A warm summer’s breeze was flowing through the evening air. The Middle
Eastern days were too hot to spend in the sun, so the long conversations mostly
took place in the evenings as people sat around campfires, walked through the
city, or watched the waves crash against the shore. I sat with my three friends
talking about the wonders of life and our purpose, gifts, and goals. As we went
around the circle, I shared my passion for music and how I was blessed to express
this passion through my membership in my college’s touring choir. The touring
choir gave me the opportunity to travel, meet new people, and best of all, share beautiful music. We also discussed what made a song “good”; my friends said they cared more about how a song sounded than what it said. Hearing this, I offered to play a few of my choir’s recordings for them. The songs I shared were mostly sacred or spirituals. As I shared, I prayed that the truth and love of Jesus, given to us through His sacrifice, would reach my friends. I will always remember this night because the Lord was at work in ways I did not know, planting seeds He would soon water and grow…seeds of revival.
As I returned to school in the fall of 2019, I wanted to tell everyone what I had experienced over the summer, hoping they would encounter the presence of God as I had. I was able to do this in several different ways. Over the past year and a half, the Lord had been cultivating in me a deeper desire to engage in worship through singing. That fall, I was asked to coordinate the All Campus Worship (ACW) event at my college. The Lord worked in great ways during this process, raising up leaders for spiritual revival. In fact, almost all of the people involved in the ACW event assisted in an additional 24-Hour Worship event, which took place later that semester for the first time ever. These students used their musical gifts and abilities to lead their classmates in worship so that they too could experience the presence of Jesus. This was the start of a campus revival.
One evening, four of us students were in the chapel after a worship event and wanted to experience more of God. We gathered around the piano and began to worship and the harmonies flooded out of our souls. After an hour of worship, we looked at each other and smiled, filled with immense joy, and asked each other ,“WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?”, but we all knew. The Spirit of God was moving, that is what happened! We returned night after night, inviting more and more people. We spent almost every night of our fall and spring semester in our school’s chapel worshiping from 11 pm to midnight. We showed up with a thirst for God and an expectation, and God met us every time. These nights of spontaneous worship became extremely impactful times in my life, and praise the Lord the worship nights at Grove City College continue to this day.
As the nights of worship continued, I remembered something I had learned a year and a half before in Guatemala; the power of singing scripture. I had seldom done it since my time in Guatemala, however I felt it was something we should try. So, as Giovanna Johnson, another student, and I gathered one evening, the three of us opened the bible to Matthew 6 and began to sing through verses 25-34 where Jesus speaks about worry. While each verse was different, we kept singing the same chorus over and over again: “I will not worry, I will not worry, I trust in Your promises to me”. After we finished worshiping, we left the chapel still singing the song the Lord had placed on our hearts. While praying over it, I wrote a few verses to go with the chorus of this song. Months later Giovanna finished the song by adding a few more verses. After the song was written, we continued to sing it and remind each other of its truths. However, nothing else came of it…until later.
In the midst of all these worship events and movements of the Spirit, I was still preoccupied with the everyday thoughts of a senior in college: “Where am I going to work next year?” “Am I going to do something in Biology?” “Oh yeah...student loans are a thing”. I prayed about these decisions but only had one option on my plate so I pursued it with open hands, ready for whatever the Lord would bring my way. As I was on the path to do a 2-year overseas internship, I was reminded of that conversation with my friends on the beach in the Middle East. Since I was planning to return to this location,I thought to myself, There is such power in music. Isn’t it amazing how a melody can move a person to tears when they don’t even understand the words…but isn’t it all the more powerful when they do?!? Well what if there were an album of music that told the Gospel message from beginning to end? Each song could be sung from a different biblical perspective to teach biblical truths. This thought stuck in my mind as I applied to the overseas program and went through my final exams of the fall semester.
