I wish I could celebrate my 65th birthday in Nigeria —Don Moen

In a recent interview with Rita Okonobo, Globally celebrated gospel musician, Don Moen speaks on his life, marriage, music, love for Nigerians and how he wishes he could celebrate his 65th birthday in Nigeria.

Read Excerpts from the interview below.

Why did you decide to go into gospel music ministry?

In the 70s and 80s, I travelled extensively with a Christian musical group called Living Sound, and saw first hand the powerful combination of music and evangelism. I started writing songs as a result of this experience and then recorded a project for Integrity Music called “Give Thanks” which was distributed worldwide, thus launching my career in gospel music. It’s really an amazing story.

You traced your inspiration for gospel music to a dream you had in 1981. What has the experience been these past 34 years? 
I had an experience in 1981 that was pretty profound. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a voice speaking to me saying, “Turn to Psalm 40:3”. Let me preface this by saying that I had started writing songs, but wanted something more in each song than a beautiful melody and lyric. I wrote down in my journal that I never want to write another song unless it comes in “Power, Praise, Healing and Deliverance”. So, I really hadn’t written a song for about a year and had been praying much about this. I love most music and a great song can move people emotionally, which I think is a great thing, but I was a worship leader and realised that for my audience to be touched only in their emotions would not accomplish enough. I wanted their lives to be changed, healed, and delivered from bondage, so I had to start writing songs that focused on those things. When I was awakened in the night, I got out of bed, went to my study and opened my Bible to Psalm 40:3. It was a specific answer to a prayer I had been praying for a year. “I have put a new song in your mouth; a song of praise to our God. Many will see it and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” Incidentally, I had never led worship up to this point. This moment changed the direction of my music forever.

If you weren’t a gospel artiste, what would you have been?

This answer may surprise you, but I would probably be a pilot, or a Forest Ranger, working in some State or National Park. I tried to join the military (Navy) as a pilot but because I wore glasses, I wasn’t accepted into flight school. My backup plan was to be a Forest Ranger, simply because I loved the outdoors, hunting and fishing, a simple life. I had no desire to be on a stage in front of thousands of people! I only pursued music because I had a full scholarship offered to me at a university to perform and study violin. 

You are becoming a regular performer at The Experience, the most recent concert being in December 2014, in Nigeria. What was “The Experience” like?

I’m very honoured to have been invited back to The Experience for several years. While I’ve sung at numerous music festivals around the world, The Experience is unlike any event I’ve ever attended. The vision of my friend, Pastor Paul Adefarasin, and The Rock Foundation to bring hundreds of thousands of people together for an evening of worship and prayer is unique, and the fact that it is a free event is unbelievable to me. There is a spirit of excellence in everything that takes place, from the production to the protocol, to the security, and of course, I will never forget the sound of so many people singing my songs! It’s the best choir in the world!

There is the perception that you rarely miss the opportunity to come to Nigeria. What attracts you?

I feel genuinely loved by Nigerians. Of my almost 3.5 million friends on my Facebook page (Don Moen – praise and worship leader), almost a million are from Nigeria!  And, wherever I tour, my Nigerian friends are there to support me and pray for me. It’s funny, on my first several trips to Lagos, the airport workers would say, “Look, it’s Don Moen!”  Now when I get off the plane, they say, “Hi Don!” “Welcome home!”.

You have a very positive relationship with your wife. How did you create such a loving connection?

I have been blessed more than I could have imagined with Laura as my wife, for almost 42 years. She is the most loving, giving, gracious and non-judgmental person I know. I can’t say that I have been the one to create a loving connection. It’s probably been both of us being intentional about loving each other. I love to serve her, bring her coffee, doing the little things that I know she loves and the best thing is, we’re good pals. We love being together. I’ve been so blessed to have her with me on most every international tour. People love her, and in some countries, if I arrive without Laura, they’ll tell me to get back on the plane until I can come with her!

How do you balance family life and career, in spite of your very busy schedule?

