Founder and director of the Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch Inc., Bob Bardwell plays his ukulele and sings with internationally known entertainer Tony Melendez with drummer Tim Pope in the background, on a stage constructed for the grand opening of Miracle Lodge.
Founder and director of the Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch Inc., Bob Bardwell plays his ukulele and sings with internationally known entertainer Tony Melendez with drummer Tim Pope in the background, on a stage constructed for the grand opening of Miracle Lodge.
A powerful capacity to inspire hopefulness in the world materializes when people unite their energies as effectively as Jose A. Melendez, Jr., and Tony Melendez do. These two brothers travel the world spreading the message that "Anything is possible with God's help."

On Saturday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 29, at 10:30 a.m., area residents can witness the teamwork of these two brothers at Ironwood Christian Ranch during the Miracles Happen Festival near Stewartville.

Although Tony (born without arms) steps into the spotlight to strum his guitar with his toes and lift his voice in joyful song, his older brother, Jose, is as equally inspiring as he manages this ministry God has called them to share.

Family life for the Melendez brothers contained many of the highs and lows all families experience.

Jose remarked, "I think the most important thing was that there was a sense of balance and forgiveness in our family. As the older brother and at times the managing voice, it's incredible to see how God uses us and our ministry! Tony taught me so many lessons of tolerance and forgiveness. I have learned that less is more and if you need to have action, make it count!"

Their journey into fame is described in the book, "A Gift of Hope," which mentions that to help with the family's financial needs, Tony went to a California beach and played for the donations people would throw into his guitar case.

His dad had given up everything to bring Tony to America when he was just a baby, so begging on the streets of Nicaragua would not be his future. As he "begged" on Laguna Beach, Tony wondered how his life could be changed.

In the humility of this struggle, Tony received a letter asking him to audition to sing at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles during the papal tour of America in the fall of 1987. His mother and family prayed about this opportunity and he was chosen to offer a song.

In the introduction given about Tony to Pope John Paul II, the speaker said, "Holy Father, we now have a special gift that we would like to present to you....Our gift represents courage. The courage of self-motivation and family support. Our gift is music and the performer who says, "When I sing, I hear the Lord."

Tony sang, "Never Be the Same," and the words of the song turned into prayer. All those listening were deeply moved. A recording of this life changing event in Tony's life can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shK0DZHd81E.

Pope John Paul left his place of honor, approached Tony, bid him to come closer, and kissed his cheek. Back at his microphone, the Pope addressed the young Melendez saying, "Tony, you are truly a courageous young man. You are giving hope to all of us. My wish to you is to continue giving this hope to all the people."

This pivotal moment in the lives of the Melendez brothers was witnessed by multitudes present in Los Angeles and around the world.

"Pope John Paul II was the biggest catalyst!" says Jose. "We were always there for each other but it was that moment that sealed our fate as brothers and disciples of our Lord! I don't say that lightly as I see us as modern day disciples trying to live out the Lord's love. Using our personal lives as examples of overcoming and allowing for the grace of God to work through us! Tony said to me, 'Help me, I don't know what will come of us but be at my side and help me through this crazy wave of fame and grace! God wants something of us and we need to listen!' and I strengthened my commitment to help my brother."

The exposure and fame brought countless opportunities to serve and also many difficulties, hardships and doubts.

Jose recalled, "The hardest thing has been to trust and be misled because of the fame. You begin to doubt in the integrity of people. Yet, there is great hope as so many have made sacrifices and been humble allies and friends in this journey. You overcome by surrendering yourself to the Lord, I mean true surrender. You also can't take yourself too seriously, I remember telling Tony, 'The day we think it's about us, the Lord will take it back.'"

The brothers believe that their strong attributes include humility, prayer, forgiveness, listening and being obedient servants to each other and to those who have found inspiration through their ministry.

On the other hand, "fear of the unknown is hard," Jose said. "If in conflict, use it as a learning tool, be open to the possibilities! Jesus taught tolerance and we want to follow him."

Touring requires sacrifices, which Jose would not be able to make without the loving support of his wife, Anna.

"She's a saint, allowing me to be gone and to do God's will. Anna is the reason I can continue as my work allows me to provide for Alex, Espi, Sebastian and Sophia," he shared. "Our greatest sacrifice as a family is allowing for the travel and my absence! My family believes in and supports what I do which allows me to give freely."

Of course, trade offs abound. The family members have been able to see the world and experience things that are dreams to many.

Family members of musicians who perform at the Miracles Happen Festival are welcomed by Bob Bardwell of Ironwood Christian Ranch.

He commented, "Tony, Jose and the Toe Jam Band have been to Ironwood four different times. The music, life and words are always so uplifting and encouraging. We so much appreciate his ministry with brother Jose and the entire band. It's special when they bring families to Ironwood. After each performance they do at the Miracles Happen Festival, I sign them up for the next year."

Usually the Melendez brothers are able to persuade Bardwell up on the stage to play a song or two.

"I always tell those who are coming to bring all their disappointments, trials and challenges," remarked Bardwell. "By the time Tony is finished, their problems have not gone away, but their burdens have been lifted and their load has become much lighter."

Don't miss coming to the Tony Melendez concert; audience members will never forget it. He will be singing at Ironwood on Saturday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 29, at 10:30 a.m.

Bardwell also shared when Tony or Jose step up to the microphone a clear message of hope is proclaimed as if it were delivered to just one person at a time. An idea is shared that no matter what the circumstances of life bring a person, change is possible. And the brothers offer an acknowledgement that all are in constant relationship with God.

When Tony asked his brother, Jose, to help him as a new life of fame and grace opened, he was inviting his older brother to leave a part of his ego behind and to step into the background, working to bring God's message of hope to a world so desperately needing it.

Jose said, "Yes, I will help!"

And like so many people who help others to do what they are called to do, Jose, has stood by his brother; to manage their schedule, to protect him from those who would take advantage of him and to remind him of the reason for their ministry.

The fourth annual Miracles Happen Festival at Ironwood is July 28 and 29. All the events and the schedule are online at www.miraclelodge.com.