rough times too.
"It's a blessing that my brothers also serve the Lord, and Mother, several years ago, had her relationship with God restored," Wolfenbarger added. "That brought great comfort when God called her home in 2007…"
Gospel To Go's own birth?
"'Gospel To Go' is a ministry born a few years ago when a lady in our Bible study requested I make some CDs, so she could take the Gospel message every where she goes," Wolfenbarger credits. "From that request, Gospel To Go blossomed when we put up on the website…it's impacted people throughout the world, including some former Communist bloc countries."
Wolfenbarger, a song writer, has seen God work in his own music endeavors.
"I spent years chasing that dream, writing country music songs that came close to being big hits," he noted. "But when I started writing gospel songs, and nothing happened, well, I didn't understand, and finally proclaimed, after years' of frustration. I proclaimed to myself: 'I'm finished with music.'"
But, God wasn't done with Wolfenbarger's music.
"Five days later, when I gave up on writing songs, my song agent called, informing an independent Gospel recording artist had contacted him, asking permission to record one of my songs," Wolfenbarger noted. "See, it wasn't in my time, it was in God's time. A few days later, the same artist called back, asking permission to record another song I'd co-written, entitled: 'He Knew Me When He Was Hanging On The Cross.' As it turned out, the singer wanted that to be the title of her Gospel CD, and she recorded four of our songs…see how God works in His own timing, and not ours. Her record went up to #2 on independent Gospel songs ratings."
There was more Divine intervention to come involving his music aspirations, Gospel wordsmith Wolfenbarger added.
"My co-writer on many songs was Charles Lilly, whose father was Hall of Famer Everett Lilly, of the legendary Lilly Brothers going back to the late 1940s, and in the early 1950s, Mr. Lilly performed with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs," Wolfenbarger described. "We'd had the idea of producing an album of Mr. Everett's song stylings from the past, paying tribute to the Lilly Brothers' unique Bluegrass sound."
A tragedy was followed by a miracle.
"You can imagine my earthly sadness when we lost Charles Lilly, one of my best friends, on the night of May 21, 2006, when Charlie, along with Grand Ole Opry legend Billy Walker, and his wife Bettie, plus guitar man Danny Patton perished in a grinding car crash," recalled Wolfenbarger. "But it was obvious that God was in this project, when I decided to pursue Charles and my goal of producing a CD of vintage Lilly Brothers' style of music…because we had artists such as Rhonda and Darren Vincent, Marty Stuart and many others volunteering their time and talent to be in the recording session. That's a 'God thing!!'"
"The resulting album was entitled: 'Everett Lilly & Everybody and Their Brother,' Wolfenbarger traced back to 2007.
God poured out more blessings on the Wolfenbarger's music project.
"We had received some positive reviews within the industry, but in 2008 we got a huge surprise," Wolfenbarger credited. "I got a phone call, out of the blue, advising our CD of Everett Lilly's music had been nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association's coveted 'Recorded Event of the Year.' The call advised the CD had been judged one of the finalists. You can only imagine the excitement and satisfaction, not to mention the tears of thankfulness that swelled up within, when we won the award the night of IBMA Music Awards' Show," Wolfenbarger confirmed.
"Although I was thankful, and yes, proud, I knew it was God who had opened the doors for the music project, not only by having some of the top names in music volunteering to be on the album, but for the blessing of winning the award as well."
Wolfenbarger admitted to being nervous about his 30-second award acceptance speech at the Ryman Auditorium, the recognized cathedral of gospel and country music, where multiple musical legendary careers were spawned before the Grand Ole Opry was moved to the Opryland complex on the outskirts of Nashville in the 1970s.
"I knew I had to thank some folks on the album, but I had to give all credit to God, and acknowledging how much I missed my friends Charles Lilly and Billy Walker," Wolfenbarger recalled testifying. "'But, they're here tonight in our hearts. And one day, since they're two of my closest Christian friends, we'll have a long talk when I too get to enter Christ's Heavenly Gates…we'll have a real long talk…'"
His Gospel To Go website can be contacted by keying in www.gospeltogo.org on the internet.
Do it, and you can record "a hit" for God!!