Evangelist, Bible teacher and blues singer JIMMIE BRATCHER was interviewed in depth recently by Tony Cummings
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JB: In Missourri, yes and there did the typical life of a young man growing up in the late '60s, early '70s - got caught up very early at a young age of like 13, into the drug culture and started hitch hiking. At that time you could hitch hike in America and it was safe. Hitch hiking throughout the United States and started playing guitar. On my first CD 'Honey In The Rock', I am holding a guitar on the front of it that my Dad traded a car for when I was 12 so I would have a guitar - still have that guitar - and started playing early and then just fell into substance abuse really heavily and that was where my life really fell apart.
I met my wife Sherrie at a Black Sabbath concert and we were both high on LSD at the time and I tell people I didn't know she was really that beautiful, or if I was hallucinating and then to recover from that comment I have to say that she is that beautiful or I am having a perpetual flash back! So we met and we had a very devastating relationship. My son Jason was conceived and born before we were married and our relationship really suffered because of our substance abuse. Sherrie also was very abusive to using needles and contracted both types of hepatitis and had decayed part of her liver from the abuse she had had on her life when we first met. One day Sherrie was in Wal-Mart (or Asda as you would know it) and someone saw her in the aisle and invited her to come to church with her, but by that time Sherrie and I had married and divorced and my son Jason was almost four years old. She accepted that invitation and when she came to this church she could not figure out what was going on because these people were kind and were showing her love and respect and in her mind all of those things meant that she was going to have to pay something because everything that happened in her life meant anything kind meant it was for a reason and there was cost attached to it.
She started coming to church. We were divorced and Jason my son was crazy about me and loved me. One night at church the pastor asked if anyone wanted prayer and Sherrie had all kinds of needs in her life because she was abandoned and abused but she couldn't go forward because of the shame that was on her life. Jason reached up and grabbed hold of her clothing and tugged on it and said "Momma, we need prayer." She kind of appeased him you know and just said it's going to be ok and Jesus is going to take care of us and that lasted for a while and then he again grabbed her clothing and tugged on it and said "Momma, we need prayer" and she reluctantly took him up to the front and the pastor came down from the platform. She indicated it was Jason that wanted prayer and the pastor got down on his knees and looked him straight in the eyes and said, "Jason, what do you want Jesus to do for you?" And he said, "I want Jesus to bring my daddy home," and so they prayed that night that God would help me and do something in my life.
Their life continued to get worse. I continued to be very, you know, focused on destruction at that point in time but God reached out to us and we started to be drawn back together. You know, the covenant of marriage is something that God instituted and he said, you know, as far as I am concerned they are one and man should not separate those things. With God all things are possible, so we started to be drawn back together.
We got a marriage licence, showed up at that little church one Sunday night with a marriage licence. I went to the pastor, it was totally unannounced. We just showed up you know, hippies, holey blue jeans and flannel shirts, and I told the pastor, I pulled out this marriage licence and said, "I have this marriage licence, we want to get married tonight." He looked at me and said, and this is his quote, "Well, she 's trying to serve the Lord and you are an alcoholic drug addict and I am not going to join that mess together." And so I respected him. He told me the truth. I had respect for this man but he left me and came back in just a moment. He said, "I am going to marry you tonight but you are going to accept Jesus Christ," and I just said, "Well, I'm here." So we did that and at that moment we got down on our knees, that night during our second wedding ceremony after the church service and God came into that place, came into my life, delivered us from drugs and you know my desire was immediately gone because I had found the satisfaction and peace that I had looked for everywhere else, that I couldn't find.
TC: Did you expect that when you went down on your knees?
JB: I had no expectation of that whatsoever, in fact I can remember sitting on the front row of the church right before the wedding started and I was telling myself that nothing changes. Everything is going to stay the same and yet when we got down on our knees that night, there was faith in my heart to believe. I had heard the Gospel three times, once as a young boy, I got caught stealing some things and put on probation and then in the States, part of my probation was I had to go to church. You can't do that now. Another time, one of my favourite things to do was (you won't appreciate this) to take LSD and watch Catherine Coolman on TV because she was just so unusual and she had these big flowing robes and everything. Then I heard it once said at Easter at the service I was at and over time it appealed to me that God was able to forgive me and to accept me just as I was. I never had anybody that had ever said that you don't have to do anything, I love you just the way you are and I will help you from this point on if you'll just say yes, and so faith was in my heart to change and we got up from there. We were re-married, that was December 1977 and so from that point Jason got his prayer answered. I was able to be his dad and be a husband to my wife. Really, at that moment I said that is the moment that I became a man and I began to learn what it was to be a man.
