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Heart attack at mission trip’s outset claims singer & soul-winner Driscoll

METAIRIE, La. (BP)–Johnny Driscoll, 46, who stepped away from a New York City singing career in his 20s to minister alongside his father in New Orleans, died Feb. 9 at the outset of a personal mission trip to Brazil.
Driscoll’s trip to Brazil had been disrupted by the 11-day “sickout” strike by American Airlines pilots. He was running to catch an 11:45 p.m. United Airlines flight to which he had just been assigned when he suffered a heart attack. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital about 50 minutes later.
He had suffered a mild heart attack in 1993 but had since been in good health, having changed his diet and continuing twice-a-week rehabilitative treatment, his mother, Helen, told Baptist Press Feb. 17.
Driscoll was associate pastor and music minister at the 2,500-member Crescent City Baptist Church, Metairie, La., in metro New Orleans, and chaplain at its 643-student Crescent City Christian School. His father, Paul, 86, founded the church as a mission in 1942 and remains its pastor. His mother founded the school in 1956 and remains its principal. The school spans pre-kindergarten through high school.
Driscoll became involved in overseas missions in 1994 in volunteer trips to Brazil each July organized by Wayne Jenkins, evangelism director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and Dwight Lowrie, pastor of Eylau Baptist Church, Texarkana, Texas, in partnership with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Known as a soul-winner, as is his father, Driscoll also used his musical talents to open doors to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
His planned 10-day trip to Brazil was at the invitation of four Sao Paulo pastors who had asked him to do musical concerts and to preach at their churches and to cap the effort with a large evangelistic rally.
Jenkins preached at Driscoll’s Feb. 14 funeral, which spilled out into the church’s hallways and fellowship hall. Crescent City’s choir sang a song Driscoll had written, “Yet Not I” — using a tape recording of Driscoll singing the solo part. And the Stone Brothers trio sang two songs. The brothers, Rick, Randy and Rodney, had spent a number of years growing up with Driscoll, while their father, R.O., was Crescent City’s music minister.
Most importantly at the funeral, three people made professions of faith during the invitation the family asked Jenkins to give, including one of Driscoll’s neighbors.
Driscoll spent two years in Los Angeles and several years based in New York City — as a singer in Radio City Music Hall productions and then toured worldwide as a backup singer with Perry Como, whose entourage at the time included comedian Jay Leno. He also had a stint in a small role on a soap opera.
But, his mother recounted, “He felt he was being sidetracked and he wanted to go all out for the Lord’s work,” and thus returned to minister in New Orleans in the mid-1980s.
The last sermon Driscoll preached at the church, on a Sunday night in early February, focused on his burden for revival in New Orleans. “Johnny really loved people who are hurting,” Jenkins said, and had been active in prison ministry, particularly a youth prison in the New Orleans area, and in caring for the homeless. Led by the father-son team, Crescent City baptized 155 people last year and well over 300 the previous two years.
Helen Driscoll voiced a prayer that someone will come forward to take her son’s place in ministering alongside her husband.
Johnny Driscoll’s missions work in Brazil, according to one account, had become so meaningful to him that he said at a recent Wednesday night prayer meeting whenever the Lord decides for him to depart this earth for heaven, he hoped he’d either be in Brazil or on his way there.
Driscoll began his pursuit of a career as a professional singer after graduating from Mississippi College in 1975 and spending a year at the Crescent City Christian School as chaplain and a music teacher.
In New York City, he had started a Bible study for Radio City Music Hall performers and had led several Rockettes to faith in Christ. He even led his dentist to Christ in the midst of an appointment. He unapologetically used Christian songs in auditioning for singing roles and, in the process, lost a number jobs.
At the Brooklyn Tabernacle, he was active in the music program — just as he had been while in college and attending First Baptist Church, Jackson, Miss., where the minister of music is Larry Black, a former staff member at Crescent City. Driscoll was the “headliner and had unbelievable charisma” on college choir trips to perform school assemblies in New York, Connecticut and the West Coast, Black said, adding that “he’d always give a witness” in talking with youth who crowded around him after each assembly.
In Los Angeles, his mother said, he turned down a $50,000 contract offer to become the “Marlboro man,” saying, “I don’t smoke, I don’t encourage other people to smoke, and I can’t accept your contract.” Driscoll lost his agent over the decision. He regularly attended services at two or three different churches each Sunday, his mother said.
Lowrie, Jenkin’s partner in organizing the yearly mission trip to Brazil, said Driscoll got involved as a musician, “but as it turned out, we needed him as an evangelistic leader for one of our churches.” So, Driscoll preached in evening church services and, during the day, on streets and in homes, hospitals and prisons — “wherever we’d get an invitation” — and continued in that role each year.
“Teenagers just gravitated toward him,” Lowrie said, recalling a time when Driscoll drew a crowd of about 40 Brazilian teens in a hotel lobby by doing impromptu music, even “taking a regular Christian song and putting it to rap.” Each year, he would lead several local unchurched kids to faith in Christ, Lowrie said.
The yearly trip to Brazil draws from 75 to 100 volunteers from several states for preaching, medical and dental work and constructing a chapel.
Hopefully someone will come forward to take Driscoll’s place this July, Lowrie said. He can be contacted at (903) 832-5147.
The chapel built in Brazil this July, Jenkins added, will be dedicated to Driscoll.
At Driscoll’s funeral, Jenkins cited various Scripture passages of hope and God’s will to say, “God is still at work for good, whether we understand it or not.”
Jenkins noted Driscoll’s favorite Scripture verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “‘… For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (NIV). And Jenkins cited a reference to Abel in Hebrews 11:4: “And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” Jenkins described heaven as “a prepared place for a prepared people,” and said Driscoll now is fellowshipping with some of the people he has won to the Lord in the New Orleans area and in Brazil through his music and his preaching.