Ten years ago today, the world lost a beloved singer/songwriter. Rich Mullins was tragically killed in an auto accident in Illinois while returning to Kansas.
While his music spoke loudly of his faith, his actions spoke even louder. Eschewing the trappings of the celebrity life, Mullins chose to live and work among the Navajo, residing in a hogan in Tse Bonito NM, near Gallup. He embodied the teaching of being responsible for the well-being of his fellow man. Self-imposed poverty allowed the revenues from album sales and concerts to go instead toward ministry.
Mullins modeled his life after Saint Francis. Although having been raised in the Friends movement, he recognized the devotion of this Catholic saint and made it his life work.
Recognizing the desperate economic and cultural poverty of the Navajo in the Four Corners region of the US, Mullins sought to teach music to their young, and share his ways and means. While other Christian artists flocked to Nashville, Mullins worried less about record labels and recording studios, and more about the needs at hand.
James Bryan Smith chronicled the life and times of Mullins in An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (2002), and it is without doubt one of the toughest books I have ever read. Part biography, part devotional, Bryan tells Mullins’ story in captivating terms with extensive quotes from Mullins himself. Mullins once shared space in the Smith family home in Wichita, so they knew each other well.
Ten years ago saw the tragic deaths of three people within the span of a few weeks: Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Mullins. All were major losses for humanity, but I identify most with the ministry of Mullins. The overpowering image of desperation I saw when I bicycled through the Four Corners region last year made this all perfectly clear.
It was only after listening to Mullins’ music for years, and then reading Smith’s book, that I could see the Navajo through the eyes of Mullins. These are the forgotten people in America. To Mullins, the Navajo were Jesus, needing to be served.
I have no idea what the Navajo thought of this white man who came to live among them, a minstrel in torn blue jeans. Why would a person choose to be poor when he could afford to live in a mansion? Why would a person opt for a humble abode on the reservation, when he could live in Music City? Who was this person who, like Saint Francis, preached the gospel…and only occasionally used words?
The Archer called Rich home ten years ago today, and his arrow landed squarely where it had been pointed all along. May we all learn something from this servant, and aim our arrows in the same direction.