Long acknowledged as one of the most anointed worship teams in Christendom, VINESONG have moved forward in their unique ministry, as they told Mary Brows.
Today Vinesong are being hailed and endorsed by some of the major ministries in the world. Their vision is to see unity within the worldwide Christian family of churches, to see the salvation of people's lives and, most importantly, the healing and equipping of each individual who sits under their ministry. Any form of music "performance" is strongly discouraged; their emphasis is on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, exhorting the listener to discover God's destiny in their life.
Much new ground has been covered since Cross Rhythms featured Vinesong in 1993. They remain a unique faith ministry and go only where they are invited. Established in South Africa in 1982, and moving to the UK in 1986, they travel eleven months of the year with their own equipment and pay their own expenses, often finding themselves in places where an offering cannot be taken, because the nation is too poor, the people too underprivileged or it is inappropriate (i.e. prison ministry, street outreach or shelters for the homeless). The team sings a full programme on a regular basis in nine languages in the USA, United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, South Africa, Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand and Malaysia. Future targets are Australia, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Founder, songwriter and leader John Watson, in co-operation with the Holy Spirit, is the driving force behind Vinesong. He did not assume the office of itinerant preacher as a mere whim. Behind him lie generations of faithful servants and his own apprenticeship of pastoral ministry. While working with Andrae Crouch in a pastoral capacity in Hollywood he came to see how music and worship could be used widely in the context of ministry. From the beginning, God made it clear that John and his team would be functioning in the smallest and the largest of settings. At one extreme, twenty people arrived and fell under the power of the Holy Spirit; at the other, 200,000 people in Poland heard the same message. Vinesong are citizens of the global village in a never-ending itinerary. John explains: "I and the team have a growing burden for the hurt, wounded people of all nations. We find that people enjoy being challenged but not changed. This is because society is confused and damaged. It is our desire to see the Father's love extended to all the hurt areas of the listener's life, and through the "anointing" we have seen countless miracles - spiritually, emotionally and physically - as well as many thousands being born again.
It is said that Vinesong gives new meaning to the word "teamwork." Nine team members come from nine different nations and denominations. In a recent interview on Premier Radio, singer Carol Lashley-Bobb told John Pantry: "Vinesong is always together except for one month of the year when we go on holiday. We feel that God has put us together for a purpose and given us the grace to do what we do, and given us a love for each other. If we do not have unity within our team we cannot really portray the love of Christ." Carol is married to sound engineer Hilary Lashley-Bobb; their daughter, Naomi, was born in Stuttgart in September 1996. The Lashley-Bobbs from Guyana have been called to raise their family in the ministry, so Baby travels with the team. Italian-born Rachel, wife of English bass player and singer Philip Woolley, looks after Naomi during concerts and on the road.
The highlight of Vinesong's 1994 USA tour was singing on the steps of Capitol Hill at the National Day of Prayer in Washington DC. 18 months earlier, the team had stood on these steps and prayed for the healing of the nation. Now God had brought them back to minister in song (becoming an annual event). Co-ordinator Dr Corinthia Boone wrote: "As this team ministered, absorbed in their devotion to our Lord, an atmosphere was created that lifted us all into a glorious realm of worship. After continued fellowship and getting to know the Vinesong Team more intimately, it is obvious that they have come to embrace the fact that true worship is born out of the womb of holiness. Their ministry of worship is first the flowing of the Spirit of God in their own lives."
After a 22-hour journey with stops in Munich and Kuwait, Vinesong arrived in the tropical heat of Singapore in December 1994 for their first-ever tour of Southeast Asia. In Kuala Lumpur, they sang for 1400 guests at a Christmas dinner outreach to people of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds. The team nearly had to perform without their equipment, which was flown ahead. The Lord intervened and the top customs official had the equipment released: it arrived one hour before the dinner began! Praise and worship are well received in Asia - the churches take seriously their responsibility of evangelising regions previously closed to the Gospel.
"God is performing great physical miracles, but an even greater spiritual miracle is about to take place. His people, you and I, are going to understand more and more of the great work that Jesus has done for us as He opens the eyes of our understanding and we begin to see God's plan for a sovereign revival which is not based on any one man's ministry, but on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and we will not look to man, but to God's promises in His word. God made this clear to me when we were in Singapore," explains John.
Over the years Vinesong has criss-crossed the continent of Europe. Believers in Germany are increasingly aware of the need to reach the lost (less than 1.3% are Christians). During Vinesong's 1995 tour of Germany (31 concerts in 49 days) 132 gave their lives to Christ and hundreds recommitted. A highlight was a visit to Peter Wenz's church in Stuttgart where a dynamic, on-fire congregation of 2500, the largest in Germany, gathered at the Expo Centre to join the team in praise and worship. In Lubeck, a young man came to the venue on crutches. Scheduled for knee surgery two days later, his life changed when God took away pain and swelling and restored full flexibility as he was dramatically healed.
