Where were you on September 20, 1997, when the news of Rich Mullinsí death began to spread through the Christian community?
Mitch McVicker was in the hospital, in a coma, with broken bones and a collapsed lung, among other injuries.
The Church lost a talented musician and songwriter, who lived his beliefs; who in McVickerís words was "much more excited aboutlife and music than I think Iíd ever seen him"; and who made people think and evaluate their spiritual lives.
Mitch McVicker lost a good friend, a fellow pilgrim, mentor, and musical collaborator.
After a year, his physical recovery is nearly complete. Emotionally and spiritually, he grew in some areas while still " ... trying to deal with being basically frustrated with what has happened ó and being really thankful for what has happened."
When he appeared with the Ragamuffins Sept. 18 in Brook Park, he mentioned that he still has double vision but that would clear up eventually. Then he looked out at the not-quite-full auditorium and remarked "This crowd looks huge!" (Laughter)
He said his voice was not quite up to where it was before the accident. "I can get up and do a concert right now and fake people out." (Laughter) Nobody in the crowd noticed any lack when he performed. The applause was loud and enthusiastic.
He has one album and looks forward to finding a producer for the next one. The songs are ready and heís ready to take the next step in his career and his life.
The death of his friend and musical collaborator did not paralyze his spiritual life or his music. McVicker has kept moving.
Life before the accident wasnít a spiritual roller coaster, but a steady progression from one project to another. He and Mullins were on tour last summer. Mullins produced McVickerís first album and they were looking forward to working on Mullinsí next album (the Jesus Record).
McVicker has continued with Compassion International, which was Mullinsí ministry. "I donít feel obligated to pick up the torch, simply because I believe itís a good thing to do. I think itís our chance to let love heal broken people." They worked on the reservation together. "Rich was going to teach out there. He had a real passion for the Navajo kids."
He still belongs to the group Mullins headed, The Kid Brothers of St. Frank.
What are they? An Ďofficialí organization, or just a name the group came up with?
"We canít figure out what it is either." (Laughter)
The Kid Brothers of St. Frank was essentially Mullinsí brain-child. He and McVicker and "Michael Aukofer and Eric Hauck, the two guys I play with .... we had all come together and were trying to follow the ideals of St. Francis, his interpretation of what it means to follow Jesus, and we were trying to set this out as our premise for how we were going to live ... We were just on the verge of it becoming something and Rich was the leader and then he died, so I think it pretty much is just a group of guys who are like-minded and have similar goals, not the same goals of course, and weíre all trying to be Christians in that sense...
"Kid Brothers is a living organism. I think some people saw Kid Brothers as Rich, and they didnít see the other people." McVicker went on to describe Kid Brothers as "a skimpy attempt at monasticism ... I wasnít raise Catholic either, but thereís a lot of truth Iíve found in Francisí life and learning more about it ... We all believe the basic truth about Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, and it all comes down to that."
Mitch McVicker and Rich Mullins met in 1993 at Friends University, Wichita, Kansas, when Mullins returned to school to get his music education degree. They met in class and became friends and "started hanging out." When they graduated, Mullins already had plans to move to New Mexico and he asked McVicker if he wanted to come along. McVicker had no idea what he would be doing, "cleaning out his kitty litter box or what ... but I just figured it would be good." Besides their work with Compassion on the Reservation, and they also collaborated on music together. "He was a sounding board for me, and I was for him, definitely ... It was amazing to collaborate with him on songs and just get inside his thought processes. It was a real privilege."
McVicker still writes songs, taking the inspiration when it comes. During the concert, he remarked on the next song he was about to sing, the ĎLemonade Song,í "At first I thought it was stupid ó then profound... (that) means the silliest, most lighthearted things are the most meaningful. Jesus said be childlike ó not immature, but depend on Him."
Later he remarked, on introducing another song, "They all have the same theme because Iím in a rut. (Laughter) Iím trying to say that Jesus loves the Hell out of us."
During the interview, he was soft-spoken, relaxed, maybe a bit bemused at the attention focused on him. With a guitar in his hands and the stage lights up, he focused. Energy flowed. How to describe it? The Spiritís touch. The same energy that flowed through Rich Mullins to reach the hearts of the audience. Something that had been there all along, coming to the fore in Godís good timing.
God reached people through Rich Mullinsí music and his work with Compassion International. God continues to work through the Ragamuffins and This Train and Mitch McVicker. Would they have come together and headed in this particular direction without Rich Mullins? Perhaps ó or perhaps not. He did have a vast impact on all their lives, as well as on the world. McVicker wonít lose that impact easily, if ever, even as he grows in the ministry where God leads him.
"I think he (Mullins) was very deep ... Very emotional, very passionate. And really, really wise." But most important, "He was a better friend than I ever knew. He was a much better friend to me than I was to him, Iím sure. I mean, he invested himself in me. I would love to be able to do that someday. He was a great friend. Looking back on this past year, I realize just what it means to be a friend. All the things he did, what he went through, the sacrifice."
"We had a really good relationship and I learned a lot from him. And I guess I get to hopefully be a friend to people I come in contact with, in the way that he was a friend to me."
When Mitch McVicker granted this interview between sound checks and the concert, it was one day short of the anniversary of the accident. What sort of feelings did he have?
"No feelings that I havenít had over the past year." Nothing traumatic or melodramatic, just good memories of a friend, fellow musician and fellow servant. The past year was one of remembering, growing, and continuing to learn all the things God taught through Rich Mullins.
What does McVicker remember about the day leading up to the accident? Is it painful when people ask him about his memories?
"Not painful at all, because I donít remember any of it." (Laughter)
He does have one memory, though.
"I donít know why I have this memory, because I donít remember that day, until two weeks after the accident when I started to come around in the hospital.. But I do have one memory of the trip. We stopped to get gas approximately two hours before the accident and I remember we both went in and got coffee and it was one of those machines where you set your coffee cup in there and you press a button and coffee comes out and when it gets full it stops. And Rich put his cup in there and it got full and he walked away and the coffee kept running and went all over the floor. And I was just laughing and laughing. And he walks up to the counter to pay for it and the guy recognized him. He said ĎExcuse me, are you Rich Mullins? ... Did you make that mess over there?í So thatís my one memory of that day."
"So itís not painful at all."
Two friends, on the road, with finished work behind them and new goals ahead, taking life as God gave it to them, laughing at humbling experiences. They were doing what God gave them to do.
Then God called one home, and left the other here to keep going from day to day, serving Him.
"Iím still learning what
kind of friend he was."