Women’s History Month: March
Widows (and Orphans)
Jewish-American Heritage Month: May
“She does all right. She does all right. She just put up the shutters and stopped living.” ~David Storey
To me, the tragic story of Melody Green is worse than that of the five widows who survived the massacre on the Curaray River, Ecuador. The day her husband, Keith, died, Melody also lost her two firstborn children; one was her only son. She keeps her guard up and keeps on working. But how do you go on after such a tragedy?
Melody, born in Hollywood and reared in Venice, was a true California girl. Beach and sand were her playground. Her dad was a Navy Seal, a World War II vet, an outdoorsman, and a factory worker; her mom, the daughter of Russian immigrants; her grandfather, a Rabbi; her grandmother, the daughter of a Grand Rabbi. The family barely escaped death in Odessa: even on the train trip to the port they were ducking bullets. Melody was reared Jewish, then fell in with the hippie drug culture, studied Eastern mysticism, even went to Japan with some Buddhists. She attended college, found a job in manufacturing, then a production company, where she met 19-year-old Keith Green, an aspiring musician, who was also on a spiritual journey. They were married a year later.
At the time of his death, Keith Gordon Green (1953–1982) was a young rising star in contemporary Christian music (CCM), born in Brooklyn, New York, and reared in the San Fernando Valley, California. From a young age he was playing piano and guitar; his grandfather started Jaguar Records, the first rock label. At age eleven, Keith signed his first recording contract, with Decca Records, singing his own songs. Both he and Melody were Messianic Jews; but before turning to Christ, Keith, like Melody, flirted with drugs, free love, and Eastern mysticism.
Keith and Melody were converted to Christianity (1975) through a Bible study in upscale Bel Air. Afterward they opened the doors of their home, took in kids troubled with drugs and unwanted pregnancies, and provided open dinner and Bible study for anyone who wanted to come. Initially they called their fellowship the Greenhouse, but later renamed it (1977) Last Days Ministries (LDM). Keith and Melody took in so many drifters, they needed more housing, so they bought or rented more homes, built triple high bunks, ate donated food, and kept expanding.
Their first child, Josiah David, was born 18 September 1978. The following year (1979) they relocated to a 120-acre ranch in East Texas and continued their concert tours. Keith sang, Melody sold albums, ran the soundboard, and helped write music. One of her best-known songs, now appearing in church hymnals, is “There Is A Redeemer.” At the LDM ranch Melody headed the Women’s Ministry and answered correspondence. Keith wrote and recorded music, under his own label Pretty Good Records, and completed articles for their tiny magazine. Both took care of their young and growing family. Their second child, Bethany Grace, was born 15 February 1980. Their third child, Rebekah Joy, came in 1981.
Keith’s views were often unconventional. With his music at the top of the charts, he decided to give away his LPs, for whatever a person could afford or even for free. He decided his concerts should also be free so anyone could come. LDM would rent a hall or stadium, and Keith would receive an offering. Free albums and free concerts scared the church music industry. What was he up to? At his concerts Keith also gave an altar call and claimed thousands of decisions for Christ.
By 1982 LDM had nearly a hundred staff members, Melody was writing and editing the magazine, Keith’s music was at the top of the charts, and new facilities were being built and planned. When the couple toured the British Isles and Continental Europe, they were stirred by the open sex and drug culture, especially in Amsterdam, and by the absence of churchlife. Keith purposed that on his 1982 fall tour he would challenge Christians in America to move out of their comfort zones, into the world of hurting people. LDM booked large arenas for the fall tour, Melody wrote mission songs, and YWAM founder Loren Cunningham was planning an appearance.
It was not to be.
Some old friends, John and Dede Smalley, from Southern California showed up 28 July 1982 with their six children. They were headed East to start a church, and they’d promised the children an airplane ride when they got to Texas. LDM had leased a twin-engine Cessna 414 and had a private airstrip on the ranch, mostly for Keith’s tours.
Just before sunset everyone, including Keith, climbed on board for an aerial tour of the property. Like the Smalleys, Keith loved to do things with his children, so he grabbed his two oldest—Josiah and Bethany—to accompany him. Subliminally, prescient, Melody thought, Not the children too! The pilot, Don Alan Burmeister, a former US Marine aviator, already in the driver’s seat, was ready to go. They did not go far. Within twenty seconds the overloaded plane, which never got fully airborne, crashed into the trees and exploded on impact. There was no survivor.
Melody, six weeks pregnant with her fourth child, was at home with one-year-old Rebekah. The loss was beyond words. The news sped around the world via cable-TV news, Christian television, and US Armed Forces radio; but for everyone at LDM time had stood still. Without Keith, would LDM even continue? Several Christian leaders and LDM staff prayed over Melody and commissioned her to lead the work.
“[She] that outlives a [husband] whom [she] has long loved, sees [herself] disjoined from the only mind that has the same … interest …. The continuity of being is lacerated; the settled course of sentiment and action is stopped; and life stands suspended and motionless.” ~Samuel Johnson
“The rug was yanked out from under my whole world that day. Without the Lord and the support of my friends and the LDM community I never would have made it.” ~Melody Green
Keith, Josiah, and Bethany Green were interred at Garden Valley Baptist Church Cemetery, less than a half-mile from LDM property. Buried in the same cemetery is their friend Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994).
The fall tour 1982 was not what they’d planned. Melody was the one left to carry the challenge of world missions they’d talked about. She traveled across America with the Keith Green Memorial Concert, reaching over 300,000 people face to face.
“This was the largest missions challenge in history that I know of.” ~Loren Cunningham, founder of YWAM
Keith once said, “When I die, I just want to be remembered as a Christian.” It’s safe to say he reached his goal.
March 1983 Melody gave birth to her new daughter, Rachel Hope. Now she was a single mom with two little girls, leading a large international ministry.
“A widow has two duties of a contradictory nature—she is a mother, and she ought to exert a father’s power.” ~Honoré De Balzac
Writing a beloved, deceased husband’s biography is therapeutic. For Melody, it was No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green, which has been translated into several languages and eagerly read. Besides her book and multimillion tracts, she prepares the LDM magazine, writes songs, and has ministered, in thirty countries, at retreats, conferences, churches, prisons, refugee camps, remote villages, leper colonies, underground fellowships, and war zones.
Sensing a call “to move abortion up to the front burner,” Melody launched Americans Against Abortion (AAA) and urged all believers to take a stand for life. Wearing a bullet proof vest because of death threats, she addressed churches, held rallies, called press conferences, led marches, and picketed abortion clinics. Once during a peaceful protest, she was arrested, spent a night in jail, and went home with a head injury. Over a period of ten years, her pro-life piece “Children: Things We Throw Away” has reached a distribution of 20 million.
Melody also established the Good Neighbor Mercy Fund for disaster relief. “I have more faith in God’s goodness and ability to provide than ever before. Even when terrible things happen, He can turn those things towards our good … but only if we have the patience to wait while we are hurting.”
Today Melody lives in Kansas City and attends the International House of Prayer. Her daughters, Rebekah and Rachel, are grown, married, and living for the Lord.
“There is no lonelier [woman] in death … than that [woman] who has lived many years with a good [husband] and then outlived [him]. If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it.” ~Ernest Hemingway
Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Dallas Skyline