A few days before I left school for Christmas break, I was rehearsing with a friend of mine for a Christmas Carol Concert. We took a break from practicing, and as I was getting a drink, he began to play a series of chords. The chords were beautiful, but he said he had no melody to accompany them. I asked him to play them again while I attempted to ad-lib a few words. We continued this process, and two hours later, we had written the song “Pull Me a Little Closer”. As we sang it I told my friend, “It sounds like it is from someone’s perspective”, and my friend responded, “I thought you were writing from Mary’s perspective!” The more I looked at it, it became evident that it did appear to be from the perspective of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I shuffled a few words, opened my Bible to the book of Luke, and used some scripture to make it clearer. This is when the idea came to me: I could start in the book of Luke and write more narrative songs to tell the stories of the biblical characters. Later that evening, my friend was simply strumming on the guitar, and an entire chorus came into my head for a song from Joseph’s perspective. I raced to my room to write it down before I forgot it. This was the first of many times I found myself running to a computer, piano, or the Bible over the next several days with an idea for a song.
I returned home for Christmas break, and within the first five days, I wrote 8 more songs. I would read the scripture, and then I would feel a stirring by the Holy spirit to write the story I was reading into a song. I would then quickly grab my computer and write down the lyrics I was singing in my head as I read the passage. After writing the lyrics to each of these songs, I would read over what I had written and immediately hear the melodies in my head. Before forgetting the melodies, I would run to my piano downstairs to figure out the chords so I could write them down as well. This happened for every song, each of which was completed in roughly half an hour.
My sister was at home with me during Christmas break. She would lovingly sit and listen to each song as it was written and say, “This one is my new favorite”. The songs came so fast, we were barely able to keep up with the process; we jammed out all week! After writing some of them, I would think, “I like this song”, but not until later did I love some of the songs. I believe this is because it took time for me to grasp the meaning of each song, and every time I sang them, I would come to a deeper understanding of the message. (This still happens to me today!) I love how the Lord works. This is a testimony of His Word being alive and his Holy Spirit have the power to reveal His truth to us.
The following weekend I traveled to Philadelphia to see some friends, and I shared the songs with them to see what they thought. They said they could not wait to hear the album, and I half laughed…an album…hah! Truthfully, I was just trying to write these songs down as fast as I could--I was not thinking about next steps, nor did I have any idea of how the Lord was going to use these songs. My mind was also occupied elsewhere as I would be traveling to Guatemala in a week to visit friends and was also thinking about the 2-year internship program overseas that I had been accepted to.
The next several days were a blur. Before I knew it, I was once again surrounded by the beautiful mountains in Canilla, Guatemala. My sister had given me an idea to write a song with the kids in Guatemala during the 2-week choir workshop I would be leading. The Lord gave me the idea to have them write about their prayers and who God was to them. We wrote a song together, and I loved seeing the joy of the Lord in them as they sang this song from their hearts.
While I was in Guatemala, I was wrestling with God because I wanted to serve there, but there was place or job for me in the ministry. At the same time, I only had one week left to decide about the 2-year internship overseas that had accepted me. This led me to seek the Lord night after night in the ministry’s prayer and worship room because I needed to hear from Him. This was the same room where I learned to worship, truly worship, two years earlier.
One of the missionaries working with the organization in Guatemala was Katie Shaw Ficker, and she invited me to have lunch one day with her family. Prior to this lunch, I prayed for the Lord to give me someone to talk to; I was caught between wanting to be in Guatemala and having a position somewhere else where I truly didn’t want to be. After hearing about the revival happening at my school and my heart for worship, Katie explained that the other families in the organization had been praying and talking because much of my story aligned with a word the Lord had given them about revival in their valley. Katie then asked if I would consider coming to work in their ministry, assisting them in their prayer and worship room. She explained that the organization felt a stirring and the Lord moving in their ministry, but at the heart of it all, their prayer and worship room was in great need of a leader.
When I heard this, my heart started racing, and I could not help but feel overjoyed. Out of the Lord’s kindness, faithfulness, and love, He had created the perfect job so I could serve in Guatemala. God is so good. It was everything I could have hoped for, yet I was now more confused than ever! I wanted to say yes right away, but I was not sure if this was where the Lord wanted me to be. In my conversations with the Lord, I asked for a sign so I would know which job to accept.
In the meantime, I was still working on my music and I felt I should share one of my songs with Katie. I had been learning about Katie’s story, and I felt that one of my songs might mean something to her.
