Unlike the sex, drugs and rock & roll mantra that characterizes the bulk of the mainstream music scene, Christian artists have always pursued their art with a decidedly left-of-center goal—to make a difference in the world for the Kingdom.
Of course, making a difference looks a little different for everyone involved. For some, it’s playing redemption songs in smoky bars in front of a standing-room-only crowd. For others, it’s headlining a summer music festival for a crowd of rowdy teens on their annual youth group trip.
And lately, there’s an ever-increasing movement of artists who’ve taken stock of the world beyond the familiar highways and byways of America. They speak on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised in Africa, India and beyond, an experience that continues to breathe new life into their respective ministries.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN?
As glamorous as life on the road may seem to someone who doesn’t spend the majority of his/her time on a tour bus, it’s far from easy. There’s only so much fast food and games of Guitar Hero someone can really enjoy before wondering what the point is. And when a band has traveled as much as Jars of Clay has in its decade-plus career, there has to be a greater purpose beyond playing music.
“The stakes always felt high,” says Jars guitarist Stephen Mason. “We reached a critical point where we really had to ask ourselves what the trade-off was for traveling and performing, considering we were leaving our communities and families back home.”
As the band began examining these deeper questions, several of the guys’ mentors and friends began talking to them about global issues—AIDS, poverty, persecution—and the Church’s role in serving those who don’t have a voice. In 2002, the band’s first trip to Africa followed and finally, “our faith had a focus,” according to Mason.
“Something just clicked when we went to Africa,” he shares. “This was true worship as Isaiah and James explain so well, not just offering sacrifices, but caring for widows and orphans.”
As a result of the band’s new focus, Mason says, “Everything was more urgent— fatherhood, songwriting, touring and this conversation we’d stepped into where faith meets a broken and messy world full of God’s people.”
But unlike those summer camp experiences where something potentially lifechanging happens and eventually fades once someone’s back in the real world, staying on the sidelines wasn’t an option for Mason & Co.
Instead, the band started its successful Blood:Water Mission (bloodwatermission.org) with hope that Africans would have clean blood, free from HIV, and clean water, free of bacteria and parasites.
Most recently, the band’s main focus has been on the 1,000 Wells Project, which helps provide the water Africans need to build healthier communities. Just $1 provides a year’s worth of clean water for an African; more than 300 wells have been constructed to date.
“We have great partners on the ground that work closely with the villages in need of a well,” Mason shares. “To be there and watch a well have an impact on the life and health in a village is one of the greatest thrills of my life. We try to get to Africa once a year. We’ve found it’s important for us to be reminded of the urgency and the joy.”
THE FIGHT OF HER LIFE
Natalie Grant is the first to admit “it was so out of my comfort zone to become a total activist type.” But when an episode of “Law and Order” spurred her to action, there was no turning back. Before she knew it, she was on a plane to India.
“When I learned that the most innocent among us—little children as young as 5 or 6—are being forced to prostitute themselves 20-30 times a day, I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing.”
Now, through the efforts of Grant’s organization The Home Foundation (thehomefoundation.net), significant progress is being made in the fight against human trafficking. “Recently, we helped complete two orphanages—one in Mumbai and one in Bangladesh,” Grant says. “We’ve also helped finish curriculum that will train churches and workers in America how to fight this global problem. And this summer we will be sending our first three college interns to work with Bombay Teen Challenge in India. It’s a 10-week internship where they learn what it means to be on the front lines of this fight.”
Eventually, Grant hopes 25 college students will join her in dedicating their lives to the cause because “we will change the world that much faster.” In the meantime, she’s continuing to educate anyone who’ll listen about an epidemic that’s growing even more prevalent in the United States.
“Thousands and thousands of underage girls were given fraudulent papers and granted access into this country last year, forced into prostitution,” Grant shares. “One mile from my front door in Nashville, a brothel was uncovered that had 12 girls under the age of 15. Now, local coalitions are being set up all across America where victims will have advocacy groups they can contact and shelters they can take refuge in.”
THERE’S A GIRL IN A ROOM…
Much like Grant’s songs from her past two albums, singer/songwriter Sara Groves’ music has definitely been informed by her advocacy. In fact, the majority of her songs from her recent effort, Tell Me What You Know (INO), were inspired by her work with International Justice Mission (internationaljusticemission.com) and serve as a creative medium to tell stories of hope in seemingly hopeless situations.
“The work of IJM has inspired me beyond words,” Groves says. “These friends go into places where courage is required, against all odds, because it’s the right thing to do.”
One story in particular, the plight of a human trafficking survivor named Elizabeth, still inspires her because of the girl’s stalwart faith under the worst of circumstances. “Her faith-filled testimony stood in stark contrast to my life as a spiritual consumer,” Groves offers. “Now she’s 23, a college graduate and translator and an incredible reason for continuing this rescue work.”
When Groves isn’t speaking about IJM, she’s helping raise support. She recently organized a banquet in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area where she lives and is also working with Charlie Peacock to produce a concert “experience” that will include other artists and visual arts presentations to “communicate the hope of what God is doing through His people.
“To me, this is the Good News coming to life,” Groves shares. “We hope to develop something creative and inspiring that you have to experience to understand.”
THEY SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION
It’s been said again and again that “worship is a lifestyle.” It’s not simply raising your hands while singing a Chris Tomlin song at a Sunday morning worship service. Point taken.
