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The Ragamuffin Army Band

The Ragamuffin Army band of Hutt City Corps
The Ragamuffin Army Band on the importance of worshipping when faced with opposition.

Maryanne and Gareth have called Hutt City Salvation Army (a.k.a. Crossroads) home since they were married.

For the past few years, they have led the music team and have been on staff working with at-risk youth. Gareth has developed a pre-trade and life skills course to help get these kids’ lives back on track.

However, in the winter of 2012, Gareth and Maryanne searched for answers as they witnessed the cycle of oppression trapping so many Hutt Valley youth. ‘Working with these people can feel pretty hopeless,’ confesses Gareth. ‘You can do all you want but they typically end up at the same place.’

They were frustrated with the spiritual environment they were battling and asked each other one night what they were supposed to do and how they could bring truth to the world around them.

‘The next day,’ says Maryanne, ‘I was having my quiet time and opened to Psalm 8:2, which we’ve heard lots before, but for some reason I’d never read the second half. The first half is, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise … ”. That’s a lovely psalm quoted by many a pre-school leader. But the next half says, “… because of your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger.”

‘So God called forth praise from little children to silence his enemy. Simple praise—the most pathetic thing in the world’s eyes—actually puts a bar over Satan’s mouth. I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s the strategy—we have it in our home, it’s worship.” I really felt like God said, “That’s what I want you to do right now about it: just worship”.’

Maryanne and Gareth were also gripped by the idea that it is children and those with child-like hearts that God especially wants to use in worship. He doesn’t just want those with supposedly perfect lives and blemish-free backgrounds.

So the couple began to make plans for a home-grown worship recording featuring the voices and musical abilities of Hutt City people—people who knew real struggles but could also testify to real, life-changing encounters with God. Last summer, they gathered this group of people together to record a five-song EP and also an online documentary.

The 20-minute doco is beautifully filmed and captures the incredible testimonies of several band members. ‘The impact of testimonies is massive,’ says Gareth. ‘I think we forget that the Bible is testimonies, really. And God is still moving, so why are we not hearing that stuff now?

‘It’s amazing the responses from that documentary that we are getting from people in our church. They’re saying, “Now I’ve got something I can give to my friends that explains why I’m a Christian.” ’

‘And it all comes back to that psalm,’ adds Maryanne, ‘because testimony is worship and that too is “silencing the foe and the avenger”.’

The CD itself kicks off with a karakia spoken by children, which obviously sets the intention of the project. Gareth wrote the four songs on the EP, and each has its own remarkable back-story. The first, titled ‘Giving it Back’, emphasises the EP’s sole focus on worship as it dives into a lively first verse, singing ‘You’ve given this life to me and I’m giving it back to You’.

The second track, ‘Pure Gold’, came together at the last minute. ‘We were days away from recording and only had three songs,’ explains Maryanne. ‘Gareth sat down with his guitar and said, “God, I’d really like it if you just gave me another song so we have a four-song EP.” He literally just strummed and wrote down a new song in five minutes.’

‘Pure Gold’ passionately sings of a desire to experience God and to remove the walls—which Maryanne says can often be from our own religion—that prevent us from doing so. Even with such heavy themes, the mood remains joyful, particularly as the song erupts at the end to shouts of celebration. Gareth says, ‘On Friday we practised it and recorded it on Monday. I’ve never been that loose with recording a song in my life.’ Maryanne adds that perhaps that looseness is the reason why kids particularly enjoy this song.

On the other hand, the repentant ‘He Says’, was much longer in the pipeline. Inspired by 2 Chronicles 7:14, it had become something of a church theme song, where God was teaching Salvationists at Hutt City Corps to corporately humble themselves and pray—and to not wait but
to do it today.

Gareth describes the final track, ‘Rain is Coming’, as initially ‘a bit of a joke song that ended up on there not as a joke, but as a fun song’ about the hopeful expectation we have of Christ bringing revival. Remarkably, the day they released the Ragamuffin Army Band EP at Crossroads was the day Wellington received rain for the first time in months after the summer’s drought. This symbolism was also significant given the spiritual drought that had initially inspired the worship project.

The name, ‘The Ragamuffin Army Band’, may well raise some eyebrows, but there’s a great story behind that too. Before they were married, Maryanne was on a mission trip in Russia and in the middle
of a time of heavy spiritual oppression, she received a vision. ‘I saw this really clear picture of countless people lined up on the horizon. They were all in raggedy clothes. Some were on crutches; they were almost like mummies, just a rag-tag bunch. And God said, “Look at my army, aren’t they hilarious?” ’

This vision filled her with joyful laughter and she felt it was a picture of the army God wants to raise up out of broken, everyday Christians. ‘[God] gave me that vision again to do with Crossroads,’ says Maryanne. Calling the project the ‘Ragamuffin Army’ was a way of saying to people in their church, no matter their backgrounds, ‘You are God’s precious army; this has come out of you guys.’

Maryanne and Gareth view the project as something of a parting gift to Hutt City Corps as they and their two young children, Indie and Rhema, leave for a sabbatical year, travelling the country in a house bus. They intend to visit churches all over New Zealand to see what God is doing and to seek out more testimonies of children and ragamuffins alike encountering God.

By Hayden Shearrman (abridged from War Cry, 4 May 2013, p 18-19)

Visit  TheRagamuffinArmyBand to download the EP free (or by donation), to order CDs for $10 (incl. p&p) and to watch the Ragamuffin Army Band documentary.

Maryanne and Gareth would love to visit and help to develop Salvation Army music teams as they travel around New Zealand—e: maryanne.shearman@gmail.com