When I traveled to Guatemala the first time, I heard of the tragedy Katie went through years earlier. She was pregnant with twins, but due to complications, she lost both babies. Additionally, for months afterward, her body struggled to recover. In fact, these complications led to several months in the hospital and a season of great uncertainty where she did not know if the Lord was going to have her on earth or with Him in Heaven.
One day while Katie was in the hospital, a woman from a local church whom Katie did not know, came into the hospital to see her. This hospital had several security checkpoints, which made it difficult for visitors, even family. Yet by God’s guiding hand, this woman came into her room and said, “The Lord gave me a word for you, Katie”. The woman then told Katie that the Lord was going to bring down the fires from Heaven to burn up the snakes and witchcraft in their valley, and then bring thousands of Guatemalans to Him through great spiritual revival. At the end of her prophecy, the woman looked at Katie and said, “The Lord has seen your suffering, and it is finished”. The woman left, and Katie wrote down what she said. When the doctor came in the next day, he thought that Katie had died and he was given a new patient. He could not believe that these were Katie’s charts he was looking at--they were normal. Katie had been miraculously healed. 48 hours later, Katie was able to walk out of the hospital and return home to her husband and three kids, holding onto faith that revival would come because God had already fulfilled the first half of the prophecy by healing her.
Even in the midst of tremendous loss and suffering, Katie Shaw Ficker is one of the most joyful and Spirit-filled people I know, and during my trip to Guatemala in 2020, I was able to read these words spoken over her years ago in the hospital. As I read, I was amazed by one sentence in the middle of the page, the only words in all caps: “IT IS FINISHED”.
Back to my 2020 trip to Guatemala, we had a choir concert for the kids, and they sang their original song. Afterwards, I went up to Katie and asked her if I could share with her one of the songs I had written because I realized it deeply related to her story. I explained to her what the song was about and why I wanted to share it.
The song is a conversation between Mary, Jesus' mother, and another person during the waiting period between Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection. In the first verse, this person asks Mary how she has hope to go on, given the grief she has experienced. The rest of the song is Mary explaining who Jesus is, His mission on earth, and the extension of His grace offered through His sacrifice. I wrote this song two weeks before arriving in Guatemala, and I titled it “It Is Finished”--the same words that were bolded on Katie’s paper.
I sang the song for Katie and then looked up to see her speechless with tears streaming down her face. I realized in this moment why God wanted me to share this song with her. Katie then explained that she felt the emotions from the last five years of her life were written into this seven-minute song.
I will never forget that moment as it was undeniably saturated with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I was in awe hearing Katie sing “It is Finished” and watching the Holy Spirit move through her, her story, the song, and the scripture the song is based on. An image of hundreds of people worshiping the Lord through music came to me, and several thoughts came to my mind: What if we translated these songs? What if we sang them every day when the hospital was open so that people could hear the Gospel? As we talked, Katie said, “I feel I was born to sing this song” and “these are songs of revival”.
It was not until later that I realized these statements were, in fact, true. These are songs of revival, and Katie was to sing this song along with several others. I could feel the stirring of revival more than ever, and I realized the Lord was answering two great prayers about the music. First, He showed me these songs are songs of revival with the ability to bring great healing, because He is in every ounce of them. Second, He showed me that the next step was for me to sing these songs in Guatemala for revival. This was the affirmation I was seeking from God, and Guatemala was the place I was supposed to be after college.
When I left Guatemala, I felt a burden in my heart for the widows who lived in the mountains there, and on the plane ride home, I wrote the words to the song “Arise”. This song began to weigh on my heart immensely, even though I was writing others at the time. After seeing what happened with Katie, I began to pray for specific people to sing this music. I felt the Lord telling me this song was for someone specific, but I did not know whom. I began to pray earnestly for the Lord to show me who was to sing “Arise”. As I walked into the first choir rehearsal of the new semester back at college, I noticed Mollie Landman Hunker had returned to school. Mollie attended school during the first few weeks of the fall semester. I knew who she was because I was on the Orientation Board at my college and was briefed that one of the students was coming in married and battling cancer.
