Still Changing Lives

Tony Cummings

There was something different about this man. While Christian artists struggled to seem glamorous, Rich Mullins walked onstage barefoot, in jeans and t-shirt. When many were moving to Nashville to enhance their careers, Rich moved to a New Mexico reservation to teach. When most were trying to figure out how to make more money, Rich took a vow of poverty, dedicating most of his income to the poor. Little wonder that when he died last September, the entire Christian music world was overwhelmed with a sense of emptiness.

With Homeless Man: The Restless Heart of Rich Mullins, Myrrh Records and Compassoin International have created a documentary that remembers this unique man, showcasing his vision and ministry. "We wanted to make something that would point, effectively and beautifully, to Rich's life and passions," says Alyssa Loukota, Rich's good friend and director of communciations for Compassion's USA Ministries. "Something that would suggest his loves and struggles and weaknesses and hopes. But more than that.....we wanted to make something that would stir people to action."

Filmmakers Ben Pearson and Jimmy Abegg traveled to Ireland, Great Britain, South America, and throughout the U. S. (including the Navajo Nation reservation in New Mexico where Rich had lived the last several years) to talk to Rich's family, friends, and ministry partners. The result is a richly-textured tapestry of interviews, conversations and recollections, interspersed with clips from one of Rich's last concert appearances.

Homeless Man makes no attempt to paint Rich as a saint. Pearson and Abegg allow the testimony to be honest and respectful, avoiding sentimental reverence. We hear of Rich's "appetite for sin" as well as his "hunger for God". We see him frustrated with aspects of the modern church while deeply committed to it. We see a loner who formed a lay-Franciscan community of young artists and missionaries. We see a man who struggled to listen to and obey God's Word.

At the heart of this tension, Homeless Man shows Rich's conviction that the Jesus of the Bible is different from the One most of us serve. We hear Rich onstage rebuking those who would separate Christian discipleship from the fear and suffering in the world around us. We hear of Rich's ability to help (and push) his friends to think outside their safety zones. We see, in the legacy he left through his work with Compassion International, that Rich's vision of Christianity was bearing great fruit.

Viewers are also shown the wealth Rich had in relationships. Normally, a documentary would be notable for the celebrity of its cast - including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, author Brennan Manning and Steve Taylor, among others. But this list seems inconsequential next to the testimonies of nearly-anonymous Columbian street kids; an Irish pastor; Rich's neighbors in the Navajo Nation; his mission partners in South America.

Despite first impressions, Rich was a lover of all things beautiful. As the concert excerpts suggest, his simple lifestyle and commitment to living among the poor made him quite at home with the world. "We all will die," he says on film, "but it's a shame if we all don't live."

As Homeless Man makes clear, Rich's whimsy and love of beautiful things were always submitted to the test of "love of and service to God and neighbor." Homeless Man sheds light on the nature of that mission in intimate fashion, in a kind, gentle way Rich would have probably liked, challenging us to consider it ourselves. It's an endearing testimony to a man, who, long after his death, will still call us to consider Jesus afresh.

Copyright 1998 by Release Magazine

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