AN INTERVIEW WITH VIJAY MANUEL
On July 4, 1999, Doxa, a popular contemporary worship event in Abbotsford, B.C., was held for the last time. Jim Coggins spoke with Doxa leader Vijay Manuel.
MBH: How did Doxa get started?
Vijay: In the summer of 1996, a couple of friends said there is no place for us to go for worship other than church. In the summer, there were no worship services at any of the Bible schools, which had sometimes had mid-week stuff. So we said let’s start this thing. The first night, there were 32 people there, including the band and the sound guy. We had a really good time of worship. The whole summer, it was exactly what it is now-worship, the Word of God and prayer.
News spread by word of mouth, and by the end of the summer there were over 100 people. I was going to start my job as a teacher in the fall, and everything starts up in the fall, so we stopped. Then I would run into people who would say things like, “I was really touched by God there” or “God spoke to me” or “I really learned this.” They weren’t saying, “You guys were a really good band” or “I liked your voice.” Clearly, God was speaking to these people.
So we started it again on the last weekend in October. I had a key to the church (South Abbotsford MB), I had done youth ministry there for five years, and our youth pastor had given us the go-ahead, but no one in the church leadership knew what was happening exactly, our youth pastor wasn’t even coming.
We ran it every other week on Sunday nights, starting at 8:30 because it wasn’t just people from my church who were coming, mostly people from other places. Even our band was made up of people from different churches.
It kept growing, so in January 1997 we went weekly. That’s when it just took off. God was in control of it. We weren’t promoting it. All we did was come out on stage, worship and pray. Then I’d either share a brief challenge, maybe 15-20 minutes, half an hour at the most, or else we would have a sharing time or a prayer time. Then we would worship some more. That’s it. When the numbers started to grow, all kinds of people wanted us to announce this concert or that happening. They were all good, but we said no announcements. It was purely worship.
In the summer of 1997, when we stopped for a break, we had reached capacity for our church. When we came back in September, the first two nights there were 1000 people, and the church is built to hold 600. Parking was a disaster, and the police were showing up.
So I went over to Central Heights MB Church. I told them this is what we have been doing, this is what God has done, people are coming to Christ; if you want us to do it in your building, then pray about it and let us know. I didn’t know anybody there. Henry Wiebe, the senior pastor, said, “This is something I know of, my grandkids are going, I know that this is something that God is doing, and I don’t want to be the one to stand in the way.” So he gave us keys to the building. The (Central Heights) youth pastors totally served. Not once did they say, “Do you want me to come up and do this?” They were always in the back taking care of everything, so that we could do what we do. When that happens, you know it’s the hand of God.
You did not expect the kind of response that you got? How do you explain the success of Doxa?
Vijay: I wouldn’t say that I didn’t expect it. I expect even greater in the future. The “success” is really those that came to Christ and those that recommitted their lives. I hear through e-mail and notes and letters how it changed people’s lives – children, young people and adults. Most people see numbers. From my perspective, it’s me and God, and these are my friends. It was just something that God did in people’s hearts.
I have been to many events where people are trying to entertain. They are trying to compete with what you see on TV, But people are tired of that in Christian circles. Christian artists promote themselves just the way Madonna promotes herself. When you are entertaining, you are entertaining. But people want the Word of God; they want Him. I think that’s what Doxa was. For a while, people were saying this speaker is coming into town, you should have him speak; it would be good for Doxa because it will bring awareness of what you are doing. I said all I wanted was to be faithful to what God had given us. When we came together, none of us were experts in anything. All we did is follow Christ. When we had sharing time, a 10-year-old kid came up and spoke, and an 18-year-old, and someone who was 35. It was just the Word of God and prayer, not entertainment. We went to other events and they wanted to have a light show, have a camera on us and have big screens, but we would say no. We wanted to keep it simple, let the people worship. It’s not about us. It’s about them and God.
What were the highlights for you?
Vijay: It’s like building a house. Some houses are thrown together; they look really nice from the outside, but after five years you are going to find a lot of problems. I have a friend who took six months to build a house; he fashioned every detail.
I think that’s what we had with Doxa. This was something that God built slowly. We allowed him to. We didn’t try to promote it like crazy and see how many thousands we could get there. If something’s been thrown together to get numbers, you can sense it. Doxa was something that took three years of faithful service from my team. These people were just as faithful when there were SO people as when we went to events where there were 5000.
