Jan Willem Vink interviews the Jesus rock veteran.

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"Not really. My ministry is telling the gospel, not singing it. That's why I talk in between songs, because that's where the message comes from, not through the music. There's a message in the music, but people don't usually decide to become a Christian because they hear you sing. They're watching your performance when you're singing. When you stop singing and you start speaking in between songs -then I think the message really comes across and can go deeper. Like when I spoke at Greenbelt in between songs in 1984. Many people came up and said that was the only gospel they had heard from any performer for several years. But the Greenbelt committee banned me from the main stage at Greenbelt and said I could never perform there again because I gave the gospel, and that's not their policy. So I think that's funny, to be banished for giving the gospel at a religious concert festival. If I'm not gonna deny Christ at the end of the world, when they're taking Christians to court and prison, why would I deny Christ now at a Christian festival? So no, I'm not disappointed that I can't sing any more because I can still talk about Jesus; even if I can't tour. I can write books, or preach, tape the sermons. It doesn't matter to me. I'm only here on Earth to serve God. I never had a career. I've destroyed my career a hundred times, you know. I never had a career. I don't care about commercialism. I have a ministry and I'll fight for the ministry. I'll continue to minister until I don't have any more breath in my body. Maybe that's a year from now, or two years from now. But I'm happy. It's not a problem to give up rock 'n' roll."

When you had your first heart attack you came very close to death. Did it give your message an extra urgency?

Well, when my heart stopped they thought that they couldn't get me to come back to life. When I came back, I wasn't even aware that I had died. I felt completely safe, and unafraid, protected. So it didn't give me more urgency, like 'Oh, now that I am possibly going to die soon I have to work harder.' My work is not for me, it's for God, and there's millions of people that don't know the gospel message. I can't take it to them. I never could take it to them. I can only reach thousands of people, and not millions. So, there is no reason for me to work harder. I'm already working as hard as I humanly could, for the last twenty-five years, and I'm working for God...I'm not working for my music, I'm not working for any manager or booking agency. So I have no pressure on me from any human being on Earth to do more work. I'm already working as hard as I can work and I'm doing it for God, not the record industry."

And that's something you were doing before your first heart attack?

"Yeah, I've been working against the stream, against the odds, since I started recording in 1966. The record company wasn't supportive of me; that was Capitol Records. After five years there I went to MGM Records for three years. They weren't supportive of the gospel message they just want the music. They don't care about Jesus. And then going to ABC, which bought Word Records, making music, again having problems with the company; they don't really want the entire message that I have. They just want the things that are pleasing, so I had censorship problems even on Solid Rock Records. So I've been working as hard as I can, and against the flow, against the odds, ever since I started recording. So nothing's changed. Maybe I'm trying to do too much with music. Some singers say that they're artists, and they don't want to put too much meaning in their music because it's front for entertainment or it has enough of a message or because a song cannot support a theological proposition, but this is not my belief. I think that music is not limited and you can say a lot through your music and you can say even more through speaking."

In interviews on your last two tours in Holland and Belgium you talked a lot of discovering God as a father.

"Yeah, I think that the revelation of God as a benevolent, loving, all-caring Father is not what the majority of Americans are taught. We're taught that God is very judicious, and unrelenting in his ferreting out of your sins, keeping a list and you're going to have to answer for every failing upon your death. That's the God that I was exposed to growing up in America. But then finding out that God is all-loving toward his own children, his own sheep that know his voice - that's made the last few years of my life completely different in texture, and I feel that I have a lot of freedom that I never realised was available before."

Do you think your first heart attack and what you're going through now were experienced in a different way to what it would have been like without knowing God as a father?


Can you expand on that?

"Knowing that God is waiting for me with open arms makes me feel very eager to go and be with him. I'm not afraid that I'm going to be going into the courtroom of Heaven when I die. I'm going to be with my Father. I'm part of his family. So it's been very peaceful for me. I've had three different types of heart attacks. I've had the first kind, which was myocardial infection where my heart stopped and I lost forty per cent of the tissue, it's dead. The next time I had problems with congestive heart failure, and this time I had ventricular arrhythmia tachycardia which is where the heart beats very fast. It gets confused and pushes the blood away from the heart so you can't breathe very easily, you're not getting enough oxygen, and you're not getting enough blood. Each of these kinds of problems; I've just gone through the experience with a big smile on my face. I'm in the hospital for three or four weeks and I'm using it as an opportunity to talk with the nurses about their family and find out how many children they have, are they having any problems, and writing notes to their kids, giving cassettes away and witnessing to people. Just another opportunity to give the gospel."

've heard you have written some new songs. Can you tell me about them?

"I write songs all the time. They just don't usually come out on record. What usually happens is that I'll write songs when I'm not getting ready to record, and by the time I'm making a record I've either lost interest in the songs or I've lost the piece of paper the songs are on, or they're just buried under other songs. So this time I thought I'm going to just record a couple of songs if I feel well. I just wrote them and I want to record them immediately instead of waiting two or three years. So it's a little more fun to record an idea two or three days after you write it."

Some artists in the new CCM magazine have named your records in their all-time top ten favourites. Does it hurt you that you are neglected by so much of the Christian music industry and on Christian radio in America?