Local guitar ace Jay “Bird” Koder continues an annual Clark County tradition Friday at Crossroads Community Church with a big, rockin’ Christmas concert that raises money for some rockin’ good causes. He’ll be joined by a full electric band and the church’s Love NOW Children’s Choir.
The concert will support Crossroads’ Love NOW ministry, which provides support for local foster care families year-round — and makes an extra effort to provide toys and gift cards at Christmas. The ministry also works closely with Ogden Elementary School and recently amassed donations of more than 18,000 granola bars for students at Vancouver Public Schools. Further afield, the ministry travels annually to impoverished areas of Hungary, Mexico, Lebanon and Macedonia to bring medical help, mental health care and suicide prevention, and reconciliation between different displaced peoples.
Twenty-six members of the church were in Hermosillo, Mexico, on a mission trip in the spring when they encountered that famous caravan of migrants coming north, according to outreach pastor Stuart Smith.
“We came alongside a couple churches in the area that were doing a lot of work helping them, facilitating meals, doing trash pickup,” Smith said. “We let them know we just wanted to help them. There were a lot of politicians running around too, but we wanted to stay out of politics. We just wanted to make sure people were safe and fed.”
Smith was distributing slices of watermelon when he happened to notice a transgender woman who stopped in her tracks to relish the treat, he said. “For some reason this person who I’d given some watermelon, she stopped and took a bite and she savored the sweetness of this watermelon,” Smith said.
If You Go
• What: “Christmas Comes Alive!” featuring Jay “Bird” Koder and friends
• When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21
• Where: Crossroads Community Church, 7708 N.E. 78th St., Vancouver
• Tickets: $13
• To learn more: https://crossroadschurch.net/event/christmas-comes-alive
Smith just watched for a moment, he said, as a human being in distress found relief and satisfaction. “That person’s face was etched into my mind after that,” he said.
A few weeks later, he said, he started catching headlines about a death among the caravan members. There, on world news, was the face of the woman he’d fed and noticed, whose name turned out to be Roxana Hern?ndez. Hern?ndez had previously told the media that she was fleeing Honduras after being threatened and gang-raped; she had made it to the U.S., asked for asylum, and was in custody for about two weeks when she died in a New Mexico detention camp. There have been conflicting claims about whether Hern?ndez died of HIV-related complications, or medical neglect while in custody — or both.
“All the issues of our politics and our social pressures, they didn’t matter,” Smith said. “What mattered was the human simplicity of me being able to hand this person some watermelon, some comfort for a day. It really stuck to me. We don’t know whether our next moment and our next breath is going to be our last.”
Koder is a lifelong Vancouver resident and a graduate of Hudson’s Bay High School — which had the best music program around and a better recording studio than most colleges, he said. He started teaching music classes at Clark College while still a teenager; he’s been “blessed to have a great career” across the decades since, playing all over the nation and all over the world. Koder has shared stages with the likes of rock god Steve Miller, blues masters Robert Cray and Curtis Salgado, jazz giants Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, and even the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. He launched an annual “Jay Bird and Friends” charitable Christmas concert well over two decades ago at Portland’s Grotto during the annual Festival of Lights, but the show eventually outgrew that and moved to Crossroads — which is Koder’s own congregation, a megachurch with a big sound system and a big auditorium.
“Jay Bird and Friends” has been an annual event at Crossroads since 2012. This year’s concert also features a full band and the Love NOW Children’s Choir, Koder said. “They alone are worth the price of admission,” he said.