|Bontrager Family Singers|
|Born|| March 30, 1967|
(Marlin Joe Bontrager)
October 14, 1967
The Bontrager Family Singers is a 12-member Christian gospel and bluegrass singing group and instrumental band that tours the United States and Canada for half of each year, with performances primarily at churches, parks, and prisons. Led by the father and mother, Marlin Joe and Rebecca Marie (both born 1967), the Bontragers include the couple's ten children born between 1991 and 2007. They reside in rural Kalona in Washington County in southeastern Iowa.
The Bontragers sing and play violin, keyboard, guitar, Dobro steel guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and banjo. While not touring, they live on a 600-acre farm in Kalona, where in an extensive operation, they raise corn, soybeans, pigs, and dairy cattle. They also own and operate the Dutch Country Inn in Kalona and are shareholders in a biodiesel plant in central Iowa. The children, from oldest to youngest, are Chelsy Renee (born 1991), Mitchell Joe (born 1992), Allison Nicole (born 1994), Carson Wayne (born 1995, who is named for former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, known then as the author of Gifted Hands), Joshua Maxwell (born 1997), Denver Elliot (born 1999), Lincoln Taylor (2002), Elizabeth Caresse (born 2003), Hudson Reed (born 2005), and Rebecca Shania (born 2007).
Having married in 1989, the Bontragers were informed that they might be unable to have children. Their doctors erred: "Becky", as she is known, had ten healthy pregnancies but six miscarriages. “The Bible says children are the heritage of the Lord, and we believe that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have allowed God to bless us with ten children,” said the strongly pro-life Becky Bontrager.
The family has recorded five albums of gospel/bluegrass music. As the operation expanded, new instruments were added, including piano. Each band member plays at least two instruments. This allows their variety of sounds to blend into one family voice. Chelsy Bontrager (born 1991) explained, "We play mainly bluegrass instruments, but we don't sing bluegrass music - but gospel music and old hymns." Prior to their national tours, which began regionally on a modest scale, they played at nursing homes and the Salvation Army soup kitchen in nearby Iowa City, Iowa. While on tour, the Bontragers travel in a 40-foot bus converted into a home with tight living quarters for so many.They conducted their first prison tour after learning about the work of the Gospel Express, which runs a prison ministry in South Carolina and Florida. This experience alerted the Bontragers to the opportunities for spreading their Christian faith over many states over the years. Marlin Bontrager recalled a group of some 150 prisoners to whom he initially ministered who said they were fathers: "That hit me pretty hard. Almost every broken policy in Washington right now can be traced back to the breakdown of the family.” He described his prison visit as "a life-changing experience."
In the 2008 presidential caucus, family patriarch Marlin Bontrager supported former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. He was uninvolved while on tour during the 2012 caucus, won narrowly by Rick Santorum, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. In 2016, the Bontragers performed at rallies and events for Senator Ted Cruz in his underdog bid against Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. On August 21, 2015, the Bontragers performed at the Cruz-sponsored Rally for Religious Liberty in the capital city of Des Moines, Iowa. Seven persons or couples targeted by the U. S. government for their religious beliefs addressed the gathering. among them Kelvin J. Cochran, former fire chief in Atlanta, Georgia.
Marlin Bontrager described Cruz's campaign as "the first time ever in my adult life that we’ve had a candidate that I’m fired up about."The Bontragers in 2015 hosted Cruz's native Cuban father, pastor Rafael Bienvenido Cruz, in an annual gathering the family hosts in Kalona on Labor Day. Bontrager is one of three national chairmen of “Homeschoolers for Cruz." which sought to increase turnout in the 2016 Iowa caucuses among that geographic, most of whom are also evangelical Christians who believe in salvation and deliverance of sin only through faith in Jesus Christ. After family discussion and a vote, all of the Bontragers settled on Cruz and were soon energized by his candidacy.Their pastor, Joseph Brown of the Marion Avenue Baptist Church, an Independent Baptist congregation in Washington, Iowa, endorsed Cruz in a sermon the Sunday before the caucus and urged his parishioners to "exercise their God-given responsibility” to vote in the caucus. Afterwards, the Bontragers performed briefly at the church podium.
Until 1991, homeschooling was banned in Iowa. There are more than ten thousand homeschooled pupils in the state; they represent a small fraction of the 500,000 school-aged children overall. The decades-long campaign for legalization provided a more organized and politically powerful group which can potentially impact the presidential caucuses, for which intensity of support can be as critical as sheer turnout. Marlin Bontrager spent caucus day canvassing, calling undecided voters, and setting up the caucus precinct for his area. Ultimately Cruz led Trump by one pledged delegate in the Iowa caucus.
In March 2016, while headed to Mexico on their annual tour, which resumes in June, and while still optimistic about Cruz's decreasing chances for the nomination, the Bontrangers performed at several churches in Texas, one of which was Lighthouse Baptist Church, an Independent Baptist congregation in San Antonio under pastor Don Ohm. The Bontragers are long-time supporters of the San Antonio-based National Bible Bee, established in 2009 by a charitable foundation.
The Bontragers were formerly affiliated with the Mennonite denomination, which has been a substantial presence over the years in their part of Iowa. They tour to spread their faith: "We want to offer encouragement to other families. If we can make a difference in somebody’s life, it's worth it," said Bontrager. The Bontrager tours cannot continue indefinitely as constituted; several of the children are already adults. “Our goal is not to have a cocoon of twelve people that are still singing twenty years from now. Our goal is for them to go out and have their own families and lives," Bontrager said, having noted that he hopes his family, as the younger children grow to adulthood too, can perform into the next generation even if only on a limited basis.
Bontrager CDs can be obtained from their Iowa website. The Bontragers can be accessed on You Tube at the First Baptist Church of Independence, Iowa, in 2012: They may also be heard on You Tube while playing in 2014 at the Friendship Baptist Church in Highland in Sharp County in northeastern Arkansas.
- Bontranger Family Singers. Christian Worldview Film Festival. Retrieved on May 1, 2016.
- Alison Gowans (July 8, 2014). Eastern Iowa life: Bontrager Family Singers: Kalona family of 12 tours, sings, praises together. Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette. Retrieved on April 30, 2016.
- Daniel Bush (February 1, 2016). Christian family band’s mission to elect Ted Cruz. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved on April 30, 2016.
- Eastern Iowa life: Bontrager Family Singers. Dairy Star. Retrieved on September 14, 2017.
- Family. bontragerfamilysingers.com. Retrieved on April 30, 2016.
- The Bontrager Family Singers: Political Resources. bontragerfamuilysingers.com. Retrieved on April 30, 2016.
- Bontrager Family Singers to Appear at Cruz Rally for Religious Liberty. presidency.ucsb.edu (August 14, 2015). Retrieved on May 1, 2016.
- Events: 14th Annual Turning Hearts Celebration. bontragerfamilysingers.com. Retrieved on April 30, 2016.
- The Bible Bee: An Opportunity to Hide God's Word in Your Heart!. bontragersingers.blogspot.com (April 21, 2016). Retrieved on May 1, 2016.
- CDs. store.bontragerfamilysingers.com. Retrieved on May 1, 2016.
- Bontrager Family Singers. You Tube (July 22, 2012). Retrieved on May 1, 2016.
- The Bontrager Family Singers. You Tube (August 18, 2014). Retrieved on May 1, 2016.