Our daughter Amanda was born 10 months later and so after that, you know, we got established in a local church, started growing, we were there 16 years. I raised my kids there, my kids are both grown, I am a grandfather now and my daughter Amanda has a little girl and her husband Jonathan and so we just learnt ministry then from that point on in the local church.
I tell people we had ministry in our church called the brush ministry and there were two stages to it. There was inside brush ministry and outside brush ministry and I started with outside. Outside brush ministry was we heated our church. We were in a rural community at that time and we heated it with wood and so we would go out with chainsaws and cut wood and since I was still kind of coming back from my crazed state they would not give me a chainsaw but I could pile the brush, so I piled the brush and that was the outside brush ministry. Then we graduated to the inside brush ministry and we learnt how to use a toilet brush, and so we did that for seven years. We cleaned the church, that was our ministry but from that faithfulness God began to add things to us.
One of our key verses during that period of time in our life is 1 Corinthians 8:12 which says "If there is first a willing mind it is accepted according to what one has and not according to what one does not have" and so we just decided to be willing and give ourselves in willingness to be taught and to learn that God would meet us there and use us. I don't know about you but I meet Christians all the time that have been saved a few months and they are instant theologians and they don't want anybody to teach them any more and we have to have that same type of attitude of mind in Christ that you know, Jesus debated with the Father about the cross and the Garden of Gethsemene but yet he was still willing to say I am willing to go ahead and go through with this even though I can't see all the details and all the impossibilities that are attached to it. We just have to be that way.
We were called and people say when were you called to ministry and I say well I can't remember a time that I was not ever called to the ministry, and I believe that is just because all of us are called to ministry and in the States, I don't know about the UK, but in the States there has been too much emphasis put on vocational ministry as being the prize and the goal but my observation of that is ministry is our life and that is our, you know, our vocation wherever it is, our families, you know. Like for this lady who saw my wife in the aisle at Wal-Mart. I mean that was not an obvious, recognised place of ministry but you know when I look at my life, from that moment, what a critical moment that was in my history. So we learnt ministry there, you know, I led worship in that church for eight years and then we started to travel and preach some weekends. We felt led that it was time for us to take a step and move into a bigger community; so we moved to St Joseph's, Missourri and joined the staff of Word Of Life Church at St Joseph's, under the Senior Pastor, Brian Zond. Sherrie and I were both associate pastors on the staff there. Had a variety of oversights that when we came to the church in 1994 there was about 700 in attendance and when we left the church in 2000 it was about 2100 adult attendance and they were in the top 20 fastest growing churches in America. But during 1998, the Lord started to deal with us to step out on our own and we assumed that would be to pastor a church but the Lord had other plans for that and so in obedience we started walking.
You know, the will of God is not a moment that you know what to do, it is a discovery that takes you a lifetime and it is built step by step. So we started taking those steps. In late 1999 I was playing, we actually organised a big festival at The Sturgess Motorcycle Rally in Sturgess, South Dakota which is a huge motorcycle rally and they'll have 500,000 people show up, and the population of South Dakota is only 700,000. This is a huge event and we had organised a big event with Phil Driscoll and the Power Team and Larry Howard and some other people. I did a couple of things with our band, the church, because it was an opportunity and it was fun. As I stepped off the stage Larry Howard approached me and said, "I would like to have you come to my studio in Georgia and do a CD." Larry was a very influential pioneer of the southern rock movement in Georgia with Charlie Daniels and the Almond Brothers and those guys.
I accepted that invitation and we started planning early in 2000 and so you know, my transition, although I thought I would take a church, ended up being to quit my position, a very influential position, a high visibility position, grow my hair long and start a blues band which is obviously pretty far fetched for those things in my life, but it's worked.
TC: Of all the kinds of music which you could have got into it is still fairly unusual within church circles to sort of lean towards the blues. Why did you become a blues man?