The Initial Fire
As a young child I was always drawn to those who were at a tremendous disadvantage in life – either physically or emotionally – and I found, in turn, they were also drawn to me.
A large part of this was the love and care I witnessed my parents show towars every troubled, wounded person they met. Their kindness and patience to others left a profound impact on my life. As I grew older, the fire in my heart for hurting people only grew stronger. In 1999 I helped plant The Rock church in the heart of Minneapolis. I was 17 years old and never expected that this would catapult me into a great adventure.
Shortly after the Rock opened I met the woman that would become my wife and since that time we’ve busied ourselves with helping, encouraging and empowering people from all walks of life. Addicts, prostitutes, ex-cons, disabled veterans – anywhere we found folks hurting, and had the power to help, we gave everything we could.
The Persistent Fire
In 2008, for reasons I can’t quite remember, I felt strongly that my songs, heart and missionary calling were well suited for those behind bars and I set forth to somehow convince local prison chaplains to let me come in and help out. I sent emails to every chaplain in the state of MN and got no response. I even tried to setup a meeting with the head of the DOC but was denied. No one would help. Strangely enough that same year a door opened to play small concerts for disabled veterans at the Minneapolis VA. I was thrilled! Once or twice a month I would stop in and play songs for the vets there. It was so satisfying and truly an honor for me to meet some great men and make some friendships that will last a lifetime. I was even able to start, and run (still to this day) a bi-weekly songwriting group for disabled vets. But my heart still yearned for the prisons. Then one day it hit me! I had grown up knowing a very dear women at our church who’s husband had died (only a year after they were married). His passion was also for those behind bars and so after his death she continued his dream and eventually ended up working for Prison Fellowship. She had since moved to Florida so I tracked down her email and explained to her my dilemma. She immediately fired off an letter to the director of a local prison ministry. He and I met shortly after and he told me one of their greatest needs were for young volunteers, particularly young men, to come into these prisons and minister to young inmates. I was hooked. I’ve been playing regular concerts at the Lino Lakes Prison and Shakopee Women’s prison ever since, in addition to my work at the VA.
The Unquenchable Fire
Early this past April my sister Celeste and I once again had the privilege to play at the Shakopee Women’s prison. We had played there before, but only for the believers that were apart of IFI. This night was different – the concert was open to the entire prison and we were playing all of my original songs. Celeste and I were asked to play two back-to-back, one hour sets for two groups of women. The first group was incredibly emotional by the end of the set as I shared my faith and played the final song. Nearly half the room was crying and Celeste and I ended the set completely breathless and exhausted. 2 minutes later the 2nd group was ushered into the room and, to my eyes, seemed much more…well – hardened. I thought to myself “What do I have to offer these women?”. To my surprise, after the 1st song was through, they were completely tuned in – a few already crying. But where the last group dabbed their eyes and sniffed during the final song (available below), this hardened group had come completely unglued – the sobs reaching a fever pitch as I myself lost control and began bawling, lamenting over the life they’d been denied by their families, the good life I was so desperate to give to my own family and the life that God could give them – the life He could rebuild through Jesus Christ – if they wanted him to.
Afterwards, as the women were ushered out, we had a chance (briefly) to chat with a few of them, answer questions and encourage them. Even the security guard on duty was left speechless. I left that night and thought “Why am I not doing this every night? If these kinds of moments are possible, isn’t this what my music made for?” My experience with the men at Lino has been equally as moving (though men in prison rarely cry in large groups). They’re enthusiasm for my music and stories continues to amaze and humble me. Now both groups regularly petition IFI requesting my music and presence for their graduation ceremonies and special events.
I’ve been reading lately on the life of William Wilberforce – an incredible man by any measure: he was a father of 6, a politician, philanthropist (gave a quarter of his wealth to the poor and was at one time involved in 69 different philanthropic endeavors). He wrote books, gave impassioned speeches, suffered terribly from a stomach ailment that followed him to his death, and in his spare time – he ended slavery in Europe. His life and work have plagued my conscience with this one thought “Are we not capable of doing more?”. The Salvage Project is my answer to that question in my own life. My primary focus will be young people who are incarcerated, especially young men-a group that was raised in a culture of divorce and broken promises, most left fatherless, betrayed by those who should have helped them most. Never before, in the history of America, has a group of young people faced such tremendous lies, temptations, distractions and dangers as they do in the 21st century, and we will pay a heavy price for abandoning them. We already are. I want to go where few others will go – right into the belly of the beast – and use my music and message to help repurpose and restore lives through the ageless message of the gospel.
About Jeromy Darling
Jeromy has been married to Gretchen, his only girlfriend, since September of 2002. They have 2 boys together – Wyatt (10/7/09) and Wilder (7/29/12). Jeromy has released numerous albums over the years and all his music and social links can be found at www.jeromydarling.com