During the fall semester, I noticed Mollie’s husband was in one of my classes. Brady sat in front of me, but after a few weeks, I noticed he was no longer in class. Mollie was also in the touring choir so I noticed that she had disappeared from school as well. I sent an email to see how she was doing but never heard anything in response. School went on, and two months later I saw in the news that Brady had passed away.
The next semester I made lunch plans with Giovanna and another friend of ours to tell them about what happened in Guatemala. We were just about to sit down in the cafeteria when I saw Mollie sitting two tables over, by herself. She was just about to pray and take her first bite when I interrupted her and asked if she would like to join us for lunch. Mollie looked up at me and said "sure", and while I did not realize it in the moment, the Lord was laying strong foundations for many friendships that day.
Meanwhile, I was praying and asking the Lord to show me what to do about my music, and later that week I felt the Lord telling me that the song “Arise” was meant to be sung by Mollie. I had no idea what her voice sounded like (I only knew she was in choir), but I knew this feeling had to be true because it was the same thing I felt when I shared the song, “It Is Finished” with Katie. So I began to pray for the right opportunity to share the song with Mollie.
On Friday February 14th, the same group had lunch again and Mollie shared her story with us. It was one of the most beautiful and yet tragic stories I have ever heard. After we sat for a few moments, I told her that the Lord had given me a song, and I believed it was for her to sing. I had no idea how she would take this, but she said she would love to hear it. That evening, my sister, Giovanna, Mollie, and I got together, and I sang “Arise”. She told me this song was clearly from the Lord because of the way it spoke to her heart. Mollie said she was amazed because she had been searching for a worship song that could somehow capture what she had been feeling. She hadn’t been able to find one, and then this song captured everything she had been thinking and feeling. I was in awe of how the Lord transformed a day the enemy was trying to use to discourage Mollie into a day of Joy. This is who our God is. A few days later, Mollie wrote a post on her blog and titled it “Joy”. In the post she shared that she felt the Lord start to bring healing she thought she would never feel, or wouldn’t feel this soon, and it all started that Friday as we sang.
I began to see the power of these songs more and more as the Holy Spirit worked through them, and my desire to share them increased. I organized a small concert for a few friends of mine. At this point, 18 songs had been completed, yet I still felt a few more were needed. I had a few smaller concerts, where I sang these songs to others, explaining the stories behind the words and what the Lord had done. So much was being revealed in these moments, and I could see the Holy Spirit moving through the melodies to touch their hearts.
As I witnessed the Lord work more and more, I felt we should have a large concert at the end of the semester to share these songs with more people. In order to do this, I needed more people to sing. Brooke, Giovanna, and Mollie had all signed up to be a part of this, but I needed another male voice and someone to play the guitar while I played the piano.
Once again, I realized the Lord had already planted seeds long ago for this to happen. Peter Stauffer and I played together in several worship and coffee house events over the years. Peter and I also connected well because we both share a deep passion for worship and music. Knowing this, I felt the Lord leading me to include Peter in this process. We met for breakfast, and I told Peter the entire story (everything you read above) and then asked him what he thought about being a part of this project. He was in!
Things were on track to perform these songs at the end of the Spring semester, 2020, but then we returned from spring break, and everything shut down due to Covid-19. At this point there was no hope of a concert, and I was upset because I wanted people to hear this music. However, had this not happened, we would not have been able to refine the music over time. After three more months of school, the album was completed at 20 songs.
Over the months of quarantine we learned the harmonies and made recordings to practice with. While I think the music would have been good if we had performed it at the end of the semester, it would not have been anywhere near as rehearsed as it was then Peter told me as we practiced that he had a vision of children dancing to this music, surrounded and filled with the joy of the Lord.
Meanwhile, I began to pray about recording the music and started to research recording equipment. I decided to reach out to my church, and the worship leader offered for us to record at the church. Matt Black, their audio technician, also agreed to help record and mix the music. I tried not to shout “YES”!!! Time and time again, the Lord has provided exactly what and who we need.
