John Watson, who, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, is the driving force in the ministry of Vinesong, did not assume the office of itinerant minister on a mere whim. Behind him lie generations of faithful servants and his own apprenticeship of serving in pastoral ministry. His parents, were missionaries in Zimbabwe and then latterly Pastors in Durban, South Africa. Before Vinesong, John was also called to pioneer Churches in England, Holland and America. It was at that time that he came to see how Worship and the Word could be used even more widely, in the context of ministry.
Working with the Vineyard team and about to embark on a new church plant in Norway, John discovered the Lord had other plans. As he took a vacation in South Africa God clearly showed him that He was about to birth Vinesong and so for four years, from 1982 to 1986, the ministry took on the form that has become so familiar today.
It was clear in the purposes of God that John was to have a major input into leadership in many countries across the world and he now has a recognized ministry as a Pastor amongst Pastors. Away from the stage or the pulpit, many hours are given to listening to Pastors, Worship leaders, and their wives, as they seek counsel in their respective situations. This pastoral side of his ministry, has not been used to start a new church stream or grouping; John has been heard many times to say how important it is “not to leave your own fingerprints on the door handle” of your life. He is always mindful that Jesus is building His Church and that he should stay faithful to the original call. Leaders from across the world have publicly observed that Pastor John and Vinesong have not tried to change sound or grow into something other than that which God originally called them to.
The thing that establishes Pastor John Watson and Vinesong Ministries as being so unique on the world stage, is that they are a team of ministers, dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel and the building of the Church in line with biblical teaching. They are not a group of musicians desiring to entertain and win awards amongst the Christian community. Vinesong have always taken their commission directly from, Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, one of three children with a father Professor and mother a music teacher.
Growing up I had lots of fun but also struggles from a young age that came in various shapes and forms. I was not academically inclined, sport orientated or culturally motivated for that matter but enjoyed a bit of everything. What I did enjoy was the privilege of being exposed to different cultures and classes as well as overseas travel from a young age.
My teenage years were tough with limited success and I was experimenting and stretching the boundaries of life experience in every area. At times it was only God who saved and protected me from bizarre situations and circumstances.
After failing to find direction for many years at University, I tried to numb my pain by looking in all the wrong places for love, acceptance and fulfillment. It came to a head when I was finally expelled from University – ‘abusing the system and wasting everyone’s time and money’ I was told which I suppose was true. Following this incident I moved out of the city to the opposite side of the country to start a new life studying and living away from family and friends. I was alone for once and was seeking to fill this massive vacuum in my heart.
One thing lead to another and I felt like I was running out of oxygen. I was desperate for something as I felt darkness descending that even ending my life became an option. I could hardly sleep for days. My thoughts turned towards my time in church, my parents and people who told me about Jesus. My brother gave me a cassette once with a sermon that I listened to that night. After much turmoil in a small room, I finally broke down before the Lord. I gave up fighting and pretending and finally just let go. I prayed….the darkness lifted and peace finally came.
After many miraculous events, I found myself back in the city of my birth. I also knew that I would have to face all the things I that I had run away from, but this time it was different. I did not feel alone anymore. My passion immediately turned to joining a Church and I became totally involved with all facets of Church life – whatever needed to be done, I was there. My time was consumed with ministry in the worship team, home groups, and Youth Ministry etc. and I loved every minute. The Lord was so gracious and sent amazing people to disciple and walk with me. In the meantime I also enrolled and started to study again at the same University had been at previously and four years later, I finally received my degree, passing with marks I never even achieved in school!
I made many mistakes with relationships. This area of my life was very hard to totally give over to Him. After a while I realized that I was cutting myself off from hearing clearly from Him. It was then that I was challenged to totally abstain from having a romantic relationship for many years. I knew that this ‘fast’ was the only way I was going to have victory.
A few years later the Lord was clearly moving me out of South Africa to live in England. This was confirmed as I received my Visa on the day of my departure and my life began in London. My idea was that this was my final step towards attaining financial prosperity and success and perhaps serving in a Church situation as well. However, after many different jobs, hard times, lonely times and struggles I was doing very well spiritually but emotionally I was tired and was holding on to the little faith I had left that something drastically had to happen soon. In my struggle I kept repeating the words, ‘Lord when is my ship coming in’. It was during an exhibition at work that I walked past a sign that read, ‘When my ship came in I was at the Airport’. The Lord definitely has a great sense of humor.
I finally met this visiting team of missionaries, called 'Vinesong’ who were visiting a church in Esher. I went forward at the end of the service and found myself at a massive crossroads in my life and said to the Lord that I was not holding onto anything and totally gave Him my future, whatever it would hold. A similar challenge I had when finding the Lord, now came to me in a different form.
