Jeffrey Craig “Jeff” Fenholt (September 15, 1950 – September 10, 2019)
Some people have wondered why I have remained silent about Jeff’s passing. The reason is mostly shock and grief.
I can’t talk about Jeff unless I first tell you about the supernatural way I met him. I’m walking out of a supermarket and a complete stranger confronts me. He says, “Mario, the man who was the first to play Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway has been born again. He is singing for Jesus now. Here’s his card. You should call him and work with him.” I had no idea how that man knew me or how he got Jeff Fenholt’s card.
About a week later a pastor said the exact same thing to me, but that was still not enough to make me call Jeff. A few weeks later, however, something happened that made it impossible for me not to call him.
I was having lunch in Manhattan with David Wilkerson. He was having soup and didn’t even look up when he barked at me, “JEFF FENHOLT. WORK WITH HIM.” With that, decades of doing outreaches with Jeff began. Mechelle and I knew him for over 30 years.
Nobody—and I mean nobody—ever sang, nor will ever sing, I Exalt Thee, like Jeff. It was common for me, when he sang that song, to skip my sermon and go straight to calling the lost to Jesus. It was as if the crowd’s resistance to God melted as Jeff sang. Only a soul that knows they have passed from death unto life can sing with that kind of anointing.
Others have felt compelled to say, “He was no angel.” But, only angels can say something like that. Why is it even necessary to say something like that? Maybe you just didn’t get Jeff. He was no hypocrite. He could be brutally honest, and often hilarious in the process.
Jeff was giving his testimony to a big crowd in the Anaheim Convention Center. Suddenly a heckler yelled at Jeff about his long hair: “YOU LOOK LIKE A GIRL!” Without a moment’s hesitation, Jeff marched to the edge of the stage glared at the heckler and said, “If I look like a girl to you, you’ve been hanging with some really ugly girls!” If you didn’t crack up, you weren’t human.
Maybe the issue wasn’t Jeff at all. Maybe the problem is the Body of Christ’s inability to handle superstars who start to follow Jesus. The messy aftermath that happened with Bob Dylan, after he turned to Christ, comes to mind.
For my wife and me, Jeff was an endless experience of laughing, crying, and seeing multitudes come to Jesus. Jeff carried an effortless kindness—a kindness that was easy to take advantage of.
Toward the end, he demonstrated a rare courage when he publicly announced he was a conservative who loved America. His posts on social media were given the ultimate compliment—many were censored.
This is a painful time for Mechelle and me, and our hearts and prayers go out to Jeff’s family. Jeff is a good man. He is a true friend. He had the greatest singing voice I ever heard, and now the angels get to see why he was such a gift to us. God bless you, Jeff. I love you, my friend.
P.S. There have been many kind remarks made to Mechelle and me. We must remember that the real loss was to Jeff’s family, his children especially. Please pray for them and if God makes a way, share your love with them. -Mario