No cowboy in a continental suit - Mary Jane Holt

Although I have not been able to fully understand the connection yet, Tommy immediately made me think of the song: "Cowboy in the Continental Suit," as recorded by Marty Robbins.

I met Tommy in mid-October, in Nashville, when I was there for Inspirational Country Music Week.

Oh, no, he was not dressed in a "continental suit." Not at all. A plaid shirt, a black cowboy hat, jeans, and boots were his attire. It's just that I was so not prepared for what came in the package, as in humility, light, talent, joy, a smile like none other, and an amazing heart for God!

Indeed, a very bright Light shines through Music Evangelist Tommy Brandt.

Tommy was ICM's Male Vocalist of the Year for 2006 and 2007. He has had seven No. 1 songs already on the Christian Country charts, including: "No Turning Back;" "'Till You Start Walking;" "Hook, Line & Sinker;" "Somebody's Gotta Pray;" "I Believe In Angels," and "Triple Play."

Though he had me when the first note left his tongue, I would soon become even more struck by his humility and the way other artists looked up to him.

Throughout the week in Nashville, I listened to him sing, watched him interact with the other musicians and, eventually, interviewed him. In time, I learned of the disheartenment and dysfunction that ruled Tommy's life until he met Michelle 12 years ago. When he asked her out, she agreed to date him only if he went to bible study with her. He thought she was joking. After six months of bible study, they finally had a real date. Another six months later, they married.

A few years after the wedding, they sold their beautiful, four-bedroom home on the golf course, bought a bus and hit the road, so Tommy could preach and sing for, and about, Jesus, the One Whose Light now shines through this amazing artist.

Peace, clarity, harmony and purpose now reign where disillusionment and dysfunction once ruled.

Tommy and his family stopped to visit while passing through last week. On the second evening he was here, I introduced him to a group of young men at a Boy's Ranch near my home, boys not unlike Tommy was a couple of decades back. They, too, saw and responded to, the Light in him. The following night, I invited a few friends over, and we all sat under the barn while Tommy sang.

Our entire visit was laced with joyful moments to remember. One of the most precious of those moments came when Miss Olene stopped by on Thursday afternoon to tell me she could not be present later to hear Tommy, as she wanted to support her granddaughter at a school event that night. So, she asked if Tommy, who was hooking up his equipment at the time, could sing just one song for her.

I took her out to the barn and he sung "The Lighthouse" as her toes gently tapped and her frail body tenderly rocked to the beat of the music. Mesmerized is what she was, and happy to have her private moment with a star.

Tears welled in my eyes, and my husband's, as we experienced with the two of them this very special time.

Later that night, numerous attendees felt that Tommy was singing just for them. An occasional healing tear dampened the night air in the midst of the happy celebration that ruled. A strong sense of community prevailed, for neighbors brought pots of chili and hot cider and marshmallows to roast on an open fire near the barn.

First hand, up close and personal, I watched an amazing, God-called evangelist minister to the small crowd that had gathered on a cool, Georgia night to get to know Tommy. He has made few appearances in my state as the better part of his travels have taken him to churches out west, where Christian Country music is all the rage now.

Check him out at tommybrandt.org. I do not begrudge the Southwest for all the exposure they have had to him, but folks who were in my barn that night think we need to bring Tommy Brandt back home.

If he comes your way, don't be looking for a Cowboy in a Continental Suit; just know that when Tommy picks up his guitar and starts singing, you will get more than you expect, because that's what happens when folks who are relentlessly sold out to Jesus cross your path.

Mary Jane Holt writes an occasional column for the weekend edition of the Clayton News Daily and the Henry Daily Herald. Visit her at: www.maryjaneholt.com.