When God builds something like that, it is sturdy, there’s relationships, there is honesty with God, there is innocence, a realness.
What has been the effect on you personally?
Vijay: I’m convinced where my life is going to go. I am confident that God has called me into ministry, but I am also confident that it is not right now. There is a period of time which is going to be preparational. I just got married. My wife Sarah doesn’t even know what it is like to be in ministry like this. My single life is over. Now we start building again from the bottom, and slowly God will do something. But it is in his timing. Maybe it will be as a teacher. I am happy there, if that’s where God leaves me. But my passion is I love to tell somebody about Jesus. I love writing music, but that comes from the Word of God too. If I didn’t have a place to share my faith, I don’t know if I would write music. What I have learned is that this is God’s call in my life. Maybe it’s not going to go through Bible school, but if he calls me to go to school, I will. I am excited to serve, whether it’s cleaning toilets or whatever.
Tell me a bit about the band.
Vijay: Jared Falk, our drummer, is a student at MEI. Rick Enns is the bass player. Dan Kim plays lead guitar. Sondra Reimer plays the synthesizer and sings. Marriliee (Erickson) Boldt is our piano player. She and I were the vocalists. Kevin Federau did sound; he joined us about a year ago and traveled with us everywhere. Graham Ward would come weekly and just work, take care of the monitors and all the cleanup. Jen Dawes and Teresa Reimer were prayer team leaders. When I asked Jen to be prayer team leader, someone said, who is she, why don’t we get pastor so-and-so? I said why does it have to be someone with a degree to lead a prayer team? This woman has been in the ministry from the start, she loves to pray, she is a woman of God, and she can do this.
That’s how God always uses us. In Matthew 18:1-4, when the disciples asked Jesus who is going to be the greatest, they were all standing there with their chests puffed up to see who he was going to point at. Was he going to point at the religious leaders? He called a little child. As churches, when we’re successful, we go away from that. We have to be like children, innocent, pure and simple. This is what my team had. We are a bunch of kids. I was 23 to 26. The other members are down to 17 but mainly in their early 20s. There was no agenda; we just worshipped the Lord, prayed and did Bible study together, just got ready to be God’s instrument, not pretending to be something we were not.
Could you outline your travel and your CDs?
Vijay: We went to Youthquake in Saskatchewan, to Prince George, B.C., to do a rally, to Banff for NYC ‘99. We flew down to Mexico. Most of this happened in the last year. Around here, there were some small youth groups and some bigger rallies. We said no to more than we could say yes to. When we became well known, we could have left what we had been doing and traveled all the time, but why would we do that when God had so clearly called us to Sunday nights?
The only reason we did a CD was that people wanted to have our original music. So we got together in December 1997, set up a studio at South Abbotsford Church and recorded 12 songs. That first CD, One by One, came out in February 1998. That summer we had another 12 songs, so we recorded them on Spirit Flow.
We sold it at the lowest cost that we could. If we sold only 500, we wouldn’t have broken even. We took a risk, but this was so clearly something God had done, the music came from Him. Before the end of Doxa, there was enough music again, but this time we did it live (All for You). People asked for a songbook, so we are putting one together; it should be available through the website by Christmas.
How have the sales been?
Vijay: Good. I don’t really follow it that closely. If that was where I would start putting my focus, humility would go out the window. In John 15 , Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” So we connect to the vine when we are nothing, we hold on to that and nothing else and get all the nutrients from it. All of a sudden, we look down and start seeing fruit and say, “Look what I did.” The fruit starts to drop off and wither away, and we wonder what’s wrong. But we let go of the branch.
How was the decision made to close down?
Vijay: It’s not easy to say no to something like this. Some people think I am really crazy. Why would you stop when every week we were full and we were getting calls to go everywhere? But I know it is time to stop. If you are walking with God, and totally depending on Him for everything, there comes a certain tension when something isn’t quite right anymore. I was starting to feel this tension.
There are many factors, but there’s one I mentioned at Doxa. I was getting married. Marriliee was getting married. Dan was going back to UBC. The team had sacrificed a lot.
When I made that decision one night, I was sitting beside Sarah and I was trying to link the pieces together. I knew the people would still come, but why would we be doing it? In ministry a lot of times, you keep going until it fizzles out, until people stop coming. For some reason, people are the determining factor. When there are 30 people and there are still two or three new commitments to Christ, does that mean the thing’s a failure? No, it’s not about that, it’s about God’s hand on it, and I knew if we continued it would be me wanting to go more, not God. I have such peace about it. I know I will miss it, but I have experienced so much. I sometimes feel embarrassed by how God has blessed my life.