The Netherlands are fertile ground for Vinesong's ministry. In November 1995 the team interrupted their UK tour to take part in a radio show broadcast throughout Holland. Almelo, a small town near the German border, was the venue for a "Concert of Reconciliation" in which Vinesong ministered in Dutch, German and English - part of an effort to bring healing between the two bordering countries from wounds of the war 50 years earlier.
Following nine years of prayer, in 1995 a door opened in France. At a large Parisian church near the Arc de Triomphe, Vinesong ministered to a standing room only crowd of over 2400 believers hungry for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. Another door opened in Italy; these concerts were in unusual venues, from open-air meetings in piazzas and beachfronts to the steps of an old Catholic church in Mondovi'. The priest of Mondovi' wrote in the local paper: "It is difficult to describe the intense emotion of that evening, the blaze of human warmth that flowed from the words and attitudes of the performers, the sensation of peace, the stillness and the harmony that enveloped all the people present. A unique experience, almost magical."
Poland is a nation gripped by religion, fear and poverty. In the midst of this desert lies a spiritual oasis - God is on the move in these last days. From enthusiastic Charismatic Catholics to hardened criminals, Vinesong saw a mighty move of God during their 32-day tour in 1995, with 2400 responding for salvation and many others recommitting their lives and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Previous visits to Poland had focused on ministry within the Church. Now most of the venues were public and audiences largely attracted through the media. Journalists Krystof Wodniczak and Teresa Szopka initiated secular media coverage unprecedented for a Christian team. Over 12 radio interviews, several TV appearances and almost daily newspaper coverage exposed millions to anointed praise and worship music for the first time.
Vinesong live and have their office in a house in England. Between tours they return home to organise their next mission. They have a commitment towards ongoing relationships with UK churches. On one occasion they participated in an all-night prayer meeting at the London Arena with 7000 people praying for revival for England, organised by The Festival of Life under the leadership of Rev Enoch Adeboye. Westminster Central Hall was the venue for One Heart for this Nation, a prophetic time of sharing and prayer for the UK God gave John a theme song with the same title; Philip read a prayer that the Lord had given him. Such was the demand for this song that Vinesong recorded a cassette containing The Prayer and the songs "One Heart for This Nation" and "Our Nation".
Over the years Vinesong have released nine albums, several videos and a TV-style documentary, plus a songbook with 60 songs in eight languages. Their songs, written by John Watson and including "Let Your Living Water Flow" and "Peace Like a River", are sung in 75 nations. In 1997 Vinesong broke away from mainstream Christian record companies and established their own label, VM Music, in order to distribute their own material and use the greater profits to fund their many missions. The first album on the VM Music label was Vinesong's ninth, "Healing Stream". The second album, "Adoration," due Christmas 1998, is a selection of best-loved Vinesong songs re-recorded for VM Music. Videos in Italian and German will be released in 1998, also due are albums in German, French and Czech similar to the 1996 Polish album.
Touring America for the sixth time in early 1998, the Lord gave John some sharp words for the nation: "Your nation is in deep deep trouble. The church is in terrible pain right now and unfortunately it's the people who are being hurt - people are hurting all over... Billy Graham said the other night in an interview with Larry King on CNN, "If America doesn't have a revival NOW we're in big trouble". Church growth at the present moment in America is at 0%...One pastor said that if someone is having a revival in town it means another church has just closed down because all those people moved from one church to another. Our faith is in God, not the church, because the moment you put your faith in this church or building or people, God will have to change it. God wants to heal you, mend you, remake you, to change your value system. Your value system has been bruised and damaged. Never before in the history of mankind has the nation had so much divorce as now, in the church and out of the church. Unfortunately children are damaged through this and they get full of rejection."
In April 1998 Vinesong made history by being the first Christian Music Ministry to sing in the UN in New York City. Philip explains: "A Christian fellowship known as the 'Christian Cultural Society' meets in the UN, led by Mrs.Annama George. She has led the group for 21 years and prayed all that time that God would open the door for a Christian music ministry team to come and deliver the Gospel in the UN building. April 22, 1998, was that day, when Vinesong sang in the Grand Lobby of the UN for one hour, declaring that 'Jesus is the Lord of the Nations'. Many lives were touched and the atmosphere was definitely changed for the better. Vinesong have been invited back to minister in the large auditorium in 1999. The organisers will invite all the staff members of the UN (approximately 4000) so that they too can hear the Gospel through song and the spoken word."