Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Three Questions with Shaun Groves

Yesterday on his blog, Shaun Groves offered an exciting opportunity to bloggers and everyday folks like me: "To spread the word about the music and message of Third World Symphony I'm offering any blogger a limited interview opportunity.  Three questions.  About anything you want, but only three questions."

Game on. 
If you've never heard of Shaun Groves, or if you only know him as that-tall-musician-guy-who-wrote-that-Twilight-song-back-in-the-day, then it's my pleasure to introduce him to you now!  He is a talented singer/songwriter, as well as a speaker, writer, and Compassion International blogger, among other things.  You can read his story here to get a fuller picture of who he is and what he's about, and then check out his answers to my questions below.  What he's saying is important, thought-provoking, and challenging, so take a while to mull it over (and then preview and consider ordering his newest album, which is infused with some of the themes of this interview).  There's a lot more to chew on today than I'll ever be able to provide in my own blogging, so… enjoy!

Me: What are the 2-3 most important things that we (middle-class US citizens) could learn from Compassion children and their families?

Shaun: What  great question. Thankful for the humility behind this question. I wish I'd learned earlier in life how much those we aim to help can really help us.
Let's see. The three most important lessons...

For me personally I'd say gratitude, joy, and gospel. That's what Compassion children and their families have taught me about most. If everything is a gift from God, manna and quail in the wilderness, used by God to guide us to God, then God is paying a lot of attention- my life is full of His gifts. That first breath in the morning. Daily bread. A body and mind that work as well as any other thirty-seven year-old's. Air conditioning. And to hear a mother with less than all this- in twenty-four square feet, with a sick child, with no work, ninety-eight degrees inside and outside- to hear her thank God for just Jesus is convicting and inspiring all at once. So, gratitude is the first lesson- that if I have Jesus I am rich, blessed, and have reason to give thanks.

And second, is joy. We could parse Greek on this but how boring for a word like joy! Call it security based on dependence upon God or call it spiritual happiness- I don't care. I just know it when I see it. And I see it in mothers walking miles to gather in a church to learn how to make formula for their babies, laughing together in a circle on the floor, dancing with their babies and singing songs to God at the close of the meeting. I see it in an eleven year-old in Kolkata, India who sang Lord I LIft Your Name On High while walking through an open-air brothel- a firefly in the darkest darkness. There is joy that comes from God only, from trust and dependence, from seeing each meal as evidence of His presence and love. Joy in all things because Christ is with us in all things.

Lastly, gospel. In America we mostly preach a gospel that is Christ crucified, buried and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins and defeat of death. I affirm that. But it is only half the gospel. If this is all the gospel then the poor can only wait for death to come- this is their hope, their only relief. But Jesus preached a gospel that he declared was "Good News to the poor." Elsewhere he said it was "God's will on earth as it is in heaven." Why is this gospel good for the poor? Well, Jesus said it would bring sight to the blind, freedom to captives, release to those oppressed. The pastors of the poor preach this- they call it "the kingdom of God" because, well, that's what Jesus called it. Jesus, through His people and by the power of the Spirit, can reign and rule now, defeating not only sin and death someday but this day. This is why I heard a pastor in Ethiopia pray for justice, food, good rain, jobs and on and on. Because He believes God cares about these physical temporal needs and not just the spiritual and eternal ones. 

Me: Have you ever felt a desire to move to one of the developing nations you've visited with Compassion, and if so (or if not) what has led you to stay here in the states

Shaun: Another great question! Yes. The first trip I took with Compassion International was to El Salvador back in 2005. And I wanted to move there. We've even talked over the years of splitting our time between Nashville and San Salvador- living here most of the year but spending summers there.

We've decided not to do this for a couple reasons. First, not everyone should go overseas- especially to nations where the church is strong and growing. Missiologists generally agree that the most effective and longstanding ministry is done by indigenous people- Salvadorans ministering to Salvadorans. And there are plenty of Christians in most of the nation to successfully spread the gospel in this way. What we looked at doing was serving these believers in some way behind the scenes that would make their ministry possible. We're still pondering this and maybe someday we'll move.