What is the future for you and for Doxa?
Vijay: For Doxa, with this CD and the songbook coming out, it closes the door. If I feel God is calling the same six people to continue, then I will call it together, and if they are all feeling the same thing, we will go. I am into obedience, so if He calls us, we will go. But I think it is done.
I am a teacher, and the reason I am there is because of my students. These kids come and sit in my choir room. Most of them don’t know anything about Doxa. It’s not about Doxa. It’s about Jesus. They need Jesus.
Doxa was meeting a need. There were kids coming to Doxa who wouldn’t come to church. Is there something that will replace it?
Vijay: I will tell you something I think needs to replace it. It’s the church. The kids that came are going to grow up with a passion for Jesus. They are going to be leaders. We have pastors who went to a Christian elementary school, a Christian high school, a Bible school and a seminary. Then they go out into the world. Whom are they going to talk to? Who is going to even understand what they are talking about? Other people went to secular schools and in their jobs are going to be meeting people and bringing them to their church. Church is going to be run by people who are out there, who have the respect of the community. One pastor said to me, “Kids will listen to you more than they will listen to me, because I am a pastor, but you’re a friend.” People want a friend. I think that the pastors of the future, the leaders of our churches and youth groups, are going to be people who are intertwined in the community, who are walking next to people or working with them all the time.
This is the future of ministry. Kids are going to be inviting people to their youth groups, and they will come because these are their friends. They are going to come because they see something different in them. At school or work, when you stand out by not cutting corners, by not being lazy like everyone else, when you love them even when they swear at you, they are going to want to come.
People come to church, everyone is dressed up so nicely, and they feel out of place. There are some people we aren’t used to seeing at church; we don’t feel comfortable about having them there. But that is not the church of Jesus Christ, really. There is a change that needs to occur in our thinking. That’s what’s going to replace a ministry like Doxa. It’s when the local church becomes the local church in its community, ministering to all the people around it. What Doxa did for a period was God’s anointing. Now it is time for the churches to learn something from it be faithful, work hard, love the people around you, and see something happen. It is not going to be one man standing up with five people behind him who is going to change the world. It is going to be all the people who really follow Jesus Christ.
The majority of emails I received said, “When you first said Doxa was done, we were devastated, but now I’ve prayed about it and I am excited to do this at school, or excited to do this at our church or in our youth group.”
Keep it simple. Don’t aim for the big when you can’t even be faithful to the small. Just be faithful to your two friends that God has given you to be a witness to.
What happens to the kids who came to Doxa and came to Christ? Did they get incorporated into church?
Vijay: What we found was that people would bring a friend and it would be their responsibility to follow them up. A girl emailed me one Saturday night and said, “Can you share the gospel next time? That’s when my friend can come.” I’m thinking there are 1800 people there and I am going to change the whole thing because of this one girl? Sunday morning, I was sitting in church and thought, okay, I’ll do the gospel. She sent me an email after and said, “Thank you so much for doing that. My friend became a Christian, and so did her friend she brought.” That is how it should be done. These people won’t remember who I am in 10 years, but they will remember something that happened, they will remember that friend who brought them there, and who talked to them after.
What about all the kids who were at the back, who were dressed weirdly, provocatively, who weren’t listening to the talks, who were probably extremely needy?
Vijay: It was a real issue for a while. If there were 1500 people inside, there could be up to 150 outside. Someone said we should start a different ministry to the people in the hallway. I thought, if I am somebody sitting in the hallway, the reason I am there is because I feel good being there, but I don’t feel quite good enough to be inside listening to the gospel. I prayed about it, and I thought there will be testimonies of people who say, “First I just came there because all my friends went there and some of us were smoking up outside. Then I thought I would go inside and check it out. I sat in for some of the music, the guy started talking, and I left. One week, I decided I would hear what he had to say, and I came to Christ.” I just had to be faithful to what God had given, which was the people who were ready to listen. When those outside were ready, they would come in. All we could do is love them.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Vijay: I know what people will miss about Doxa, because that is what I will miss too – being with Jesus, being totally dependent on him for a whole 24 hours a day. It is going to be harder to be that dependent when you don’t have something like Doxa. I will learn, and God will use me sometime, somehow.·