It was in this deep time of ministry that I experienced a visitation of the Holy Spirit and a real touch of God. Pastor John prayed with me and was so sensitive to what I was going through, he just held me as I cried….
Immediately after I met some members of the team and was invited me to their base and everyone soon realized that I was being called to serve in the ministry of Vinesong. The thought of full time ministry had never crossed my mind. With all my hopes and dreams on the line, I felt a calling that was very strong. At first I found it a little difficult to accept as it meant I had to give up on my own ideas which I had for my future. But, Praise God, in a short while, He very clearly showed me that it was His perfect will for my life and I joined the wonderful ministry of Vinesong as their ‘Road Manager’, at the end of 2002.
My world was immediately turned upside down and I was propelled into the most interesting and significant situations meeting people I would never have dreamed of meeting from all walks of life. Under the hand of great leadership I was being discipled and taught all facets of ministry.
It was then mind blowing that the Lord sent my wonderful wife Charlene to the same ministry a year later. Her parents had happened to be the founding members with Pastor John many years before. After a long courtship and much counsel we were gloriously married. It was our desire to be pure until that time and with the Lord’s help, our first kiss was on our wedding day! After four years of marriage, we were blessed with a beautiful son named Reuben Samuel.
God has not only made my dreams come true but He has exceeded and done more for me than any dream I had. I give Him the Glory for my life and for any and every good thing that has come my way. When I look back, the only way things worked out was to be in the perfect will of God.
Fulfilling my destiny also meant a great deal of investment and input from leaders and brothers, family and friends with understanding, encouragement and support for which I am very grateful.
In a world so full of pretence and manipulation, there is so much pleasure in seeing people come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. We witness people coming to the end of sometimes a long and hard road, seeking the truth and the full meaning of life and being able to find their role in creation. Many people receive miracles, deliverance, healing and growth under the powerful, wonderful anointing of the Holy Spirit.
It must be the greatest challenge and adventure of every born again Christian to live in the sublime will of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not always an easy road to follow, but it is the true meaning of life. I am blessed with the opportunity of serving the Body of Christ in fulfilling the last wishes of Jesus in Matthew 28.
To God be the Glory.
I believe life really starts once you discover why you were born. Many of us journey through our whole lives searching for that one purpose and die not finding it.
It has been my mission since I first let Jesus into my heart to solve that “why” factor in my own life. I have a secret… I found it! In the least expected place. When I was at my weakest. Because when I am weak, He is strong.
Before I left my home country, South Africa, to join Vinesong on 30 August 2003, my life was quite different. I studied music, drama and dance after school and when I finished I was determined to become a forerunner in secular circles. God had other plans… but He was patient. For 5 years He had to wait for His little girl to become a grown woman. I had been doing secular shows all over South Africa, gaining professional experience as a performing artist to many secular audiences. When I wasn’t singing, I’d do temporary work for different companies for extra income. Life was tough. I felt like a little boat bobbing around the big ocean aimlessly, not knowing which direction to follow. I knew I had a destiny but didn’t know how to go about finding it. Big doors opened which would be my claim to fame, but these were continually shut in my face for the strangest reasons. Without realizing it, God was jealously guarding my destiny. He didn’t want the world’s claws to drag me into a life that could only produce carnal seed.
At the start of 2003 my whole mindset regarding my career was beginning to change. I was becoming sick of being a slave to the world, wondering every day about where my next pay cheque would come from. I pleaded with God to take me away and tried in vain to convince Him that He had no need for me on this earth.
For the first time in my life, I had no more desire to become famous and wanted my life to mean something to others. That is when I decided to apply for bible school and was ready to devote my life to God but didn’t know how. Financially, I was desperate but it was my only hope for change. Just at that time, I was offered a contract as a front liner in a popular show that could offer me a good chance of fulfilling my dream to become a ‘star’. I declined. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. Everybody thought I was crazy (frankly, I thought so too!). For weeks I struggled with my decision and thought many times that I did not hear correctly from the Lord and subsequently slipped into a deep depression. If the application to Bible School was not going to be accepted I thought that I would end my life for sure this time.
A few weeks later I heard that I was unable to study at Bible School due to some unforeseen circumstances. Devastated, I seriously began to question my discernment about the decision I had made. Little did I know that God was using my plans for Bible School to prepare me for my true calling. A week later I received a call from John Watson who has been a family friend since my parents were in the first Vinesong team exactly 20 years ago and I was 4 years old. He asked me to pray about joining Vinesong as their lead soprano. Three days later I left on a plane to go to England.
