Written by 9:00 am Rural Interviews

Dennis Parillo: A Cruise Ship Musician’s Testimony…

A Firsthand Story of How God Used One Man’s Skills As An Instrument for His Glory

A firsthand story of how God used one man’s skills as an “instrument” for His glory

Edited by Hope Mayes

I have always been interested in music, ever since I was seven years old. When the Beatles came on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, I turned to my mom and said, “That guitar player, George Harrison? That’s what I want to be.” Later that week, my mom bought me my first guitar and I started taking lessons at seven years old. I had no idea that that small musical instrument would turn out to be a big spiritual instrument for God to use to affect His plan for my whole life.

My first opportunity to play came when the Catholic church I was raised in needed a guitar player in their folk mass band. Even though I was a shy kid my mom said “Why don’t you go?” I tried out and they took me on board at twelve years old.

A couple years into playing for the Catholic church, a boyfriend of one of the girls in the folk mass was starting a rock and roll band and needed a guitar player. I tried out and the band hired me; they liked the way I played. Because I was only fourteen and the guys in the group were much older than me, they said, “Dennis, grow a mustache and talk with a low voice so you look older.” I borrowed my mom’s eyebrow pencil and colored in my mustache a bit; it was hilarious. I joined them in playing parties, at schools and even clubs, proving myself as the youngest person to join a musician’s union at fifteen years old in New Haven, Connecticut. Slowly, over the next seven years, my career as a professional musician began to grow. And all the while I continued to play guitar in the folk mass in that old Catholic church.

During those years of growing fame, I did not feel like I knew enough about God and His Word. I set out on a quest to find out who God really was and why I was here. My quest for truth took me through years of experimenting with transcendental meditation, astral projection, martial arts, and even studying under the Dali Lama’s teachings. After three years of what felt like chasing the wind, a series of events took me to the end of my rope; the relationship I was in went downhill, the band I was in fell apart, I had just bought a home and I could not pay it off. I came to a point of suicide. I did not want to live anymore because everything I was living for had fallen apart.

One day on a Thursday afternoon I sat at the kitchen table with a Sam’s Club sized bottle of aspirin and a bottle of water; I was about to take my life. When suddenly I felt a still small voice say “Go to church. Right now.” I listened to the voice and I went into the only church I knew. The doors to the Catholic sanctuary were open. With no one around, I walked up to the altar and knelt down. “Oh Lord” I prayed from the bottom of my heart, “I’ve blown it. I have blown the life you’ve given me. I am not going to ask you for a new relationship, I am not going to ask you to fix my business or my band. All I ask is that you give me a reason to live. I will do whatever you want me to do, go wherever you want me to go. Just give me a reason to live.”

I felt the same still small voice I had heard at my kitchen counter speak to my heart again, “You will live for me because I died for you.”

I said to the Lord, “Lord, I believe who the Bible says you are; Jesus, the Son of God who died for my sins and was raised from the dead. I know that somehow that cleanses me, but I don’t understand it. Help me understand.” That is when I felt a rush, that I now know as the Holy Spirit, come over me. I felt clean for the first time in my life. I came back to my house and I was just thrilled. I began reading my Bible and growing more and more eager to tell others about my relationship with God.

Two weeks later, I was playing my guitar on the front steps and thinking over the events of the last couple weeks. That was when my next-door neighbor pulled into the driveway across the street, smoke billowing from her overheating engine. I put my guitar aside and ran to help the beautiful woman who introduced herself as Bobbie. That day, I met my future wife whom I will be married to for thirty-six years in the summer of 2020.

From then on, not only did Bobbie begin to disciple me, but her dad and the pastor of their church began discipling me too. I read my Bible and attended church regularly; learning things about God I had never known. I was all in for Him. I went through a three-year Bible college program in about a year and a half, still playing music for income on the side. Every so often, Bobbie and I would get to perform worship music for events in our small Florida town.

After that year, gigs and jobs began drying up. I was sure this meant the Lord was preparing Bobbie and I for a new season, but I never would have been able to guess what He had in store. One morning through prayer, I felt the Spirit of the Lord speak to me and say, “I am going to put you back to where I took you out of. There are people out there that will never step foot in a church and I want you to tell them what I have done for you.”

So, Bobbie and I put together a show of country, gospel, and good story songs and approached the manager of our local Holiday Inn because we knew the hotel often had bands play on the weekends. “My wife and I play music and if you ever need an evening filled or if you have a cancellation, give us a call.” A couple days later, the phone rang.

We enjoyed our time playing in the small Holiday Inn that weekend and as it turned out, the audience loved it too! The opportunity arose to play in a big hotel in Orlando, Florida where in the audience that night was not just one, but two agents from a popular cruise ship company. When they asked us if we would ever consider playing professionally on one of their cruise ships we were taken aback. We knew God was doing something. We said, “We’ll have to pray about it… Where we going?”

Within only a month, we were out at sea, on a beautiful cruise ship, playing music. The company continually asked Bobbie and I to stay and play for them; they loved us. Before long, we went from just playing music to writing and headlining our own songs in the main theatres on the cruise ships. It was a blessing from the Lord.

Even though we knew the Lord was opening all these doors, we still had this feeling like there was a lack in ministry. Two weeks into headlining, we sat in the cruise director’s office getting ready for a show and we overheard the some of the cruise staff talking. “Well who is going to do the Sunday Service? The captain doesn’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it either.” Bobby and I looked at each other and thought, that’s our que! We interrupted and said, “Excuse me, we’ll do it!” They liked the service we put together so much that they actually revised our contract to say we are required to do the ship’s Sunday services. The ministry did not stop there. We took the opportunity to start and lead crew services and crew Bible studies. The Lord blessed us to see vacationers and crew members get saved every week and every Sunday service. We were thrilled to do this on and off for over twenty years.

The only problem we saw was the fact that most of the cruises were only seven to ten days. With that little time, we did not have a chance to disciple people. Sending them home with a wave and a “Find a good church!” never sat well in our hearts. During that time, my wife and I hoped and prayed that someday the Lord would give us a church so we could disciple people and duplicate what the Lord has done in our lives.

In 2016, we knew God was getting ready to change our season. He opened up the door to take the opportunity to be pastors of Refuge Church in Rock Island, Tennessee. Since then, we have pastored at this church for about four years and have loved every second of this season. The weekly opportunities we had on the cruise ship days to be in front of large crowds, not only playing music but speaking, was what prepared us to be at this point of pastoring and ministering in a church setting.

When we started out in ministry, we looked to our heroes and tried to be like them. But something that we have learned over the years is, the Lord wants us to be ourselves. Along the way it is okay to pick up things from people who we admire. But there is strength in embracing who God wants us to be. Lord give us the power to be what you want us to be, and use the unique skills you have given us as instruments for your glory.

To connect with the Refuge Assembly of God in Soddy Daisy, TN or Pastor Dennis and Bobbie, visit their website here.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How can you use the creative abilities God has given you to further your ministry or reach out to an untouched part of your community/area of influence?
  2. Are there areas of your ministry or discipleship relationships that can be taken to a deeper level beyond where they are at now?
  3. What unconventional opportunities has God placed before you that you can utilize to advance the Kingdom?
  4. How can the church better reach those on the fringes of society? How can we better promote unity in the midst of our diversity?
  5. Are you on a quest for truth? Are there people in your life or in your church seeking reason and purpose? Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance on how to find truth and how to encourage others towards godly purpose.
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