I knew God would bring a time for this music to be shared in great ways in the future, but I realized I had already had my first concert. When I returned from Guatemala in January of 2020, I was asked to talk about my trip with the 5th and 6th grade program I volunteered for at my local church. I was not sure how I was going to contextualize everything for such a young audience, especially since I was still processing it all myself. I titled my message that evening “The Importance of Sharing Good News”. I told them I was planning to go to Guatemala and share this music with people. When I said this, one little boy stopped me, saying, “HEY! What, do you mean this is good news? You are going to leave us…this is NOT good news!” I quickly calmed thirty-five kids, explaining to them that they have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, but there are many others who have yet to hear of it. When I finished sharing, several of the girls started to chant, “Play us a song! Play us a song!” I ended up playing “Seek Knock and Pray”. Afterwards, the kids told me they were excited to hear the other songs and wanted to sing them in church. I watched as they eagerly told their parents what happened as they were being picked up that evening. The good news was already spreading.
I will never forget this first concert. I thought it was very fitting for it to be for children as Jesus says in Luke 18:16: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” I have learned that God’s timing is perfect, and this music will be shared when the Lord sees fit--not a minute sooner, not a minute later, but perfectly on time.
Fast forward a year and a half to summer of 2021...
I had been on the mission field for a year and half before I met Sara Bannister (Sara Johnson at the time). I had been living in Honduras for 6 months and was just about to move to Guatemala. A friend of mine from college reached out to me and asked if he could share my contact info with one of his fellow interns in Morocco because she had an interest in music ministry. I had been in a season of sharing a lot about Songs for Revival so I didn't hesitate to say yes. About a week later, I set up a zoom call with Sara Johnson, and right before I clicked "admit" to let her into the zoom meeting, it dawned on me: I am about to talk to a girl who wants to spend her life overseas doing music ministry... this doesn't happen every day! I sat there for a moment and then I prayed…”Lord please let her be cute!”… and she was BEAUTIFUL!
We talked for over three hours, and I shared so much about my life and story and how I had gotten into music ministry! Sara was so kind to let me keep talking about my story, and in the final moments I saved for her to share about hers, she told me that she was recording a song in a studio the next day! Since Songs for Revival had done all our recording and producing at home, I really wanted to know how it went! I asked Sara to tell me about her experience of recording in the studio when she finishes, and she agreed that she would! She also sent me a voice memo of the song she was about to record. When I listened to it my jaw dropped. I had never heard such a beautiful sound. I immediately did what any 23 year old would--I called one of my best friends and sent him the recording so I could tell him about the incredible girl I had just met.
I waited to hear from Sara about how her recording session went, but I never got a message. I wasn't sure if I should pursue the conversation or not because I knew very little about her, and I was also occupied with leaving Honduras to travel to Guatemala. However, during my 15-hour bus ride from Honduras to Guatemala, I couldn’t get Sara out of my mind, so I decided to text her to see how the recording session went. We began to text...and never stopped. We found ourselves staying up late talking and waking up the next morning to see if we received a message. It was in those moments that I knew I had found someone special. I knew this was true and also knew the pressures of finding a partner before graduating from a small Christian school (Sara was a senior at a Christian college), so I asked Sara to be my girlfriend, even though we had never met in person…and she said "yes"!
We met in person for the first time when I returned home to the States for a friend's wedding in November of that year. During our first date together I felt...Sara is the one. In the months that followed we found ourselves longing to be together, navigating the difficult terrain of long-distance dating, and trying to figure out what it looked like to be in a relationship because we had no role models who had dated long distance as we were doing! In the midst of all of this I was trying to ring shop and find the courage to propose!
On July 9th, 2022 we were married. The Lord answered our prayer, and our wedding day was so much fun! We were blessed to be surrounded by so many of our friends and family as we celebrated God's union of our two lives. We had a time of worship during our wedding ceremony, and it was during this time that I knew even more than I had before that God gave me the perfect partner. I had always wanted to live out my life with someone who was just as passionate about music and ministry as I am, and loves the Lord with all her heart. He gave Sara to me, and me to her. I am not worthy to deserve such a gift, but God is so good that He delights in giving them. I am very blessed to be able to lead this ministry with Sara and am eager to see how the Lord will work through our gifts and music!
Songs for Revival continue to grow and the Lord brings the right people into the group for His great purposes. I will never forget what Katie said: “These are songs of revival.” Therefore, in light of all God has done and is doing, we will sing…we will sing these Songs for Revival.