I think it’s important to be intentional about these things. Great relationships don’t just “happen”. If I see a well-balanced family, I know that Mom and Dad were intentional about family time, even if it was limited. There are many people on busy schedules these days and still have a great family relationship. I determined many years ago that my priorities needed to be God, family, and ministry (or career). If I succeed at my career and lose my family in the process, where is the success? My family has always been a big priority and plays a key role in keeping me grounded and real.

You have performed with Nigerian gospel artistes. How would you rate the Nigerian gospel music industry?

Over the past several years I have seen incredible growth in the quality of songs and artistes coming out of Nigeria, and I have been privileged to share the stage with many of the artistes. There is no doubt the quality is there, but the music industry, (specifically the distribution method) has had significant challenges. Artistes have had to become more dependent on touring as a way to let people hear their project, but that’s really a good thing. Touring and learning to communicate your message to an audience night after night will only make you better. In this day of modern technology, you can create a lot of great music in a home studio, but ultimately you have to learn to communicate your message to your audience. 

What is your overview of Nigeria’s religious setting, especially with the seeming proliferation of churches?

In Nashville, Tennessee where I live, and in Nigeria, you can find many churches without looking very far. But more importantly, whether in Nashville or Nigeria, we must look for a vibrant, community of believers who are theologically grounded and committed to following the example of Jesus Christ, sharing the good news of the Gospel in word and in deed.  If that is the criteria, I’m all for having more churches!

Can you share a few unique testimonies you have received from across the globe?

Oh my, there are so many!  I met a young girl in Manila several years ago who had been healed of a brain tumour while worshiping to my songs. She came backstage with her mother to show me the “before and after” x-rays. The doctors had given up hope and told her she would probably die because they had done all they could do. Her mother told her to play my music non-stop every day while she was left alone in the house. As she began to sing and praise each day, she started feeling better and better. Her mother took her back to the doctor for a checkup several weeks later, and I wish I had the x-rays here to show you. The tumor was completely gone! People share stories like this with me from all over the world and I never get tired of reading them.

Which of your songs is your favourite?

Probably “I Just Want To Be Where You Are”. It was my prayer as a young boy of 12 when I committed my life to Christ and it still is my prayer today. Psalm 27:4 was the first scripture I ever underlined in my Bible. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” I was 37 years old when I wrote the song, and as I was writing it, the Lord whispered to me and reminded me that He put that desire in my heart as a young boy, 25 years earlier.

How does it feel to look forward to the unique age of 65, two months from now?

It feels a bit odd. I remember when my grandfather turned 65, I thought he was ancient! I don’t feel ancient. In fact, I’m busier than I have ever been, touring, recording, ministering throughout the world. (In my mind, I’m still 37!) I really believe my best days are ahead of me! 

You have an enviable personality, which many refer to as “refreshingly simple”. However, what has been your greatest challenge, 41 years in the ministry?

I think my biggest challenge has been trying to grasp that fact that Don Moen is a household name in many parts of the world. When I meet people, I am very transparent and vulnerable, and I treat them like my best friend. In my mind, I’m still a young man, just another member of the band, but my words carry much more weight than I think, and I’ve had to become a bit more vigilant in my relationships. Having said all that, I’m still very approachable and I always intend to remain that way.

What is your message to fans in Nigeria?

Thank you for honouring me as a father and for embracing me as a son. I am humbled and in awe of what God has done that sounds like a lyric of a good song!). Keep pursuing the pure message of the gospel and renew your commitment to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.

If you had the chance to, would you celebrate clocking 65 in Nigeria?

It’s funny that you would ask that question. Yes! I actually suggested to my staff that I celebrate my birthday (June 29th) in Lagos! Nigerians really know how to throw a party and I can’t think of a better group of friends to help me celebrate this milestone!!! But then it seemed to be too much of a logistical challenge so my staff decided to pass on this brilliant idea of mine!

Between secular and gospel artistes, who do you think sell more and why?

Secular artistes have definitely sold more music, because they have had the benefit of huge labels and marketing dollars being spent to promote them. However, in this day of Facebook, internet, YouTube and social networking, the limits have been pulled off, and the playing field has been levelled. I think there is a great opportunity to see an increase in the sales of Gospel artistes worldwide. Now, I’m seeing some of my favourite Nigerian artistes available on iTunes here in the USA. Good news! 

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