Everybody knows that if you want life to be a bed of roses you must be prepared to nestle in with the thorns too! One thing I have learned through all of this, is that a bit of rain now and then is crucial for growth to take place. It’s a pity we don’t agree with that statement once the rain has stopped!
God has given me a passion to see broken hearts healed in young people. I have that passion because I have seen that healing take place in my own life.
Since I allowed my life to be governed by God’s will, I have also been blessed with a wonderful husband, Daniel whom I met when I joined Vinesong. We were married in 2007 after 3 years of discipling and counseling by Pastor John during our courtship, which we are very grateful for.
After four years of marriage we were prayerfully waiting on the Lord and we are very humbled and blessed that He gave us a beautiful son, Reuben Samuel – born to us on 8 December 2011!
I want to thank Carol Lashley-Bobb who was Vinesong’s lead soprano for 12 years, for paving the way. The rose bed has certainly fewer thorns since she started out! I pray God will lead us all to greater heights thanks to the strong foundation that has been laid by our predecessors.
Finally, above all, my praise goes out to my Father and King, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit for His continued strength. Without Him I would be nowhere….
God has blessed me immensely during my lifetime with some great experiences, but all the time I was searching for something to live for, a real reason for being, my calling and destiny. I am just an ordinary woman from an ordinary family who serves an extraordinary God.
In 2001 during a time of uncertainty and change God spoke to me about my future, telling me that one day I would travel for Him; it was so clear and unmistakeable that even now it seems like yesterday. Back then I thought I would do missions work during my vacation!!
After many years of work in the private and public sectors and a 12-month Masters course, I was looking for something to really pour my life into, that none of these exploits had so far been able to deliver.
On finishing the Masters course in 2007, nothing seemed to be going the way I had planned it, and in my desperation, I cried out to the Lord to rescue me. I felt I just could not make it on my own and needed God to pick me up from where I was and plant me somewhere different in a way that it would be clear that He alone had done it. Then during April 2008, Vinesong came to minister at my church. The ministry was awesome; there was such a sweet presence of God throughout and after the ministry. I knew that this was the real deal and not a bunch of pretenders doing their best to entertain. The opening song ‘Psalm 5’ became the music and the words to the cry of my heart. They mentioned that they were going on a tour of the USA and were having difficulties in obtaining visas for some team members.
Two days later I received a call from John Watson, who I had briefly spoken to at the end of the meeting. He said that he and the team had been praying for me and praying into the call on my life. Then I almost got the shock of my life when he asked me if I would join the team for the three-month tour of the USA. Four days later I joined the team at their home base and flew out to the US as a temporary member of the Vinesong team.
Since that first meeting at my church, whilst it has not been easy, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the calling on my life is being realised in a way that I least expected it. Becoming a permanent team member is something that only God could do and orchestrate. I am so privileged and honoured that God would look down on me and call me to carry his presence into the four corners of the earth, touching and changing the lives of people in ways that I could never have dreamed of.
I give God all the glory for what He has done, is doing and will do. Without Him I don't know where I would be.
We grew up with a small family in San Jose, California. Our parents were business owners and took my brother and I to Sunday service every week but that was the extent of our involvement with the church. One day, when I was 7 and my brother was 9, my parents announced that we would be selling the house and the business and moving to Florida, to be closer to family. They bought a motor home and told us that we would take off for an adventure through the US after school let out for the summer. We made it to our first state, Oregon, when my parents took us out on a lake in a canoe and made the true announcement: they were getting a divorce. What happened next was quick; they tossed the "adventure" plan and made a B-Line to Florida. It took three days.
During the next 8 years, a nasty custody battle ensued and my parents went to war with each other, placing us in the front lines of the battleground. My brother and I clung to my father for safety and security, creating a pact as the "Laughlin boys". My relationship with my mother deteriorated almost immediately after she remarried and I found myself unnecessarily fearful to be anywhere around her or my step-father. Fear and anxiety became a normal part of my life. We still went to a new church on Sundays but it felt very religious and robotic and I despised the whole thing. Our pastor and the church leaders were all very nice people, but I still always felt out of place. The only true joy I knew was the one week we had at the summer camp where our church took the youth. I was not a christian at the time but there was something different about that camp. It felt like freedom.
Eventually the dust of the divorce settled and I graduated from high school, moving away from home to attend university at the age of 17. During the first two years I began to experience what life was like without the restrictions or protection of home. I joined a fraternity and dove head-first into a mind numbing party lifestyle. We would look for any and every opportunity to get completely wasted with women, alcohol and a variety of drugs. I even started selling drugs to keep up with the high price lifestyle we were living. My grades suffered, and my relationships with family suffered even more, but the party never stopped.
