"Setting the Gospel to Music"
GOD WALKS THE DARK HILLS
Written by Audra Czarnikow
Story By Ray Lewis
I’d been playing my guitar and singing in nightclubs for a few years after getting out of the service in 1958. Then one night in 1965, I took that long walk from the pew to the altar to rededicate my life to God. I was saved when I was thirteen, but had left that life behind when I joined the Air Force.
Since my life was changing, so did my music. I started a little Southern Gospel group and called it The Hallelujah Minstrels. Like so many groups starting out, we traveled all around our area of western Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and southern Missouri, singing for fifth-Sunday singings, homecomings and the like. After singing together for a few years, we made plans to go to Nashville, Tennessee to record our first album. We were so excited! We had our songs picked out and rehearsed! We were ready! Only one thing stood between us and our recording debut...money! It cost a respectable sum to record in Music City even back in 1969, and the love offerings just hadn’t put that much money in the group’s till. So we continued to travel, sing, and pray, while waiting for the Lord to finish supplying the need.
Since the Hallelujah Minstrels were not a “full-time” group, everyone had “day” jobs. I worked for The Fort Smith Times Record. One of my coworkers, Eric Allen, who had heard us sing and knew that we were about to record an album, continually besieged me about a song his sister had written. Day after day, week after week, Eric said something to the effect of, “My sister has written this great song, and if you would just listen to it, I know you’d put it on your record.” My response was the same, day after day, week after week, “We have our songs all picked out and rehearsed.. . We don’t need another song, we need money.”
After about two months of this, I came in to work one morning and Eric met me at the door. I was ready to listen again to his usual dialogue about his sister’s song and to offer my usual response. But on this particular day, he said something that really got my attention. “Something just occurred to me”, he said, “and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of it before now, seeing that you need money and all. My sister is pretty well-off financially, and I’ll bet if you would record her song, she’d help pay for your record!”
Well, all of a sudden I “felt inspired” to go listen to the song!
Eric's sister was a sweet, elderly lady named Audra Czarnikow (pronounced Shawn-uh-ko), who lived in the little community of Liberty, Oklahoma, just across the Arkansas/Oklahoma State line. I made an appointment with her and drove over one evening to listen to her song. She brought the little reel-to-reel tape out of a shoebox from a back room. It was a pretty good song, and just as Eric had said, Mrs. Czarnikow offered to help our group with the recording expense if we would include her song on our album.
By the time I reached home that night, I couldn’t even remember what the song sounded like. All I could think of was, “We’ve got the money, we’ve got the money! Now we can go to Nashville and make our record!”
Although money was the foremost thing in my mind at that time, to this day I’ve been overwhelmed at the window that God looks through. It’s always different than ours. All I saw was money that was an answer to our need, but God saw a greater need... He saw a song that would bless, encourage and help folks for years to come, probably even right up to the day Jesus comes back.
The rest of the story? The Hallelujah Minstrels went right to Nashville and recorded their album. We even titled our album after Audra Czarnikow’s song. As I think about the hundreds of testimonies that this song has generated over the years - even through today - I can only be thankful for the financial need which prompted me to go and listen to it. Sometimes God will use our need to bless others. Would this song have ever been heard had it not been for that first recording by the Hallelujah Minstrels? Who can say...But knowing Audra Czarnikow (I believe she was 65 years old when she wrote the song) I feel it is doubtful that the song would have ever left that little farmhouse in Liberty, Oklahoma had we not recorded it and then passed it on to the Happy Goodmans while sharing the stage with them one night at a singing.
Now for a postscript: I’ve been so honored to be a part of this plan God put together, but I had no idea what an impact the song was going to have on my own personal life.. Immediately after recording the album, “God Walks The Dark Hills”, we were informed that our ten-year old son had cancer and there was no hope for survival. For the next eighteen months this song was our spiritual “rod and staff.” God did indeed walk our dark hills and valleys and was with us “down the lone highways” as we drove back and forth across Arkansas from Ft. Smith to Memphis, TN where little Monty was being treated at St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.
Incidentally, there were two choruses to "God Walks The Dark Hills." Down through the years, of all the many groups who recorded the song, we were the only ones to sing the second chorus. I have no idea why the Goodmans did not include it, or why it was missed by everyone except us, unless God gave it to us especially for our time of grief. That second chorus goes:
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Father, let this cup pass from me, however, not my will, but thine be done.” It had been so hard for us to watch Monty suffer through the months....he was so very sick. The last time we left St. Jude’s with him, with the above chorus in mind, I prayed, “God, not my will for Monty, but yours”...Twenty-four hours later he was not suffering anymore...He slipped quietly away to live in Heaven...Thank God for always walking those dark hills to guide you...and me.
©2008 Lewis & Lewis