Inspired by God, the “Toe-Picking Guitarist” Humbly Inspires Others

BRIDGEPORT—Tony Melendez takes to heart St. Francis’ missive of “Preach the Gospel always—and sometimes use words.” Though this accomplished musician does use his words to sing the Lord’s praises, it is with his toes that he seems to profess them the loudest, as he plays the guitar with only his feet, living out a story that has inspired so many.
As the musical guest at the Diocesan Ministry Day, Melendez said that we must recognize God’s presence in everything we do, which is how he and his wife Lynn live their lives in the Diocese of Cape Giradeau, Missouri. “Ministry is a part of our hearts,” he shared with me. “Though we are separate sometimes, we are all God’s people.”
Melendez lives out that belief not just as a liturgical singer but as a motivational speaker, having addressed groups of people from over a dozen different religions. “We are all united by love, joy, and excitement for the Lord. A common following keeps us connected,” he said, that contagious smile never leaving his face.
Taking a break between Mass and the start of workshops, Melendez packed up his guitar—using only his feet—and relaxed for a few moments, considering his own ministry and the plan he feels God always had in store for him. Being kissed by Pope John Paul II in 1987, he told me, changed his life and allowed him to “fall in love with Christ.”
“You know, I’m just a guy with no arms,” said Melendez, born with complications from the drug thalidomide. “I’m really not supposed to be doing this. God finds our talents and makes them real. He is behind it all. I just make the music and hope it can touch hearts.”
From the response at Mass and throughout his interactions with those attending the Diocesan Ministry Day, it is clear that his music—and his words—have done just that.
By Emily Clark