By John Hillman
Songs that touch lives and stir souls arise from common yet extremely powerful experiences. In his second hit single, "He's My Son," Mark Schultz struck the familiar chord of a parent's prayer rendered for a child suffering from deadly disease.
At times, the Kansas native never knew if his journey into the world of professional songwriting and recording would ever begin. After graduating from Kansas State University in 1994 with a marketing degree, Schultz moved to Nashville, hoping to make his mark.
"It's just not like me to pack up all my bags and head somewhere," the singer says on his official website, www.mark-schultz.com. "I came to Nashville and I didn't know why. I wanted to do music but that wasn't working out. It was like God telling me I had to die to all that stuff."
An internship with a Nashville-based publishing house first exposed Schultz to the hub of both Christian and country music. After completing the short-term collegiate assignment, he decided to remain in Tennessee and found employment as a waiter.
A chance encounter at the restaurant with Mark DeVries, youth pastor at Nashville's First Presbyterian Church, opened doors for the vocalist he never dreamed possible. By coincidence, a mutual friend had given DeVries' name to Schultz almost a year earlier. At that time, however, the aspiring artist denied his calling to youth ministry that First Presbyterian now offered.
"The last thing I wanted to be was a youth director," the 29-year-old says on his website. In relating the incident this past year, he told David Moll of the Peoria Journal Star, "He (DeVries) said, 'It's pretty apparent to me that God's called you here and God's called me here.' That was six years ago, and it's been the richest, most Godly experience I've ever had."
First Presbyterian quickly earned the reputation as the "in place" for Nashville's teens. Schultz' youth concerts drew capacity crowds, and with DeVries' encouragement, the former glee club member penned numerous songs, many inspired by people and events at his church.
Never one to back down from a challenge, the youth minister borrowed $18,000 to organize and produce a benefit concert at Nashville's famed Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. The sold-out performance prompted Myrrh Records to sign the rising Christian artist, leading to the production of his self-titled CD released in March 2000
The first single cut, "I Am the Way," went to number 22 after only two weeks and reached number one in early summer. Reviewers praised the new artist, comparing his high-energy compositions and soothing ballads to CCM giants, Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman.
But the debut artist reached even greater heights and garnered more glowing accolades with his number two single release, "He's My Son." In September 2000, the song which describes a father praying for his child topped the Christian Adult Contemporary charts and crossed over to both the Billboard and R&R Adult Contemporary lists, peaking at number 22.
"It's exciting to see Mark join the company of other very talented artists like Amy Grant, Sixpence None the Richer or Michael W. Smith whose songs have achieved success at radio in both the Christian and mainstream markets," said Jim Chaffee, vice president and general manager of Myrrh Records in an official release. "The response to this song has been overwhelming across the board. It's wonderful to be a part of a song that is bringing hope to so many people."
The songwriter, who lists Dan Fogelberg, Boston, and Journey as musical influences, penned the work in 1998 based upon an experience with a member of his young group. Martin Baird, a 14-year-old eighth grader, complained to his father that his finger wouldn't bend. Several days later with no improvement, the Bairds took their son to the doctor.
Tests revealed no damage to the finger, but tragically the diagnosis determined Martin had contracted leukemia. Suddenly, the Baird family faced the rigors and trauma of intense chemotherapy along with the uncertainty of its success.
The chorus of "He's My Son" embodies the essence of a Christian parent's prayer for a sick child. Faith provides the knowledge that God hears it, but human frailty always casts a small shadow of doubt.
"I think the chorus - 'Can you year me? Am I getting through tonight?' - really captures the emotions they felt," Schultz explains on his website. "Martin's chemotherapy is now completed and he's doing fine."
Listener response proved so overwhelming, a message board was provided on the singer's official website. Hundreds of testimonies have been posted since the song hit the airwaves.
"He's My Son" has already established itself as Schultz' signature song. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America requested he perform it as its annual "Light the Night" Leukemia Walk in both St. Louis and Nashville this past fall.
"It's been humbling to see all the response from the e-mails, letters and phone calls," the youth minister says on his website. "I have seen and heard story after story of how this song is touching so many lives. I am just honored that God entrusted me enough to deliver the message."