That first year at university I flunked all of my spring classes – with the exception of one teacher who showed me mercy by giving me a final mark of an A, the score I received on my mid-term exam, despite not having attended another class after that.
That same spring I was arrested for two misdemeanors: possession of marijuana and underage possession of liquor. After I was released the charges were dropped following my participation in a pre-trial program. After receiving some counsel from our fraternity advisor, I returned to university for a summer session, passing all my classes. Externally I was back on track, but in my heart was a growing void.
I quickly fell back into my former ways. There was an emptiness inside that no drug or sexual endeavor could fill – but I sure did try. In fact, the more I used, the bigger it grew. I tried everything: Relationships, motivational books, new drugs, anything I could think of that might numb that empty pain in my chest. I would stay up late into the night, whether or not we went out partying. The only rest I had was after passing out drunk or high. I began to long for the rest that I thought might follow death.
After another failing semester, I came home for winter break in 2013. My father found out I had flunked again, and gave me two options: move home and find full time work or go back to university without any financial support. It was a horrifying choice. I spent the next week in the deepest depression thus far.
One day something just clicked. It was like scales had been removed from my eyes and I could see that I wasn't right with God. That day my father walked past my room and saw me sitting, a blank look in my eyes with my mind far away. He came in and asked me what was wrong. I still remember my throat closing off as I choked to tell him that I had messed up. He asked me very pointedly what I was going to do about it. Somehow the words came and I told him that I was going to put God first. The next thing I knew I was crying hysterically on the ground. He just sat and held me for an hour.
I returned to university and got a job selling shoes at a department store. I was still trying to fill the void, but now I had guilt every time I slept with someone or used. I finally bought a bible and was determined to find out who God really was and what He wanted from me. The only peace I found was when I was reading that book. After some time, a coworker of mine invited me to church. I was curious but still had reservations about religion. After many invitations I reluctantly accepted.
The first Sunday I was blown away. This was not at all like church back at home. The pastor didn't wear a robe and he didn't recite monotonous prayers. When he took the pulpit it was like he sat down across the table from me to have a coffee – and spoke directly to me. The next Sunday I was excited to see what the pastor wanted to talk about. He preached about something called grace. Unearned, undeserved, unconditional grace. I was captivated. I had read in my bible about it but never quite understood the concept until now. My heart was burning while he spoke. At the end of the sermon, he made a call to the altar for anyone who wanted to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord, Savior, and Friend. Nobody on this planet earth could have made me come down from that balcony seating and to the front of this church of 800 people.
I sure didn't want to go.
But suddenly I found myself walking down the staircase as I felt the hysterical tears come back once again. Before I knew what happened, I was standing in front of the pastor, my whole body shaking as the tears flowed. He introduced me to a man who brought me to the back of the church and explained salvation by grace. Called. Chosen. Confirmed. Soon after, on my way home from work I was listening and singing to worship music on the radio. All at once I felt something wash over my whole body, something I had never felt before. It was clean, pure, and felt better than drugs or sex ever had or possibly could. Indescribable. I knew it was of God. The void was suddenly filled and soon I was overflowing with a joy I had never known. God showed me what I had been missing out on my entire life: Himself. It was like each day He spoke to me in a different way: through the encouragement of others, through the joy of worship, through the peace of knowing Him more intimately as I continued to read His Word. Slowly but surely He showed me how to live for Him. Throughout the day He would remind me of different scriptures that would help me in whatever situation I was in. He showed me how to love the people around me, and continued to call me deeper and deeper into relationship with Him.
I wrapped up my time at university and moved home, where He mended the relationship between my mother and I. When I was about to find another church, He sent someone into my life that challenged me to stay where I was at. Two months later, He sent Vinesong to my church where Pastor John recognized that there was a call on my life, and after being prompted by the Holy Spirit, invited me to join the team.
I cannot boast of my love for God, because I fail Him daily. But I will forever boast of His love for me. He called me out of the darkness, and into His truly marvelous light. He loved me while I was still running from Him. Through Jesus Christ, He reconciled my sin and paid my debt. Now He calls me His own. He gave me joy at every passing turn, patience during testing and temptation, and grace when I fell short of doing the right thing. Now He has fulfilled the desire of my heart by sending me into a team that is more like family, to lead worship and tell the world of the good news of salvation through Christ alone, so that more may come to know Him. Through no work or good deed or merit of my own, He raised me from death and restored me to life. I give God all the glory for what He has done in me.