Bob Ayala was singing the very first time I darkened the tent flaps of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Some friends from Seattle has discovered the Christian tent-venue in Orange County and invited me to tag along. I was stunned. Bob was a Christian balladeer who sounded like a mixture of Jose Feliciano and Neil Young, but his lyrics were introspective, spiritual and utterly gripping. Because of Bob, Calvary became my home and I am now one of her pastors. But I digress.
Whenever Bob came to town I was there. He sang and emoted through his oversized Gibson J-200 guitar, and God spoke through him. He couldn’t see, but God gave him eyes that pierced human pretense and dug deep into a man’s soul. After three years listening and absorbing his gift, I decided I needed to meet him—and learn.
When I first called him, he thought I was joking. My first question was an obvious one—what kind of guitar he played (it was the finest sounding instrument I ever heard), and he told me. My other question strained credulity and made him laugh. “Do you give guitar lessons?” I was serious. I’d been playing guitar for a few years, but lacked artistic form—something he possessed in abundance. I wanted that. He hummed and hawed and finally said, “Well, I could use the money, so okay.”
That began our friendship. Lessons soon evolved into visits, endless chess matches, jam sessions in his tiny living room and nights out with he and his bride, Pam, in Westwood Village feasting at LaBarbara’s Pizza.
Then, one day he asked to borrow my el-cheap-o 12-string guitar, which I happily handed over. I dropped by for a visit a couple weeks later when he asked me to listen to something he wrote on my guitar, specifically for a 12-string instrument. He called it “Ancient of Days”. It went on his first album and has been my favorite worship song ever since. In 1979 he performed the music at Kathee’s and my wedding—Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, played classically with a slight folksy bent. He surprised us both with the greatest original wedding song never published. It had no title and still rings in my and Kathee’s hearts after all these years.
I received a call from Bob in 1982 when he asked for my thoughts about a life-changing decision he needed to make—and for prayer. Melody Green, Keith Green’s widow asked him to take over the music ministry for her late husband at Last Days Ministries in Texas. This was huge, and I knew that if he said yes, I would not see him again for a long time. The answer was obvious—God was calling.
The last time I saw Bob was back stage at a Keith Green Memorial Concert where we spoke briefly between sets. We felt rushed and he was justifiably preoccupied. A few years later he and Pam called me from Texas. We chatted for a couple hours and he excitedly told me about his new CD (Who Was This Man). That was the last time we spoke. Pam passed into heaven in 2008 and Bob moved to the east coast where he led worship for a truly blessed congregation.
It was because of Bob that I have led worship and performed songs for more than 35 years. It was because of Bob that I discovered the joys and convictions of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, learned to emote with my guitar and play chess with a blind man wearing soaked white teeshirts, sitting in front of fans on sweltering SoCal afternoons. I know, I know—it was because of Jesus—but He used Bob to get to me.
Bob left for heaven yesterday—the same day as C.S. Lewis did years before. I think it was God’s way of saying ‘well done’ with a smile. You may not remember his first album, Joy by Surprise, but the album cover was simply prophetic: Bob stepping out of a dark doorway into a sun-drenched Narnia, seeing for the very first time—the face of Aslan.
“…The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that [Bob] lived happily ever after. But for [him] it was only the beginning of the real story. All [his] life in this world and all [his] adventures… had only been the cover and the title page [of the book]; now at last [he is] beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” —C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia