Ken and Linda Helser
It was the spring of 1970 and we were traveling in our Winnebago somewhere down I-85 south. Could have been Athens for a Saturday afternoon champagne party, or Atlanta for another gig at the Sigma Nu house, right across the interstate from the now infamous, “Varsity Drive In,” but wherever, it’s the however that mattered. The “however” was the always prevalent weed – commonly called, “pot” – that after one high, I never wanted to be straight ever again. Why be straight when you can stay high? So, I took a long toke of dynamite stuff, and passed it to Leo, my saxophone player, pictured in the blue shirt on my right in the reunion picture at the end of my story. He refused and I nearly choked. “Leo, this is good stuff.” With tears streaming down his face he declared, “Sorry Ken. Never again. I don’t need that anymore. I got saved last night …”
That blew my world upside down. I got so mad at Leo when he said the Bible said, “Do not come to me in a drunken state,” that I decided to prove him wrong by reading the Bible for myself. I found an old Bible in the attic from one of Linda’s religion classes at Wesleyan College, smoked a joint, and did some yoga, and then opened up the Bible. I figured if I was going to read the book I might as well start at the beginning and go all the way through. But I could not get past the first sentence: “In the beginning God …”
I was hooked on the most beautiful love letter I’ve ever read. And the one verse that hooked my heart was in Isaiah 55, that to paraphrase says, “Why do you work for that which will never satisfy, and why do you labor for that which is not bread … but listen … hear, and your soul shall live.” I answered out loud, “Hear what?” And deep within a voice came, “Hear God.” For the next several months I wandered from church to church, usually sitting in the back because of my long hair, hippy appearance. My goal? To meet someone who could tell me how to hear God. Finally, on a Tuesday of May 19th, a Baptist preacher who looked like a narc police welcomed me into his office at Florida Street Baptist Church, Greensboro, NC. And for the next two hours he told me story after story of hearing and acting on God’s voice. I was ecstatic. “Can I hear God like that?” I asked. He answered, “No.” He told me that to hear God He had to be the master or Lord of a man’s life. Then came the killer: “Your God is music. You cannot serve two masters.”
That was truly the day music died. I resigned my career, my band, The Kallabash, that day. And I called my mother to tell her that finally her little boy had come home. She cried and said, “I’ve waited 8 years for this day, praying day and night for you.” And I went home to Linda, my wife, and confessed my adultery. My sin. And promised with the help of God that I would be the husband she’d never known, and become a father to our two little girls. The greatest miracle of my life happened that day. She forgave me and has never once brought up my past. Her favorite Scripture is II Corinthians 5:17, that says, “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Old things pass away and behold, everything becomes new.”
I had to play out a month of engagements under contract and so it was that on some early evening, with our Winnebago parked by the Burlington YMCA, there came a knock on the door of the man who was running a summer youth program, and had hired our band to play. It was not his favorite thing but was part of his job description. That man knocked loudly on the door, signifying, “Come on in it’s time to start and lets get if over with. I know what you’re doing in there. Smoking pot. C’mon you guys …” He never said that, but his look gave him away. We all knew how he felt about our band. But this time something was different. I opened the door and said, “Sir, can you give us a few extra minutes. We are watching the end of a Billy Graham revival and we will come in as soon as it’s over.” If only you could have seen his face! Shocked, he stuck his head in the door to see for himself if I was telling the truth, and there was Billy, calling with his hand for people to come forward as the choir sang, “Just as I am without one plea, but that your blood was shed for me …”
J.L. told me, with his finger in my face, “Come see me as soon as this is over. I want to know what has happened to you!”
My time with J.L. in telling him my story and then with sharing how I had no idea where to go or what to do, but that I was determined to follow Jesus, opened the door for me to take his brother’s place at a ministry in High Point to troubled kids, Youth Unlimited. But more than that, J.L. became a mentor and father to me, helping me find the way through the complicated labyrinth of religion and what it meant to be in ministry, to learn what serving Jesus Christ was really about. No doubt, it is hard to get free from the rock and roll lifestyle of women, booze, drugs and no discipline at all, but the hardest thing to ever get free from and stay free from is religion. J.L. set my heart and feet on what his ministry was called then, “The New Directions.” Thank you, J.L., and thank you, 45 almost to the day later, for being the “Rain Man” in my garden, supplying us with a drip irrigation system right out of heaven!
Setting up the drip irrigation system.
Ken is pictured at left with Emily, one of his staff interns, who has a
passion for gardening. Ken, J. L. and Rev. Brian Biggers, their
friend, preacher and partner.
Ken shared a new song that he had just written, and is in
his element at "A Place for the Heart."
KALLABASH CORPORATION REUNION
After leaving my band, The Kallabash Corporation, 45 years ago, on May 19th, 1970, I received from the Lord a great gift. We all got back together for a time of reunion, a jam session playing some of the “oldies” that we could barely remember, and having lots of laughs. At the close of an historic music event that sometimes had us in tears, and at other times laughing like crazy trying to remember the lyrics of Chuck Barrie’s, “Johnny Be Good,” we threw arms around each other in a loving embrace, and I began with, “Hey guys. I’m not going to preach to you, but I might fight if anyone in this group claims to have been a bigger sinner than myself … but I wonder if at our age and the health problems occurred by the way we did life if we will ever see each other again? I just want to be sure you know this. The Bible says, ‘Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,’ and His name is Jesus.”
We prayed. And it was one of the most real and loving prayer meetings I’ve ever been a part of. What a great grace, and what kindness of God, to let us come back together once more before we leave this earth, to make some music. Share some stories. Laugh some laughs and share some tears with one another. Knowing though I kinda broke up the band to follow Jesus, Jesus had never left us all and cared about our reunion enough to let us live to enjoy it, and remind each one who He is: “The Savior of the world, and The Kallabash Corporation too!"
Love you, J. L.,
A NOTE FROM J.L
As the musical genre of the 1970’s began to change, I realized that I was “out of my musical element” with rock music (my background was classical and folk music). Because he was a converted rock musician, Ken was seeking ways to use his experience in that arena for the Lord Jesus, so I asked him to let us use some of the new “Christian rock” he was writing. He willingly did so and helped arrange and record one of The New Directions albums. We also did some “gigs” together where we featured him, his music and testimony. And God wonderfully used those early days of partnership with Ken when he needed a transitional musical opportunity. At the same time, his musical experience helped The New Directions become more contemporary and relevant to the disillusioned youth culture who were still into the things that Ken used to live for. And now after over 4 decades, we are still friends and partners – this time in drip irrigation and missions! God has such a sense of humor.
The New Directions album "To Be A Child Again" includes songs
written and produced by Ken.
A PLACE FOR THE HEART
Sunrise at A Place for the Heart
So what has Ken been up to since Jesus got hold of him all those years ago?
In 1985, Ken and his wife Linda founded A Place for the Heart in Sophia, NC. Their vision was to provide a place where people in ministry could come away from the busyness of life, to rest and to hear the voice of God, and to guard, tend, and cultivate their hearts. A Place for the Heart exists to teach and inspire generations to live “whole-heartedly in their identity as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father.”
Ken and Linda, along with their son Jonathan and his wife Melissa, have co-led the ministry of A Place for the Heart for the past 15 years. You may find out more about their ministry at: http://www.aplacefortheheart.org/.
"In everything God has a voice. You can hear Him in everything and miss Him in anything.”
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