But Hillsong UNITED’s Joel Houston wanted to explore that idea a step further in light of social justice. “We must live out a worship life that goes beyond the confession of our lips,” Houston says. “It will work when we as the Church take up the call to act on the opportunities we all have every day to love our neighbors—near and far. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you have. There are no excuses.”
While most Christians would agree wholeheartedly, it’s not always easy to know how to get started. So Houston, along with the rest of Hillsong UNITED, decided to act. The result, TheIHeartRevolution: With Hearts As One (Hillsong/Integrity), a CD that focuses on compassion and social justice, releases this month. A companion DVD will follow in June. Houston is also developing an online community as a portal for education about social justice issues, part of the vision for TheIHeartRevolution.
“We want to direct people on ways to help by inspiring them with stories,” Houston says. “It’ll also be a place to share our experiences and challenges. But ultimately, it’s about people taking up the challenge to live their lives for others rather than themselves.”
A PLACE CALLED HOPE
Spend a little time with Steven Curtis Chapman, and it’s impossible not to talk about his family, which includes three beautiful little girls (8-year-old Shaohannah, 5-year-old Stevie Joy and 4-year-old Maria) that he and his wife, Mary Beth, adopted from China.
And thanks to his story and the work of his foundation, Shaohannah’s Hope (shaohannahshope.org), Chapman gets to hear other people’s stories on a nightly basis when he hits the road.
“It’s remarkable how God has used our story to inspire others,” Chapman shares. “Through the efforts of so many generous people, they get to show hope to the orphans of the world, which is really the heart of God.”
According to Chapman, every 18 seconds a child becomes an orphan, an alarming statistic that inspired him to act, not only by adopting himself, but by helping others who want to follow suit. Through Shaohannah’s Hope and the recent “Change for Orphans” campaign on Chapman’s current “Live in This Moment Tour,” more than $300,000 has been raised on the tour’s fall and spring legs combined.
“‘Change for Orphans’ really underscored the message of my album—what can we do now?” Chapman says. “There’s an exciting movement that’s happening, and we want to help as many people as we can to experience the joy that we have through adoption.”
C’MON, IT’S URGENT!
Also following suit in an effort to merge a heart for worship with social justice, this month’s release of Change the World (Munizzi Music) from Martha Munizzi has a humanitarian focus. In addition, Munizzi is partnering with several organizations in conjunction with the project; the proceeds will benefit a plethora of struggles in India. One group Munizzi is working with, Humanity (humanityforall.com), links art and worthy causes, allowing all who participate tangible opportunities to make a difference.
For a multi-faceted artist like tobyMac, it’s racism that gets him all fired up. So he started E.R.A.C.E. (erace.com), an organization that provides education about racial reconciliation and fair trade.
For the members of Caedmon’s Call, their work through the Dalit Freedom Network (dalitnetwork.org) has forever changed the course of its ministry. Just ask them, and you’ll be amazed. And for Delirious’ Martin Smith, the recent Compassionart retreat (compassionart.co.uk) was the realization of a seemingly impossible dream that was a year-and-a-half in the making. Not only did everyone from Michael W. Smith to Israel Houghton to Matt Redman join together to write worship songs in Scotland to benefit the poorest of the poor, but 100 percent of the proceeds from future album sales, etc. will be transferred to the social causes of their choice— certainly a crazy notion that happened to work through God’s intervention.
While social justice may seem like a job that ordinary people like you and me don’t have enough of a platform for to be successful, Caedmon’s Call member and solo artist Derek Webb is quick to refute that. “There’s a lot of confusion, especially among believers, about what it means to follow Jesus,” Webb shares. “For better or worse we, the body and followers of Jesus, are in constant dialogue with culture, often as much in what we’re not saying and doing…if for no other reason (of which there are plenty), this is why we must listen to the words of Jesus telling us that of all the commandments, the greatest are to love God and our neighbor.”
AS THE FIGHT AGAINST INJUSTICE CONTINUES, HERE ARE A FEW OTHER ARTISTS LEADING THE CHARGE…
FIREFLIGHT: Legacy of Hope International (lohintl.org) — Started by bassist Wendy Drennen’s brother Wesley Thomas, this nonprofit organization is committed to restoring the physical, mental and emotional needs of children at risk in Cambodia.
MICHAEL W. SMITH, THIRD DAY AND COUNTLESS OTHERS: The One Campaign (theonecampaign.org) — The ONE Campaign seeks to raise public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, disease and efforts to fight such problems in developing countries.
CASTING CROWNS, THIRD DAY, STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN AND COUNTLESS OTHERS: World Vision (worldvision.com) — World Vision pursues justice for the poor through advocacy with leaders of government and international institutions to address the underlying causes of poverty and alleviate suffering.
THIRD DAY, SWITCHFOOT: Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org) — Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit Christian housing initiative that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.
BRANDON HEATH: Restore Hope (restoreinternational.org) — Restore International is dedicated to ending the injustice facing children, especially for those involved in slavery through sex trafficking.
GREY HOLIDAY: Mocha Club (mochaclub.org) — Proving that it doesn’t take a lot of money to make a big difference, for the cost of two mochas from Starbucks (around $7) per month, you can make a big difference in the lives of Africans.
MICHAEL W. SMITH, BEBO NORMAN, JEREMY CAMP AND COUNTLESS OTHERS: Compassion International (compassioninternational.com) — Compassion International helps provide the basic needs of children—and their families— around the world through child sponsorship.
Christa A. Banister is a freelance writer, author and blogger in St. Paul, Minn. Her first novel, Around the World in 80 Dates: Confessions of a Christian Serial Dater (NavPress)