How a Missionary Used Music to Preach to a Hostile Protestant Congregation

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said in the October 1994 General Conference that, "Through the miracle of sacred music, the Spirit of the Lord descended upon us, and we were made ready for gospel instruction and worship."

For a couple of elders, that's exactly what happened when they used "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to share the gospel with a Protestant congregation in their mission. Famous LDS musician Jason Black, known as the "Backward Piano Man," is a YouTube sensation, with several of his videos getting two to three million views.

As a missionary, Jason Black and his companion, who served in the Kentucky Louisville Mission, got a call from another missionary in their district asking if they would like to come be guest pastors at a Protestant church in the area.

"I was like 'No way! That's so cool! When can I go?'" Jason relates. "And he was like 'In two hours.'"

Elder Black and his companion called the church and were told they were welcome to come be guest pastors in this church but that the congregation didn't "believe in the same Jesus as your people." The two elders immediately rode their bikes to the church and sat in the back of the chapel. When the reverend got up to introduce the missionaries, he proceeded to give his congregation a fiery anti-Mormon sermon as an introduction.

"It was so bad that he finished with, 'If you still want to, why don't you come on down and tell us about your church?'" Jason said. "The congregation laughed us up to the pulpit."

When they got up there, Elder Black's companion introduced them. Then, Elder Black, who is an accomplished pianist, asked if he could play for the congregation. When the pastor said yes, Black "busted out the best version I have ever played of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' in a full jazz version."

The congregation responded immediately.

"Within about 10 seconds, up gets this kid in the congregation who comes up to the front and sits down and starts playing the tambourine," Jason relates. "And then another kid gets up and starts playing, and finally after a few more seconds, the reverend gets up and goes back to the organ and starts playing, by ear, along with me to 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.'" 

When the song was over, Elder Black got up to the podium, and when he looked out at the congregation everyone was smiling. 

"It was incredible," Jason says. "It was a 180-degree shift in that congregation from laughing at us and mocking us. . . to as I proceeded to talk about the Book of Mormon and Christ coming to America and believing in prophets today, I'm just seeing these nods and smiles from everyone in the congregation. It was amazing."

Even though no baptisms came immediately following the experience, Elder Black believes that everyone was impacted by that moment. "It was the most memorable experience of my mission. To see how music, how that gift, could change hearts. That's continued to drive some of my goals today."

Watch Jason Black relate the full experience here:

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