If vocalist Michael L. Ballam could choose one word from the scriptures, it would be love.
In Ballam’s training to become a professional opera singer, he was given a final exam with only one question: “If you could choose one word from any opera, what would it be? And more importantly, why?”
During his Education Week presentation, Ballam said he had asked himself the same question about the scriptures. He selected the word “love” after reading what he called, “the encapsulation of the gospel of Christ.”
Ballam was inspired by a passage of scripture found in Matthew 25:35, “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”
Ballam talked about the importance of helping those in need and the role music can play in serving others. He shared stories to illustrate real life applications of the verse in Matthew.
Feeding the hungry can be literal; however, it often means helping those with a different type of hunger, deeper than the belly kind, he said.
Ballam told the audience that sometimes truly helping someone else within one’s individual stewardship may require tough love. He recalled an experience early in his career when he received a stern letter from his grandfather, warning him not to become self-centered and to always remember where his talents came from.
Initially Ballam was outraged, but he soon realized the loving guidance his grandfather had offered.
“Miracles do come true. It’s nothing to applaud me for, it’s the teachers that got me here,” Ballam said. “The Lord didn’t give me these abilities just for me. I began to think about feeding the hungry.”
Using musical talents to help others is essential and shows gratitude for blessings received, Ballam said.
“If you do it with inspiration and enough love, it works,” Ballam said.
Ballam shared an experience he had years ago, when he had been looking for a place to stay while performing in an opera away from home. Not knowing Ballam personally, but knowing of his struggle to find accommodation, a woman named Esther offered to take him in at little cost.
That one kind gesture spurred a five month stay and a lifelong friendship — he was a stranger and she took him in, he said.
In the last stages of Esther’s life, she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Ballam shared how he used music to help Esther communicate with him and her family.
He would sing songs she was familiar with and pause before the end of the phrase. He would then prompt her to finish the phrase by asking if the melody went up or down.
“Use music to help those in need. You don’t need to be a professional opera singer to make it work. It works!” Ballam said.