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Whitney Houston was "a trumpet to the world" who was "not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ," says a veteran musician who played in the late superstar singer's band and led Bible studies with Houston while on tour.

Jetro Da Silva

Jetro Da Silva

Jetro Da Silva, a professor at Berklee College of Music, first met Houston in 1999 while rehearsing with her band. Da Silva, who mostly played keyboards while touring with Houston, says it wasn't long before Houston approached him and said, "You will pray before all the concerts in this tour." Da Silva says that was "the beginning of my journey as intercessor, friend, and keyboardist for Ms. Houston."

Houston died last month in Beverly Hills; the cause has yet to be determined. Da Silva—who has also worked with Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Gladys Knight, Mary Mary, Bonnie Raitt, and many more—says he was stunned by the news of Houston's, and the reality didn't set in until he saw her casket at her funeral a couple weeks ago in New Jersey.

In an exclusive interview with Christianity Today, Da Silva discussed his 12-year friendship with Houston, whom he also called "Nippy," as did many of her family and close friends. He describes the diva as a woman of prayer who "knew the Lord on a personal level" and was always "growing and learning." But he also acknowledges Houston's battles with alcohol and drugs, noting that those struggles helped her to "know and understand grace and mercy on a deeper level."

First, tell me a bit about your own spiritual background.

I'm from a Christian family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At 12, I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and was baptized. Prayer has always played a great role in my life. I also have a Master of Arts in Theological Study from Andover Newton, and a Diploma in Anglican Studies from General Theological Seminary. I am now a PhD candidate at Liverpool Hope University. The training I have received and am still receiving has equipped me to see today's challenges with a critical theological eye and as an opportunity for creative solutions. And as a teacher at Berklee, working with Christian and non-Christian students, I have the opportunity to exercise the pastoral calling that was entrusted in me by God and the church. And as a professional musician, I have the opportunity to serve people that would not go to a parish or a church.

What did you think of Whitney Houston before you met her?

I saw her as spiritual, anointed, beautiful, talented, and blessed with a beautiful voice. To me, she was not just a singer. I dare to say that she was a trumpet to the world. Her mission on this planet was bigger than just have a unique voice.

What was she like when you met her in 1999?

She was a loyal wife who was doing her best to please her husband and take a great care of her daughter, even with the challenges of having the fulfill her professional obligations and demands. She included her family in everything.

Da Silva (right) sometimes accompanied Houston on the guitar

Da Silva (right) sometimes accompanied Houston on the guitar

You led Bible studies during her 1999 world tour?

Yes. It was an honor and a humbling experience. During the six-month period, we met every week, usually in a room in the hotels. Ms. Houston joined many of the meetings and shared her personal testimonies. We covered topics like "The Love of Jesus" and "Women in the Genealogy of Jesus." Our discussions would sometimes last 2-3 hours.

How did Whitney grow in the 13 years you knew her?

She grew in her desire and hunger for God. There were people in her life who played a great role in that, including Patrice Houston, the wife of Gary Houston, Whitney's elder brother. Pat is a God-fearing woman and a prayer warrior. When she came on board as Whitney's personal manager, she would not make a decision without prayer. She and others covered Whitney with prayers.

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Q & A: The Man Who Led Bible Studies with Whitney Houston