NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 30th. So glad you’ve joined us today. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It, a profile of a young family using its unique gifts to share the gospel.
Fifty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see churches packed on weeknights when traveling ministers came to town. That’s much less common today.
EICHER: But that hasn’t stopped a new generation of vocational evangelists from seeking to draw a crowd and present the good news. WORLD Radio’s Myrna Brown recently caught up with one such evangelist and his family in Mobile, Alabama.
BRYAN: Hey Hey
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: On a Saturday afternoon…
AUDIO: [Sound of coffee percolating]
…in a tiny cul-de-sac of red brick ranch houses the coffee is on…
KARLA DRAKE: This is Ella and the big one is Harper.
And so are the Drake sisters.
KARLA TO HARPER: What else does she sing Harper? (Harper sings chorus of Aladdin song) “A whole new world” (Then Ella repeats in baby language)
The words you can’t quite make out are from 14-month-old Ella. She’s got short, blond hair and round, squeezable cheeks.
HARPER RECITING BIBLE VERSE: So God created mankind in His own image male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27
Big sister Harper is five and on top of her weekly Bible verse. Wearing her favorite polka dot, chiffon skirt, she’s a younger version of her father, Bryan Drake.
BRYAN DRAKE: So, I’m six- foot- five and I figured I wasn’t tall enough, so I decided to add a good four inch Mohawk.
AUDIO: [Ella runs into the wall, squeals, Karla consoles] Well you keep doing it
Busy wiping away tears and kissing scrapes—Karla Drake. Brown-haired, slender and petite, the 33-year-old mom savors these moments because there are few of them.
KARLA DRAKE: So we’re gone from our home probably 180 days of the year.
PERFORMANCE: (Applause) Good Morning. How we’re doing out there?
The Drakes, along with Harper and Ella, travel all over the world sharing the gospel.
BRYAN: Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 1 and 2. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…
But they aren’t traditional traveling evangelists.
PERFORMANCE: What’s your name bud? Elijah. Can you shuffle cards? That’s your only job. Come on up… give me a big hand.
During a 2017 presentation in Birmingham, Alabama, Bryan invites a young boy to join him on stage.Then, he hands the pre-teen a deck of playing cards.
PERFORMANCE: Mix them around, but don’t let me see them, ok. The idea is very important that I can’t see them.
By the end of the exchange, Bryan successfully identifies every card in the boy’s hand. The audience is impressed, but that isn’t the endgame. Bryan begins to peel back the layers of his illusion.
PERFORMANCE: Your eyes are looking somewhere and I’m doing something else that you don’t even see. But the idea is, I’m getting you to focus your attention in the wrong place. And too many times as believers, Christians and people in general, we have our eyes focused in the wrong place.
The Drakes are illusionists. While Bryan is the mouthpiece, Karla is working behind the scenes.
KARLA: A lot of the things we do looks like it only takes one person, but obviously it’s an illusion. So, a lot of the things that look like he did very, very well and he did a great job, he literally did nothing except talk.
BRYAN: The thing about Karla, I’ll brag on her for a little bit, she comes up with most of our routines and tweaks them, but she’s never one to seek credit or glory.
It’s a partnership that began more than 15 years ago. Both born in Mobile, Alabama, Bryan was a magic-loving nerd, raised in the church.
BRYAN: When I was 15, I realized that there was something missing in me. And I realized that even though I knew all the stuff in my head, that I’d never given my life to Jesus. It was more just like a cultural thing.
Bryan says he surrendered his life to Jesus and began pursuing ministry. He worked part time at a bank to pay for seminary.
BRYAN: I would do tricks and stuff for people every single day in the business group. Then the last time I remember doing it, I looked up and there were literally 50 people watching. I was like, this is a stage!
Karla was pursuing a career in education.
KARLA: I grew up poor. Two bedroom trailer and six people.
She heard the gospel for the first time on the church bus that picked her up every Sunday. She and Bryan met in high school and married while still in college. As a youth pastor, Bryan started getting requests to do more shows. Karla would tag alone.
KARLA: And God was really working on my heart that this was something we were supposed to do as a couple, together. And here we are 10 years later.
BRYAN: Yeah, 10 years later.
The first few years of their ministry they experienced isolation and felt crushed beneath the weight of a mountain of skepticism.
KARLA: Everybody thought we were crazy. They were like, no you shouldn’t do that. You should just be a teacher. You should just be a youth pastor.
After a decade of doing shows in churches, schools, and on college campuses all over the world, the Drakes say today they face new challenges.
BRYAN: Ella is not a great car traveler.
KARLA: Ella hates the car, but airplanes, she’s fine.
And some obstacles are simply recycled.
KARLA: It’s a pretty big church in Texas. We were going to do the show and then a week out a deacon got wind of it and he did not like the idea of an illusionist. So the youth minister had to call us and say we can’t come. We don’t do real magic. And we can say it til we’re blue in the face, but that person probably isn’t going to change their mind.
AUDIO: [Sound of Bryan shuffling cards]
In the family room, Bryan handles a deck of cards and hands them to Harper. With bright, blue eyes she leans over with confidence and says…
HARPER TO MYRNA: Pick a card.
BRYAN: Harper said earlier, when I grow up, I want to tell people about Jesus, Like y’all.
KARLA: Yeah, so I guess that’s kind of being ingrained in her already and that’s our goal. Yeah, that’s our goal.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown reporting from Mobile, Alabama.