A Heart of Compassion – Meet Al Boyce…
Interview by Debbie Porter
FWM: Al, you’ve been a regular contributor to FaithWriters’ Magazine over the last 12 months and a familiar name in the FaithWriters’ Anthologies. Please, tell us a little about yourself.
AL: I am a former journalist and long-time atheist who had a hard time figuring out why there wasn't much joy in my life. I had God-given gifts for writing and music, but they sputtered until I accepted Christ and began applying them to His Kingdom.
It has been amazing to look back at my life and see how, even when I didn't believe in God, He was preparing me for ministries far in the future. God blessed me with a wonderful, inspirational (and often challenging) wife and three children, including an autistic son who has helped all of us understand Jesus, love and mercy in new ways.
We live in Raleigh, NC, where we count many homeless men and women as
our friends as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
FWM: I found it interesting that you were focusing mainly on songwriting before you came to FaithWriters in July 2004. Are you still writing songs?
AL: One of the many things I've learned about God over the past several years is that He is a moving target. Soon after I accepted Christ, I began looking for ways to serve God (as if He needed ME instead of the other way around).
My entire life, I had been terminally afraid of performing musically in front of more than a couple of people. It never occurred to me that this "rule" could be changed by God. I was preparing for a mission trip with the Appalachia Service project and was told there was a talent show to raise money. Against my own best judgment, I signed myself up.
There ensued many days of anguish as I worried I would make a fool of
myself. The night of the performance, however, I was free from fear and got through the performance without a hitch. "Aha!" I thought. "God wants to use my musical gifts!"
I joined the choir, started learning and loving Christian praise and worship songs. When I was "exiled" to Richmond for a 10-month job, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night with worship songs completely written in my head. My wife, as a Christmas surprise, bought me some studio time so I could record a CD. We sold the CDs to church members to raise money .... for Appalachia Service Project! Isn't God amazing?
Living away from the family was trying, to say the least. God helped me get a job back home and focus on family. Interestingly, the last song I wrote, "Union of Souls," was for my wife.
FWM: What triggered the move to writing inspirational articles?
AL: The move to inspirational articles came about as God changed focus again. I was at this new job where there was a lot of down time between
contracts. One day, out of the blue, I felt called to find a place on the Internet where I could do some Christian writing. A search engine directed me to FaithWriters and I loved the site.
To start with, I just posted my witness talk, "Can You Hear Me Now?" and the lyrics to my songs with links to the MP3 files on another site. Then I entered the Writing Challenge for that week, got five fairly positive comments and decided to see whether God would "inform" subsequent Challenge entries.
I was amazed to see how the daily events, scripture readings, devotionals and Christian outreach our family experienced every week would be miraculously transformed into an entry that somehow "fit" the Challenge categories. I was even more amazed to see some of them place fairly high and to have them placed on other Internet sites, Internet magazines and even in some printed media.
FWM: Your story, "Seeing God," was such a wonderful message of encouragement, told with such honesty and humility. Although you used your own "bad attitude" as a key part of the story, it was incredibly moving to know that you are out there, getting your hands dirty (so to speak), ministering to the homeless and rejected. How did you get involved with this ministry?
AL: I've actually written entire articles on this point. It was another example of God being a moving target. While I was in Richmond, I walked back and forth about three miles to work. Every day I passed a small park. Every day there was a beat-up Mercedes in the back corner. One day I noticed a woman was living in it -- all her belongings piled on the seats.
I felt called to reach out to her, but I REALLY didn't want to. When, at God's insistence, I approached her, she yelled obscenities at me and tried to drive away until I backed off, very shaken.
After that, I would wave to the woman every day -- usually with no response back. I left her food a couple of times -- again, no response. One day she got out of her car and "happened" to walk near the sidewalk as I was going by. She said just one thing: "It's a beautiful day. I'm so glad I got out to enjoy it." But she smiled for the first time.
When I went back home to Raleigh, God used music to get me to a homeless outreach. I brought my guitar to an Easter service for the homeless, thinking it was a one-time deal. Little did I know that event -- with food, witness talks, music and an incredible outpouring of love -- would lead me down a "slippery slope" of ministry.
