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Battlelion has taken ministry into the hangars of hell

WANT TO GO?

Battlelion plays a number of free shows in the area this week as part of the Set Free tour: The Element (212 East 2nd Ave., Williamson) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nighbert Methodist Church (301 Coal St., Logan) at 2 p.m. Sunday, Hot Cup (50 Water St., Logan) at 5 p.m. Sunday and the Alban Arts Center (65 Olde Main St., St. Albans) at 6 p.m. July 5.

Other acts are Full Justified, Crazy Crazy Awesome Awesome, Jesus Junky, Read the Red, Surviving the Deep, Seven Day Disciple, Fight of Faith and Sons of Thunder.

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Andy and Natasha Milner, the core of Kentucky-based Christian rock band Battlelion, have some great memories of places they've played. Over the four years since they formed the band, they've played a lot of shows.

One of the best, they said, was last weekend's Ichthus Music Festival in Wilmore, Ky. Their band opened the Edge Stage at the Christian music festival Saturday afternoon.

Sporting a carefully pinned up Mohawk, 30-year-old Andy Milner, the band's percussionist, exclaimed, "That place was packed!"

Natasha, his wife, agreed.

"It had such a great atmosphere," said the 24-year-old singer/guitarist, who also writes the band's lyrics.

The pair loved the whole scene. These were their kind of people: Christians, on fire for the Lord, who like pounding drums and loud guitar.

Over the next few weeks, Battlelion hits the road with eight other bands for the Set Free tour. The tour has shows in Williamson on Saturday, Logan on Sunday and St. Albans on July 5.

The Milners are expecting friendly audiences for those shows, but they've had their share of tough crowds.

"We ministered to about 20 Satanists and pagans a couple of summers ago," said Andy, who is also a music teacher.

Two summers ago, they hit the road for an East Coast tour. Originally, they'd planned to play churches.

"We sent letters to over a hundred churches," he said and sighed. "We didn't hear from anybody."

Playing Christian rock is a struggle, the couple acknowledged. Acts like theirs don't fit in with standard pop music, what they call secular music. They tend to avoid playing bars and most churches don't want them.

"The rock scene thinks we're all goody two-shoes," Andy said.

"And churches think we have too hard an edge," Natasha said.

But even if they couldn't get a church to let them come play, the Milners put together a tour anyway, playing wherever they could get a gig, mostly all-age venues and a few outdoor events. It went well, for the most part, but in a small town in South Carolina, one of their shows was cancelled. The supporting bands all dropped out.

"So we asked the guys running it if we could just set up and use the space as rehearsal," he said.

Some people next door heard them, liked the sound and asked them to come over and perform.

"We didn't have a gig, and we needed a gig," Natasha said.

An audience was an audience.

"But it's a really bad place," Andy said. "It was an abandoned airplane hanger. A bunch of people were living in it -- and it looked pretty terrible."

Natasha nodded. "It was kind of a dump."

The hanger was also, very clearly, not the usual sort of place the pair was used to playing. Scattered around the inside of the building were pentagrams and what the musicians believed were pagan symbols, but they figured they were there for a reason. They fired up their instruments and played anyway.

"The P.A. was really bad," Andy laughed. "They couldn't hear the words."

Natasha shook her head and added, "At the end of the set, we told them who we were and what we were about. We told them about Jesus Christ."

The group's apparent leader seemed embarrassed by the whole thing.

Andy said, "He just sort of hunched over and kept running his hands over his face and hair."

"He, like, turned five shades of red," Natasha added.

They gave their testimony, but decided they shouldn't stick around too long.

"I think the fact they didn't kill us is a pretty positive thing," Andy said and laughed.

It's funny now, but in hindsight, agreeing to just play for strangers out of the blue wasn't their wisest decision.

Natasha said, "Nobody knew where we were. They could have easily taken us out back, and nobody would have ever heard from us again."

But there wasn't any trouble and nobody died.

Looking back, the Milners said they had to have been protected, and maybe they did some good. The people in that shambles of a hanger were living on the edge of society, outcasts without homes and runaways with not a lot good to look forward to.

"We told them that God loves them, that he died for them, too," Natasha said. "Maybe we planted that little seed."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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