A BUS, A BAND AND A MANDATE
What is ONE soul worth to you?
Children have always had a special place in the heart of the Tharp Family. Long before sound systems and loud speakers, pianos, string-machines and drums, teams of singers and dancers, Dr. Tharp would go to high schools in California with his guitar and side-man drum kit to sing about the love of God and share with the students what God had done in him. It wasn’t too long after this that the family began to go with him as well. Soon, they were crossing the country, holding concerts at the local high schools in the towns where they held revivals from California and Washington all the way to Wyoming, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina, to name a few.
Of course, holding such a tight schedule was nearly impossible to do on their own; Marty and Sharon, as well as, Terri, Tony, and Kat, three of their own children, were joined by numerous others who helped to carry equipment in and out of schools and shared personal testimonies of what the Lord had done in them. Together, the Tharp Family had a particularly profound effect on many young people during the seventies.
In 1978, the ministry was to take on yet anther new aspect as Dr. Marty and Sharon took a three week vacation to the British Isles. While touring through Scotland, they were shocked as they viewed church after church closed down and boarded up. One particular incident still lays vividly encapsulated in the memory of Dr. Tharp. Just moments after arriving in Edinburg, they saw a grand cathedral that lay derelect and vacant. Curious as to why such a magnificent structure would no longer be used, Dr. Tharp stopped an old man walking down the road in front of him. He asked the man, “Excuse me, Sir, do you know anything about this church?”
“Aye,” the man replied. “I went there as a boy. We used to have to arrive early to get one of the fifteen hundred seats available.”
“Why is it closed down now?” Dr. Tharp asked.
“The pastor didn’t want any children.” The man’s response surprised Dr. Tharp. At the time, he was the pastor of a thriving church in Atlanta, Georgia, that sent out buses weekly to collect the over 160 children that they had every Sunday.
“What do you do?” the old man asked. Dr. Tharp told him that he was a pastor in the United States of a church with several children and programs for them.
The old man began to cry right there on the street. He said, “If there was a church like that in Scotland, I would crawl ten miles on my knees to get to it.”
To say that the man’s words were impactful is an understatement. Sharon recalls thinking, “Oh great, we’re moving to Scotland to start a church,” as Dr. Tharp climbed back into the car and was no longer able to control his tears.
The Tharp Family was never the same after that trip to the British Isles. Over the next several months, Dr. Tharp began having dreams of children reaching out to him as he stood on a stage and since they had been so well received in the schools in America, he felt that this was what God wanted for the British Isles as well. They took their first ministry trip to the United Kingdom on the invitation of a couple from Scotland. When they arrived, they were shocked that the couple had failed to book a single school stating that they just couldn’t get them in. Dr. Tharp decided to take matters into his own hands and soon booked their entire tour, never being turned down.
The full reality of what God was doing never really hit Dr. Tharp until they held a concert in Derehem, England one foggy night. Dr. Tharp recalls feeling that even holding the concert seemed that it would be a waste, especially since you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face from the fog. Sharon spoke up and said, “But Marty, even if a few kids come, it will be worth it.” They were shocked when forty-five minutes before the start there was an endless line of kids waiting to get in the hall. At the end of the concert, several kids rushed the stage, reaching out their hands, to get a handshake from Dr. Tharp. As he stepped forward and took a hand, he was immediately catapulted back to the dream that he had been having repeatedly. It was coming to pass before his eyes, and not only that dream, but a vision that a trusted friend of his had had concerning a ministry that the Tharp Family would have in a country that was not their own.
Now almost forty years on, God has continued to give the Tharp Family an open door to the school system of the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland, where the thrust of their school’s ministry has taken place for the last twenty-eight years. As God gives strength, favour, and provision, they will continue to fulfil the call that He has placed on their lives, always endeavouring to hold forth the Word of Life and see lives changed by the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.