"Seeing God" was in many ways the culmination of the attitude I believe
God wants to instill in all of us -- that He is always there, ready to partner with us in His awesome works. And that when we embrace that work as His, the yoke is easy and the burden light.
It reminds me of an old story about a Buddhist monk who is tramping through the woods carrying a huge backpack. A young seeker stops him and says, "Teacher, please can you explain what is enlightenment?"
Without a word, the monk slowly removes the backpack, straightens his
shoulders, and smiles.
"Ah, I see," says the young seeker. "Tell me then, what comes AFTER
Without a word, the monk picks up the backpack, shoulders it, and resumes his walk, still smiling.
FWM: Al, I could be wrong, but your heart of Christ-like compassion and service really does seem a lifetime from that of what I assume was a fairly cynical, atheistic journalist. If you met someone like your old self today, what would you say?
AL: I often ask people who are on the track I was on: What are you living for? The answer often surprises them. Many say they are working to get the finer things in life, or to make a difference in the world, to provide for their families. Some say they are working to get to the weekend (TGIF) but come in Monday complaining that the weekend didn't meet their expectations.
I spent many years working on self-improvement (defined as working out, learning new things, buying more stuff) with the idea that one day I would be so "improved" that I would take joy in it. Never happened.
It's easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. I took solace in being a better-than-average bicyclist, decent volleyball player, smarter-than-the-average-bear kind of guy. What it took me so long to realize was that true joy lay in the humility of being on the first rung of a ladder that leads to God, in seeing the next rung, dripping with promise, and knowing it is within your grasp -- with God's help. Comparing ourselves to an absolute like Jesus can be very intimidating, until we realize that He is going to be with us every step of the way as we try to live into God's promise.
Cynicism is almost a disease in today's society. It erodes the hearts of those around us as it professes to a truth that is beyond its reach. But oh, how worldly and sophisticated we sound when we knowingly berate charity, humility, love, joy, peace -- the only things that ultimately have the power to feed our souls.
FWM: Finally, your passion and heart shines through your writing. What is your heart’s desire for tomorrow – for the church, your personal ministry and your life generally?
AL: I like to think that what shines through my writing isn't me at all, but a glimpse of God and the Holy Spirit. It often amazes me when I wake up knowing I must write something -- and having no idea what it will be or even how to start. I can sit back and watch my typing fingers and not know how the article will end, or even what the point of it is.
That's just one example of something my wife, Cindy, and I experience every day -- seeing God at work. We would dearly love to impart that to everyone we know. That is part of the message from the article "Seeing God." That article is completely true, yet even some of my Christian friends have asked if I made it up.
We feel like every minute of every day we have the choice of seeing reality through God's eyes -- or through the world's. It isn't magic and Cindy and I aren't special. But it takes a commitment that can be very uncomfortable for some to make.
Every day, we make sure we read the Bible. We read devotionals (my own personal favorite right now is C.S. Lewis). We pray, not just for things we need, but for God to work in the lives of those around us and to give us the wisdom to do His will. And we try to minister to those Jesus singled out -- the poor, the homeless, prisoners, those on the fringes.
Here's an example of living in faith and how God uses it. I was leaving work at lunchtime one day to minister to the homeless and a co-worker asked where I was going. Instead of just saying "lunch," I told him the truth. When he asked why I was doing that, I (with no evangelism gift) had the opportunity to tell him about Jesus and serving God. The next week, he had told someone else about our ministry and she donated several bags of clothing.
Reading the Bible helps you know God's voice, so you recognize Him more
readily when He calls (and He calls all of us). Being obedient to that call opens huge doors.
We need to remember that WE are the church. It isn't a building, or an organization, or a place to sing worship songs. And it isn't complete without EVERY member of the body of Christ.
My vision of heaven is a place where the scales fall from our eyes and we see not only God in all His glory, but glory in each other (right where God put it).
FWM: Amen to that! Al, thank you so much for letting us share this small glimpse into your life. I know you’ll just brush it off, but thank you for being a shining light and inspiration to so many of us.
You can read more of Al’s work by visiting his Member Page at FaithWriters:
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