WHITE MOUNTAINS — It may say food trucks and Margaritas on the marquee at The Truck Stop in Wagon Wheel, but on Sundays it is gospel music and brunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. with “Mountain Harmony.” There’s no preaching but there is real Christian testimony in the stories Todd Ayer tells which are the basis of the songs he’s written and sings. And, the money you spend on food will go the White Mountain Coalition Against Homelessness.

The sign says food trucks and margaritas - Todd Ayer playing guitar

Playing songs he wrote with Bible principled stories behind them, Todd Ayer brings the Mountain Harmony Gospel Hour to The Truck Stop on Sundays from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Grab a seat, a bite to eat and even a drink with no judgment, but definitely a good-old fashioned Sunday among friends.

In December 2018 Ayer and his buddy Wyatt (known to many as only Wyatt), who plays drums and is a good friend of Mike Meixler’s, created “Mountain Harmony” when Meixler gave them the use of a building he owned in Lakeside. The goal was to have a place where worship teams and families could come and play or listen to music without somebody preaching their doctrine, but in an atmosphere where they could praise the Lord and be on the same page.

The axiom “If you build it they will come,” was validated when the doors opened and the word spread. What started out as a few, grew. Finally 15 or 20 musicians that could work together were making friends and making music on Saturday evenings. They invited the Coalition to set up shop with them and they “built a bond.”

“Me and my wife Lori have always been givers,” explained Ayer. “We started supporting White Mountain Coalition Against Homelessness a couple of years ago. It is where I need to tithe. For me it is important that my dollars are not going to buy carpet or pews when we might feed someone or pay for a place for them to live. The Holy Spirit tells me and I just do it.

“The Coalition helps them get an apartment and shows them procedures of how to get a job and save money and get their own place. They promote goals to help people turn their lives around.”

Ayer said Meixler kept asking him when he was going to do his Sunday thing and bring the music to The Truck Stop. “I had enough on my plate,” said Ayer. “I had not heard God tell me to do it and If I do not hear Him say go right or go left, I keep going.”

The next time Meixler asked, it was in the middle COVID-19 and Ayer said he would pray about it. He did and he said God spoke and said, “Now,” and they opened last Sunday, May 24, with the plan to draw in bikers, people from different churches and anybody else who wants to come.

“There is no preaching,” said Ayer. “There is Jesus and the Bible but not like churches. We can praise the Lord and be ourselves. You can wear your short britches and flip flops and even have a cold beer and talk about Jesus; no judging.

“God does not need you to be a Billy Graham. He just needs you to be you. The best ministry is to be yourself.”

And, you can believe that Ayer is himself. There are stories behind the songs he has written and the music he plays. Everything has a biblical principle behind it because he has as they say in the West, “been rode hard and put up wet.”

“The songs I sing I don’t just sing. I tell a story about that song and the principles behind it,” explained Ayer.

As you listen to his South Carolina twang as he talks, you are totally surprised when he picks up that guitar and begins to sing – no evidence of twang is in his voice and his music is full of conviction.

Ayer told the Independent he didn’t want the article to be about him, that it was the Meixlers who are the real heroes. “He has a good heart and just wants to help people, always asking ‘how can we help?” said Ayer. But, Mountain Harmony is about Todd Ayer because he has a story that got him on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, and it’s about where he came from and where he is today. (https://www1.cbn.com/video/700club/2012/11/19/the-700-club-november-20-2012 – his story begins around 32:03 into the video.)

According to Ayer, he always knew there was a calling on his life, but he said he left his home in Goose Creek, South Carolina when he was 15 and ran from it. He drank, chased women and did enough dope to kill five men and wound up in the penitentiary in 1985 with a 27 year sentence for manslaughter for killing his brother-in-law who repeatedly beat his sister. He had warned him if he ever did it again, he would kill him, and he did. Afterward, he drove himself to the police station and turned himself in.

During his time in prison he was bad to the bone. Inside, he said he had “the juice.” He laundered money and dealt drugs and decided he would not just be a lion, but The Lion. He got into a knife fight that landed him in solitary confinement and he was labeled SSR – Subject Security Risk. In a five day week he was allowed out an hour a day for exercise — shackled and belly chained due to his reputation.

“I had rage,” said Ayer. “I always kept my Bible but never read it. I looked at it one day and said, ‘Lord I know there is peace in there. It is so hard to read and understand it. If I had a way I would read it.’ The next day a guard came and gave me an envelope. In it was a book, “Knowing and Experiencing God – How to Understand Your Bible.”

“He heard me,” said Ayer. “If the God of this universe is willing to hear me or have anything to do with me — I was a monster – if you bothered me I was sending you to meet Jesus. That minute I got on my knees. If you are willing to do this for me, I am yours. I will go wherever or whatever you ask.”

Miraculously in 2001 Ayer was paroled after 16 years – something no one ever thought would happen since he had been sent back to court by the prison to be incarcerated for the rest of his natural life.

Since that time, he has been on a journey and has been provided for as he followed the Voice of the Master. He met his wife Lori in Branson, Missouri, where God sent him on one of his missions. While playing his songs at nursing homes, Lori was an activities director at one of them and they married three days after meeting and shortly after – in their 40s – were pregnant with their only child.

His ministry has taken him many places. He has made a lot of money and given it away at God’s direction and says he said God has rewarded him for his obedience.

Ayer believes the churches should have stayed open during COVID-19. He said that is where people seek hope and comfort, but having heard ‘Now’ as the time for the gospel music at The Truck Stop during COVID-19, he believes this is where people will be fed “meat” instead of “milk” and the culmination of his journey will be felt.

Following the gospel brunch and music, there will be Happy Hour for those that want to stay and an Open Mic with Josh Motley.

Your Sunday after church may never be the same but you are sure to learn about miracles and what it means to follow “The Boss,” as Ayer calls him, and meet and love people in the streets where they are.

Ayers isn’t running anymore from that calling on his life. He knows what he knows, first hand.

“I know that I know there will be millions of donkeys in heaven. I am living proof that God loves a jackass.”

The Truck Stop is located in Wagon Wheel and can be found on Facebook.

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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