Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When the Messenger is the Music

Publishd in the Fiji Times, Off the Wall with Padre James, Wednesday, 25/4/12

Last Thursday I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Benny Prasad a man just as famous for his globe-trotting as he is for his unique guitar.

35 year-old Benny, originally from Bangalore, India, holds the Guinness Book of Records title for Fastest Time to visit 245 countries travelling to 194 Sovereign Countries, 50 Dependant Countries and Antarctica in 6 years, 6 months & 22 days from May 1, 2004 to Nov. 22, 2010. 

His global journey, spreading the gospel through his music has brought him to Oceania. In 2005 he crossed through Fiji a few times as he visited Australia, Vanuatu, Tonga, Niue, Western Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Guam, Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Norfolk Island, East Timor, Maohi Nui, Pitcairn Island and New Zealand.

 Benny achieved fame when he created the first Bongo Guitar, with 52 strings, called the Bentar. He has performed on this unique guitar to many Presidents, Parliaments, Universities and even during prestigious events such as the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany and 2007 Military World Games in India.

 Today he chooses to travel & share the journey of “Hope to the Hopeless” all over the world, from the least in slums, old age homes, to prisons, war zones, Military Bases, Parliaments – wherever he can.

Benny has lived a simple life and spent less than 140,000 USD in order to complete his travels to 245 Countries (even though he has repeated many countries). 

Even though in many Third World countries it's almost impossible to travel without paying bribes, he has been able to travel to every nation in the world including every African Country without ever paying a bribe, even once. Often he has been detained at borders & sometimes sent back, but he never paid extra. 

He says: "I would rather give up my concert than my character. If everyone takes a stand like this, then we will see corruption slowly vanish."

I met Benny when he attended our small International Students English Worship service to share his music and his story. I had quickly slapped together a poster for the occasion when he accepted our invitation and even though I had only printed and pasted two, the room was filled to capacity with foreign and Korean students.

Benny had just returned from playing in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea (his second visit), where he had performed two songs as part of the state’s centennial celebrations of the birth of Kim Il-Sung. Benny played two gospel songs on his famous Bentar, in a state that is officially atheist.

After playing his unique instrumental version of “Shout to the Lord,” the song he performed at the Athens Olympics, Benny gave his testimony.

His birth was celebrated by his family with the highest of hopes for his future. Those hopes were dashed when he was diagnosed with severe asthma which required him to take cortisone steroids from which he developed rheumatoid arthritis, 60 % lung damage and an immune system which regularly failed him, threatening his life even to this day.

The pressure to succeed academically and be a role model for his younger siblings, and failure to achieve these high expectations resulted in Benny suffering from severe depression and negative behaviour. His rebellious lifestyle brought his family shame and disappointment.

Finding no fulfillment in life, Bennyreached out to what seemed the only way out for him and tried to attempt suicide at the age of 16. By this stage he was almost beyond caring about where he went or what he did, so it was not too difficult for his mother to "convince" him to attend a youth retreat as she had desired and there began his journey towards new life.

In reality, Benny had an encounter with God.

“I  heard god speak to me, saying. ‘Benny, even though you have been useless all your life, I need you now and I can make you a new creation.’ Finally a fresh start! A new birth!”

 That was all it took to bring about a complete transformation in this lost and hurting young man. For the first time, he heeded this positive call, leapt at it, and began life with what we would all long to have - a clean slate. God gave him new dreams, new goals, and a positive desire.

This time, Benny walked with dignity and resonated with the joy of the lord. The rest is now world history.

Benny reminded my fellow students about living according to God’s plans and God’s will; a message that resonated with my own experience and life journey.

When we tune into the Divine Voice, often muffled or drowned out by the noise of the world, we find a way to live that is in harmony with both God and Creation.

Listening to God’s voice has led Benny around the world, with opportunities he never dreamed possible.

It reminds me of the words from the song “Testify” by four-time Grammy winner, Jazz vocalist Diane Reeves, “Be still. Stand in love. Pay attention.”

Or as I like to put it: “Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity.”

Enjoy this clip:

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