It was 1986 and I was still in my teens. I knew everything about everything so naturally I didn't feel I needed much help in too many areas of life. I grew up in a religious town in a church where looking the part mattered far more than the condition of your heart. It was the 80s as my casual dress and mullet would attest to.
In our youth group some of us guys had big secular music stashes and on Friday nights we would spend the night at each other's houses to party a bit and watch Friday Night Videos on NBC (for those old enough to remember that). Our youth pastor had the presence of mind to turn us on to some Christian Rock show that the local Christian station in town had on, that show was called Final Flight and was hosted by several people but the main host and the guy who did most of the talking was none other than Rich Fout.
There was something about this guy, the casual way he just talked to you unlike DJs of that time who talked "at" you instead of to you. He just had an undeniable relatability as someone who had been there and done that. He spoke from the perspective of one who had failed himself from time to time and knew what it was like to feel like a failure but also to be forgiven by God and have fresh courage to pick up and try again. This was a sharp contrast to the normal church rhetoric I was used to where everyone and everything had to be picture perfect and failure of god's perfection was not an option.
On his radio show Rich often spoke of Heartsong Records, his record shop in downtown Columbus, Ohio where they would not only sell albums and such but they would hold regular prayer meetings, regular worship sessions where they would put on sets of worship music for hours at a time and just lay on the floor before God in His presence.
I remember going to the first few and being bored out of my mind. Then slowly over time I began to actually press in a bit and focus on this Jesus that everyone else seemed to have such a close walk with. The more I pressed in, the more of Jesus I began to see, feel and understand. These worship meetings, as informal as they were, became precious times of fellowship with who I would later learn to be the incredible Holy Spirit of God Himself.
I had began to learn about radio and that led to my first few radio jobs including doing some DJ service stuff. I began to volunteer at the Christian radio station on Friday nights where Rich and the Final Flight show broadcasted from. That led to me sitting behind the control board and playing the records many times when other hosts couldn't be there.
New Years Eve of 1990 I had the honor of DJing at Heartsong and creating a worship set of my own for the crowd that gathered there that night. I remember it was so effortless as a flow just poured thru me in a way I had never experienced before. It was the way I had watched Rich do it dozens of times before but this time it was God using me. As the Lord would nudge me toward the next selection, His presence just got thicker and heavier. Before long the entire place was face down in worship. It was becoming clear to me that the Lord was laying a mantle upon me to create atmosphere with a flow designed by Him if I would yield to His leading, He would bring people into His Presence. That is a gifting that serves me well to this very day.
Rich mentored me in many areas and we worked together on several projects over the years. in the late 80s I brought the idea of Hellstop to Rich based on an idea I had experienced from a youth group in my teens. We drew it all out a couple of hours including all five original stations, a tie in with drunk driving, the whole deal... Rich took it to Dave Diyanni who agreed to fund it and as a result tens of thousands over decades were impacted with the gospel. Dave would later claim it to be his own idea in a national media interview. I sleep very peacefully at night knowing what really happened there. Rich and I both joked often over the years that we should have patented the Hellstop idea because Dave's church and all of the churches that ran with it afterwards sure raked in the cash from it but for Rich and I it wasn't about the money, it was about people's hearts.
We also put together the idea for "Jam for the Lamb", a multi hour worship blowout featuring all sorts of various musicians and leaders. Basically about anything that led people to either making a decision for Jesus or bringing them deeper into His presence, Rich was always on the cutting edge of.
In 2002 Lori and I had a miraculous healing in our lives, our marriage and our individual walks with Jesus personally but we just couldn't find the handle with Rich again. Satan got in for many years and divided Rich and I. We both felt we were "right" and that the other had somehow done the other one wrong. Truth be told, we were really cut from the same cloth with just enough pride to give the devil a foothold.
After years of avoiding each other, my phone rang in October of 2013 and Rich left a voicemail letting me know that Lori and I were welcome to come to their annual Heartsong/ ministry reunion. I wept like a baby at hearing his voice. I remember having to pull off the road and I just cried. Clearly I had a lot of resentment that had laid in me undiscovered and undealt with. This wasn't about Rich Fout, this was about God doing what He had done so many times over the years..using something so seemingly insignificant to reveal Himself to me and in this case an area where I needed to be healed.
I went to the ministry reunion, saw lots of old faces. most were nice to Lori and I and while a few still kept their distance, I know full well I am not their judge. After all, I harbored bitterness for decades. I walked around, took some pictures and in a moment of worship I saw Rich's familiar eyes slowly close and his now aged hand raise itself toward Heaven in worship of the same Jesus he had decades ago helped me discern and I swear in that moment for me time stood still. The eternal Spirit of God that had always tied Rich and I together had once again done His beautiful work and as God as my witness nothing else that had happened between us over the years before that moment mattered any more.
Earlier this year (2014) Lori and I had dinner with Rich and Karen. It was a special time I will always cherish as we helped each other fill in some blanks from the previous years.
Some weeks later I was able to give Rich a ride home from the Gahanna Longhorn and I felt the familiar honor.. not of being with an Apostle, not of being with an incredible mentor or special general of the Faith... just the honor of being with one who simply loved Jesus more than anything else. His wonderful candor and honesty with me on that ride to his house will be a wonderful memory I will carry with me until I once again go to see my friend.
There is coming a day when Rich and I will worship together again in the presence of Jesus. For those in my family and care I pray that day is a long way off, but I know that day will come. I will see my friend again and we will have our renewed bodies, his nervous system will be completely healed just as mine will be...and the Jesus He now sees face to face... I will too.
Until then as I will always miss my friend and mentor, I take great peace and comfort in knowing that God has a bigger plan here. An "Upper Story" as Max Lucado would call it. I will carry the torch so long as I have the ability to do so... and I will use the giftings and talents that I have to build and advance this Kingdom that cannot be shaken.
For the saints and unto the lamb... more so today than ever before!
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