Bobby McGee doesn't sing the bluesChristSong Ministries founders will be in Canton Saturday
Bobby McGee’s life has not been an easy one. Despite a troubled childhood and an early life of crime, he's turned his life around and found a way to make a difference.
Raised in Candler, his father was a WWII and Korean War veteran who was an abusive alcoholic. Due to the level of family violence, McGee was sent to live with his grandparents until fifth grade when he began acting out. He was then sent to live with his mother in Charlotte where his older sisters exposed him to the party life. He started doing drugs and getting high at the age of 11.
When McGee was 14, he was arrested and charged with grand theft auto in Mecklenburg County and spent two years in prison. He was released on his 16th birthday.
At the age of 16, he received a seven-year sentence for breaking and entering in Bryson City. He was released at the age of 21.
McGee made his way to Virginia where he accumulated 132 felony charges of breaking and entering in 13 different counties.
“That was my life,” said McGee.
Since 1972, McGee has been in and out of prison for a total of 22 years. That’s 22 years behind bars — not on probation, not in county lockup, and not doing community service.
In 1989, McGee began to get tired of prison. With the best of intentions, he moved back to Candler.
“I was tired. I mean, I’d already been in prison almost 15 years,” said McGee. “I was in my 30s. Got my GED on the inside; took psychology and sociology classes so I could figure out why I couldn’t seem to function like everybody else.”
But within five days of his release, he was using drugs and alcohol again.
“I didn’t feel like I could get out of bed unless I had a pill to take,” said McGee.
And within nine months, he was in Buncombe County Jail with an armed robbery conviction. The sentence was reduced to common theft and McGee was able to make bail right before Thanksgiving of 1989. His court date was set for early January.
“My plan was to spend the holidays with my family and then run before my court date,” said McGee. “This wasn’t the first time I’d run from the law.”
Hearing the call
As he was leaving Candler, he passed Good News Baptist Church where he saw a sign advertising a live Nativity.
“Christmas at my house was when my dad got drunk,” said McGee. “It was always violent. I didn’t come from believers, you know, and we just didn’t have anything that represented Christ, and so I was curious … and I figured, you know, this might be the first and last time I ever get to see one.”
As he walked toward the Nativity, three members of the church approached him.
“At first, they were nice,” said McGee. “Then they began witnessing to me and telling me that all had sinned. That made me mad because I felt like they were judging me. And I told them good people, ‘I ain’t trying to hear that,’ and I got in my car and left.”
And then, something unusual happened.
“I got to Amboy Road and something completely out of my character happened,” said McGee. “I was a non-believer … thought this thing was a fairytale and a fable, but I heard something speak to my heart and draw me back to this church. Some bad things have happened to me in my life, but never has something affected me like this did. I turned the car around and went back to that little church.”
Steve Smith was the preacher at Good News Baptist Church at the time, and he took McGee into his office when he returned.
“He told me about Peter, who was an old, hard-headed fisherman and how he walked with the very son of God,” said McGee. “And … he told me about David and his mighty men. And then he told me about a man named Saul who used to throw Christians in prison in chains. And when I started reading all this, the thought hit me that I may have this thing wrong. These people sound a lot like me.”
On that day, he turned his life to God. Finding the strength in his newfound faith, he didn’t run and went back to prison for seven more years.
McGee was released from prison for the last time in 1995. In 1997, after a long and eventful courtship, he married his wife, Nancy. Having always been a musician, he began writing Gospel music and eventually felt the call to go back to the prisons to minister to the inmates. Thus, ChristSong Ministries was born.
Ministering to inmates
The first prison ChristSong Ministries visited was Craggy Correctional Center in Buncombe County. The ministry took off from there.
“It got to the point were we’d have to tell our jobs ‘no’ or the ministry ‘no,’” said McGee. Bobby and Nancy quit their jobs in 2009, applied for and received 501c nonprofit status with the state of North Carolina, and took their ministry on the road full time. In 2013, they visited 96 prisons across the country. In 2012, they visited 126.
At each prison they visit, the McGees provide CDs, Bibles, reading materials and informational pamphlets. The McGees sing their folksy Gospel music to the inmates, and Bobby gives his personal testimony. Covered in prison tattoos, McGee’s appearance helps him connect with the prisoners who recognize that he is one of their own, that he doesn’t have “street ink.”
“He speaks their language,” said Nancy McGee. “He knows their culture.”
Most recently, the head chaplain for the state of Idaho invited the McGees to visit its state prisons. Because Bobby and Nancy live solely on donations, Crestview Baptist Church in Canton will host a fundraiser to help support their five-month tour Saturday, March 22, at 3258 Pisgah Drive.
A barbecue dinner will begin at 4 p.m. in the fellowship hall and will include smoked barbecue pork, cole slaw, baked beans, chips, dessert and drinks. The cost of each plate is a donation. A benefit singing will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary and will feature Faith Under Fire. A love offering will be taken up during the singing. For more information, call 400-9875. Visit www.christsongministry.com for more information about the ministry or to make a donation.
“God changes lives,” said McGee. “We still can make mistakes and we can stumble and fall, and part of us can change like that. Part of us can make bad choices, but God never make bad choices. And God never changes and he never leaves us.”