The power of music

Michelle Stewart
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From devastation to salvation

Music has been a part of Oral Burden’s life since his was just a teen. And from the ups and downs, the twists and turns his life has been, the gift and glory of music has always stayed with him.

Oral Burden is getting ready for his first concert highlighting Southern Gospel music, some comedy and a whole lot of fun. The concert at the Arts and Culture Centre Oct. 9 will have all proceeds going to homeless children in Lima, Peru.

Music has been a part of Oral Burden’s life since his was just a teen. And from the ups and downs, the twists and turns his life has been, the gift and glory of music has always stayed with him.

Burden has organized a Southern Gospel Concert showcasing his own brand of entertainment (singing, playing and comedy) as well as some very special guests, local and from afar. The concert is scheduled for Oct. 9 (8 pm) at the Arts and Culture Centre in Labrador City.

Burden said he felt it was time for him to do something to help in some way and since he moved to Labrador West 11 years ago, he has never really gotten involved in community functions like he did while living in Goose Bay.


A missionary’s impact

“I remember when they had the concert here for Haiti, I felt like I should be doing something as well,” said Burden. “Then I found out Pastor Dave Milley’s brother Dean was in visiting Labrador City and when I heard what he was doing in Peru, I got an idea.”

Although when Dean Milley (a missionary stationed in Lima, Peru) was in the area, Burden and his wife Bernice were out of town on vacation and didn’t get to meet him. His friends in local Pentecostal community described the missionary’s work to Burden. Hearing of the poverty and travesties of the Latin American country struck chords in Burden.

He went to the Pastor and inquired on his missionary brother’s work and efforts and the next thing the ball was rolling and Burden knew this was a great call for charity.

“I think of those thousands of children who are homeless and living on the streets of Lima and it breaks my heart,” said Burden. “I mean these are children as young as four and five and living on the streets, dying on the streets…children really get to me. I think of my own grandchildren and how much they mean. I really want to help in some way, so that is why I decided this was the cause I would have the concert for.”

Things began to fall in place quickly and now the concert is set to go. The event will include Dean Milley, his associate in Newfoundland as well as some local musicians and some from Goose Bay.

“I was nervous about doing this,” Burden admitted. “But I have a lot of support and it’s all coming together. I can tell you it’s going to be a night of lots of fun and entertainment.”


Uplifting messages

There is a power in gospel music that does something magical for the spirit, according to Burden, who said there’s lots of consoling messages that gives a lift when things are wrong. He spoke of his own past—a past that has made him want to celebrate love and appreciate the life he now enjoys.


A troubled past

“I came from a family of a strong Pentecostal background,” he said. “Especially my father, he was staunch and some say it was discipline but [really] we were beaten. We weren’t allowed to do this and that, but now I know it was his custom and it had nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.”

As a child, he thought his father was a clear representation of what God wanted, he thought God was just another impression of his own father, who delivered corporal punishment to his children and never once said ‘I love you’ and certainly never humbled himself to say, ‘I am sorry’.

Thinking his father was a servant of God, at an early age, Burden decided he’d have nothing to do with the Church or anything that the Church taught.

“I know it was spare the rod and spoil the child in those days and many of my friends had the same stories of love not being mentioned much in their homes,” he added. “I began playing the guitar when I was a young teen. I would go off to myself and just play and forget about everything.”

The music allowed him to escape the unhappiness and disappointment his father caused him but it didn’t allow him to escape another evil and by the time he was in his late teens he was lost in a not-so-good way.

“I was heavily involved in alcohol and into the drug scene at a very early age,” he recalled. “To be straightforward, if I had kept going the way I was going, I probably wouldn’t be around.”

"There’s something in music that gives you a lift and it’s a gift to share.” —Oral Burden

It was a litany of crazy parties, fighting, booze, drugs and all that was wild; he simply didn’t care. He felt unloved and the blur of that period was what he sought in order to forget the harsh punishments of his father and the painful memories that troubled him.


Finding love

Then he fell in love (30 years ago) with his wife Bernice and Burden readily admits the first five years, she truly had the worst of him.

“This thing, sorry and love were a constant battle for me,” he said. “I couldn’t express it because I never learned it. When there was an argument or if I got angry with my wife, rather than say, ‘sorry’, I’d go out and buy her something. She’d say, ‘why don’t you just say, I am sorry’—well the word sorry meant nothing to me, I didn’t even know what it meant really.”

During that period, he said, looking back he wonders how the woman (he maintains is his best friend in life), ever had the fortitude to stay with him and endure the mess he was. After awhile the drinking and drugs began taking a toll on him, scary things started happening and he began to worry.

“I began passing blood and throwing up blood,” he recalled. “I could sense a change in my wife, I knew she was getting tired of what I was doing and was probably going to leave me. I was drinking just as I got up out of bed and my fridge was always full of beer.  I think, the first problem I had was admitting I had a problem. I was trying to live this supernatural life and it was no one’s business but my own.”

When he realized that what he was doing to kill the pain of his childhood was very likely going to kill him. It started to sink in that he needed his life to change, but he didn’t know how.

He didn’t think anyone could love him, even when he went to his father’s side when he was dying, hoping to hear the magical three words come from his dying lips. His father died without telling him, ‘I love you son’. It was a difficult realization for Burden who knew there was no hope then of ever hearing it from his father.

A day of reckoning

While sitting drinking his second beer for the day one Sunday evening 25 years ago, Hymn Sing happened to come on television —not that he watched it because religion and God had been long removed from his life—he experienced a life-changing shock.

“I felt this presence and it was that powerful I can remember hearing, ‘Oral, if you thinks there no one who loves you, I do.’, Burden described the experience. “It startled me that much that I sat up and look around; there was nothing there but a gyproc wall. I figured it was my mind, I was losing it.”

At the lowest point in his life, with suicidal thoughts flowing through his head, once again he felt the powerful force of a spiritual experience. He was overwhelmed by the strength and was convinced God was giving him one final chance.

From that day on, he abandoned the booze and drugs, he told his wife he wanted to go back to Church. He wanted to embrace his chance to live a happy, healthy life and he vowed to give love freely to his wife, his two daughters and (now) to his grandchildren. He began singing and playing in Church.

“I am not old school when it comes to religion, where you shouldn’t do this and that,” said Burden. “Today I still like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, I love Southern Gospel but I still like the upbeat stuff. There’s something in music that gives you a lift and it’s a gift to share.”

Burden said his own life, and how he overcame so much, is a testament of hope for him. As long as someone cares, he said, there is always hope. And, his wish is this concert will bring some element of hope to children who are suffering and homeless in Lima.



Geographic location: Newfoundland, Lima, Goose Bay Peru Haiti

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