From accordion to retirement, musician is content

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Wilbur Sayles is selling his accordion business and settling down for a well-deserved retirement after a lifelong trek along the highway of success. Accordion music and singing became the tools of his trade as he traveled near and far, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Along the way, he also wrote a number of songs as witness of his deep faith and trust in the Lord.

Growing up on a farm south of Austin, Sayles started playing the accordion when he was 11 years old and became professional at age 13. He recalls being excused from his junior high school class play practice so he could play three nights per week at Herman's Tap Room in Albert Lea.

"I'm glad they don't get to do that now," Sayles said, shaking his head in disbelief. "We weren't that churched but I'm sure my father felt close to the Lord while he was out there working the fields. And Grandpa Sayles lived a faith, too."

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Sayles had his ventures in business with The Accordion Shop in Austin, was involved and baptized into the United Methodist Church, was a member and past officer of the National Association of United Methodist Evangelists and was a member of the Austin Kiwanis Club and the American Federation of Musicians. He played, taught and repaired the instruments while being active in state and national, professional accordion teachers associations.

"How did God speak to you?" people have asked him.

In a clear, humble voice he talks about his wakeup calls, and that's exactly what they were. Three times, God chose to wake him up at about 2 a.m. At every one of those occasions, which came exactly six months apart, His voice uttered a different Scripture verse. The first time, Sayles found his wife wide awake as well. Luke 5:4, the voice had told him. He found his Bible, which he at that time was not too familiar with, and looked up the verse. In conclusion of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) to follow Him the verse reads, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men." (K.J.V.)

The second time, God named Colossians 3:16. In this verse, Paul encourages the Christians by saying, "Let the word of Christ dwell in your hearts -- teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (K.J.V.) Songs and hymns -- music -- a sure way to get Sayles attention and yet, he still didn't quite take it to heart.

At Sayles' third encounter with God, the words Matthew 6:24 were brought to mind. By then, he was getting used to those wee hour Scripture readings, so he immediately opened the Bible to check the message. The verse read, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (money)" (K.J.V.)

Sayles gave this a lot of thought and felt compelled to obey God. To alternately take his accordion on guest gospel appearances and travel with the Vikings dance band just didn't make sense. This was clearly what God had pointed out to him. Believing that it would mean less time on the road, more time home with the family, Sayles left the Vikings band.

Chuckling softly, he said, "I thought that quitting the Vikings would cut down on my trips, but now we have been busier than ever, and loved every minute of it!"

Wilbur Sayles Lay Music Missions was incorporated under the laws of Minnesota in 1971, and has been active until now. When the daughters Sharon and Beverly were small, their mother stayed behind while their father went on his Lay Mission tours, but in later years she made quite a few trips with them, including at least three to Israel.

Since the time of decision and action to take that big leap by faith, Sayles has experienced the miracles of many lives being changed through this movement called Sayles Lay Music Mission, Inc.

"Lay music mission" entails a lot more than putting on a hymn singing program now and then. In a service, Wilbur Sayles would lead and accompany congregational singing, bring special musical numbers including hymn stories and intersperse spoken words and witness. He would also select scripture appropriate to his meditation and bring a meditation or witness, followed by a call to commitment.

Many invitations came in for Wilbur Sayles Lay Music Missions, and through the years, they have traveled all over the United States and also to Canada, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.

They could barely handle all the calls, but somehow, the Lord always came through. The only requirements they had of their hosts was provision for room and board during their stay, and a freewill offering to help cover costs; making ends meet was never a problem.

"When you hear God’s voice speaking to you, and you listen carefully, He will lead you in the right direction," Sayles said. "He will provide you with everything you need. But you have to trust Him and believe, as you pray, that he will answer."

When asked if God has been good to him, Wilbur Sayles tilted his head a bit, smiled and said with conviction, "I would certainly not wanna change a thing!"

Looking around the nearly empty shop, he said in a bittersweet voice, "We'll still find something to do."

Nini Johnson can be reached by e-mail at