Have you ever met someone and been amazed at the JOY and PEACE exuding from that person? Did simply being in their presence make you feel better about yourself and your world? I’d like to introduce you to one of those kind of people: my friend, Bola Montoya Taylor.
Bola was a Filipino jazz and gospel singer, best known for founding, along with her husband Ken, the Hallelujah Gospel Family choir in Japan, where the couple was serving as missionaries. It was the country’s first such choir and composed almost entirely of non-Christians, who had been introduced to black gospel in the American film “Sister Act” starring Whoopie Goldberg.
That initial group grew to 70 choirs with more than 1,000 members, all of whom no doubt were devastated when Bola posted a Facebook message in early September 2015 that her cancer had returned and no more treatments were available.
The news saddened me, too, as a mutual friend had earlier sent Bola one of my books and introduced us via Facebook. I hurriedly set up a time to Skype with Bola as I was writing my last book Peace in the Face of Cancer and wanted to interview and include her.
She was obviously tired, but her beautiful smile radiated joy and peace. We chatted about how it feels to know you are dying and leaving behind a husband and three children then ages, 18-23.
“I do not worry about myself because I know the future God has planned for me,” she calmly told me. “And the God who can take care of me can take care of my family, too.
“I refuse to be robbed of peace by something over which I absolutely have no control,” she added. “Allowing yourself to go down that rabbit hole of worry is just giving the enemy victory.”
We talked about her plans for the following week to marshal enough strength to perform one last time, on her 54th birthday, at the popular “Satin Doll” Tokyo jazz club.
“I want my swan song to be for Jesus!” she said, tearing up for the first time in our lengthy conversation.
And what a swan song it was! Bola, dressed in vibrant teal and purple, was flanked by pianist-husband Ken and her jazz band snappily dressed in black and white. (You can see a short clip from the concert below.) Perched on a stool with her life-sustaining, intravenous TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) bag resting on the floor, she sang for 170 fans—only about 30 of whom were Christ-followers—crowded into a room built for 100. Another 1,500 watched a livestream online.
“Please know that Ken and I love you from the bottom of our hearts,” she said at the concert’s close. “You can have the peace and the joy and the rest that I’m enjoying right now (because) Jesus is REAL!”
The Japanese are not known for showing emotion, but many in the audience could be seen wiping away tears. Exactly four weeks later, Bola came to the end of her earthly life. One can only imagine the souls touched for eternity by her life
Don’t worry; I’m not going to suggest that everyone facing a life-threatening illness needs to perform a “swan song” last concert—no offense, but I imagine some of your voices could be quite painful to the listening ears. 🙂
But I do hope you are thinking about how you want to be remembered.
“I pray that I’ve lived well according to God’s plan,” Bola said. “I pray I also die well.”
Would you be willing to pray that prayer today? Pray that you live well according to God’s plan, however many weeks, months or years are remaining. And pray that when the time comes—as it will for all of us unless Jesus comes back first—that you die well.
I remember praying fairly soon after my diagnosis something like this: “Lord, I don’t want to have cancer and I hate having such an uncertain future, but I pray that as I go through this I will represent you well and others will see Jesus in me.”
I guarantee you that is a prayer God always wants answer for you.
Psalm 27:5 The Voice Bible:
His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
Psalm 85:8 The Voice Bible:
I will hear what the True God—the Eternal—will say,
for He will speak peace over His people,
peace over those who faithfully follow Him…
(If the music video doesn’t automatically load, please use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHbDcYDl5hA )
And here’s Bola’s introduction to her birthday concert at the Satin Doll Jazz Club with her Japanese translator (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUYCaWt2ecE )