After years as a traveling evangelist, blues guitarist Walter De Sousa is finding new ways of making the good news sing.
By Ann-Margret Hovsepian
Illustration by Jeff Gregory
"Okay God, I’ll make You a deal. Let me go on tour for one year, and I promise I’ll go to Bible college after that.”
It was a reasonable request, thought 17-year-old Walter. He had been dreaming of a career in music, and now a big-name Montreal band wanted him to sign on. Twelve months. That’s all he was asking for. Then he would dedicate himself completely to pursuing the call of an evangelist. The spiritual tug of war that followed left Walter with nothing but blisters. Defeated, he threw his Bible on his bed and said, “Fine. I’ll go to Bible school!”
Today, with 40 years of worldwide crusade-type outreach experience behind him, Dr. Walter De Sousa says he has never for a second regretted obeying God that day. And four decades later, God has given him back his music and is leading him into a more grassroots-level evangelism ministry.
Born in the Azores, Portugal, De Sousa was four when his family moved to Montreal. Though brought up with Christian values, he says, “I never really appropriated them to myself, so they became more and more meaningless in my teens. The values of my culture and times took over.” De Sousa eventually came to believe Jesus was in the same league as the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.
When he was 17, however, a powerful encounter with Christ removed any doubt that the Lord was very real. De Sousa immediately wanted everyone around him to know Jesus, too, and began witnessing wherever he went. Known for his quirky sense of humor and contagious joie de vivre, he chuckles as he admits, “I was probably obnoxious.”
The changing face of evangelism
Now De Sousa says he is learning to “uncomplicate” sharing the gospel. “I live a day at a time and walk through doors that God puts before me. I don’t have the same drive and ambitions I did as a younger man, and in some ways, it’s liberating. Evangelism is an awesome spiritual battle, and I have borne some of the consequences.” He no longer seeks that intensity in his ministry. “Every day is a beautiful day with God, and as I feel led by His Spirit, I follow. When He gives me a football stadium, I’ll do it. When He gives me a one-on-one, I’ll do it. When He gives me a church auditorium, I’ll do it.”
Sometimes God gives De Sousa a concert hall. Though he had willingly given up his dream of a music career, De Sousa has his own blues band now and weaves his songs and public events into his everyday ministry. He gives 50 percent of the money raised by his albums (his latest is called Streams in the Wasteland) and 100 percent of his shows’ ticket sales to charitable work in Africa and food banks in Montreal. “Though music is not an overtly evangelistic outreach, my faith comes through my songs,” he says. “It opens doors for me to do one-on-one with different artists and leaders in the Québec music industry. Many people won’t approach an evangelist, but they will approach a blues guitarist. I can navigate well in both worlds. I’ve witnessed to top-notch musicians who I wouldn’t have had access to as just a professional evangelist.”
His multifaceted background also leads to other interesting opportunities. One day De Sousa went to a blues club to hear a Québec musician he’d spoken to before. The performer—who recognized him and asked if he was Walter De Sousa, the preacher—told him, “I need to talk to with you. I need God in my life.”
When people ask De Sousa why his music is being played on the radio when he’s not well known, he says it’s because of his manager. “When they ask who my manager is, I say with a smile, ‘The living God!’ and that leads to conversations.” Even his most headstrong band members are starting to soften: “They’re very allergic to the Word of God. So when God opens up a wonderful door for me that they cannot deny, I always seek to give glory to Him. Slowly, gently, and surely, there’s an acknowledgment, a bit more of an openness. I have their respect as a songwriter so that really helps.”
Less talk, more listening
Besides working with his band, De Sousa is a teaching pastor at one campus of Église Sans Frontières—a large (by Québec standards) evangelical church just outside Montreal. He also runs two small companies related to the housing industry. In each situation, his passion is sharing Christ. “At work, I try to satisfy the needs of my clients and show that I care about excellence. Then, when I feel an open door, I just give glory to God and try to share the gospel in a gentle way.”
Recently, one of his employees had been looking forward to dating a young woman, but it didn’t work out. “I just listened and tried to comfort him,” says De Sousa, “and then gently reminded him that, in the final analysis, another human being cannot really fulfill us. The only one we can really be in a fulfilling relationship with is the living God. He is the only one who can fill our existential needs.”
He adds that today when he shares his faith, he listens more and says less than he did in his 20s. “But what I say seems to have the same if not greater impact. When I was younger, formulas were given to me that I tried to apply, such as the four spiritual laws. Those tools are fine, but today I don’t use formulas. I just love people and share what I need to share.”
On an earlier occasion, De Sousa was talking to a tow truck driver and mentioned Jesus. “He asked, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘Jesus, God’s Son.’ The man asked, ‘God had a son?’ When I told him that Jesus loved him so much that He died on the cross for his sins, he started to cry. ‘Jesus loves me that much?’”
De Sousa is passionate about grassroots evangelism. “That’s when you can show people you really care,” he explains. “God will prepare the hearts of people who go to listen to a gifted evangelist, but they have to be brought by someone. And you can’t bring someone if he has not learned to trust you. In today’s world, there’s so much spiritual confusion that it takes a massive amount of love to befriend someone who is not in Christ.” Referring to an old Indian proverb, De Sousa points out that “you can’t cut off someone’s nose and ask him to smell your flowers.”
The biggest lesson De Sousa has learned in 40 years of evangelism? “‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5 NKJV). I learned early on that apart from the anointing and self-disclosure of the Holy Spirit in the heart, a man or woman will never come to spiritual understanding and salvation. A human being’s salvation is without question the most powerful miracle in the universe.”