The main reason we have not gone yet though is because of Compassion International. Their ministry- through local churches- is extremely effective, the gold standard in holistic child development. As I've sought advise from friends at Compassion they've continually asserted that I'm more help to them by being one of their voices to the churches in the first world than I'd be doing anything else in the third world...at the moment. But that could change. And I'm ready if it does.

Me: What advice would you give to 20-somethings who want to use their lives to help build the kingdom?  

Shaun: A couple things come to mind. First, start with what you have where you are. I've met college students who ask me what they should do on the mission field when they graduate. And I always ask them what they're doing on their mission field at college right now. Most college towns have a rundown neighborhood, a homeless shelter, a family assistance center, a poorer school, a nursing home. Most campuses have students in abusive relationships, tangled up in addiction, non-Christians, new Christians in need of mentoring, depression, doubt, anxiety. There's plenty to be done with what you have right where you are. And neglecting to do what you can with what you have right now- I feel terrible saying this- makes me wonder about your motives for wanting to be a missionary someday. We love because we've been loved. Because Jesus is in us loving through us. If we've motivated by a loving Jesus inside us, then why not start now.

Second thing that came to mind is to think. It's cool to care right now. What's happening now with today's college students was predicted by sociologists many years ago. This generation was predicted to be "civic" and they are. Activism is in. But thinking before and during acting is much more rare. My fear is that this generation will do a lot of stuff to help a lot of people and then, someday, look back and see that they didn't make the difference they thought they would and get as cynical and apathetic as the last civic generation- the Baby Boomers- did. What a missed opportunity that would be! So I applaud your love, your passion. I admire your creativity and energy. But I beg you to think. Don't buy a RED t-shirt before researching how much of that price tag goes to help people. Don't go on a construction mission trip without asking if the work you're doing is taking work from locals. Don't do and give without first thinking. A great place to begin is reading When Helping Hurts by Brian Fickert. Great thoughts on compassionate living that does the most good and no harm.
Thanks so much, Shaun, for sharing your thoughts with us, and thank you especially for letting God use you in a big way.  Lives are being changed.
And one last reminder to readers: be sure to check out a preview of Shaun's newest album, Third World Symphony, which you can order here.  

Monday, July 4, 2011


Today is a day that commemorates the United States’ independence and celebrates its commitment to freedom.  I am humbled and grateful for the privilege of living here... truly, truly thankful.  With everything and everyone so focused on our political freedom, though, I’m reminded of the many other ways that we and our brothers and sisters around the world can still be enslaved.  I’m haunted by the chains that threaten to bind us and them again and again--some a result of our own decisions and choices, some a result of circumstances that are no fault of our own.  Injustice, poverty, depression, bitterness, addiction, withheld forgiveness, past regrets, oppression, pride... so, so many chains.  

I was thinking of these chains when I remembered a similar internal conversation I had with myself a few years ago while working in a poor area outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I had been there for a couple of months helping with community development work, and I was feeling overwhelmed by the unspeakable physical need and the constant threat of gang violence I saw in the colonia where I was working...overwhelmed by the poverty and oppression that threatened to imprison the people who lived there.  Anyway, the conversation went something like this (excerpted from my journal... it’s a bit of a roundabout journey, inspired by a time of worship I’d had that day with my new Honduran friends, so bear with me): 
Portrait of joy sprung from 
despair in Villa Franca
“....God gave us an amazing blessing when he gave us the gift of music.  It’s such a wonderful gift, because whether you can sing or play an instrument or not, music has a way of touching souls and speaking to hearts in a way that not many other things can.  This morning I was reading about Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Acts 16.  After being stripped and beaten severely, they were bound and thrown into prison with hardened criminals.  And there, trapped in a dark, dank, gray, hopeless prison cell, they began ‘praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them’ (16:25).  In the midst of those disheartening, discouraging circumstances, with the eminent threat of death or, at the least, additional beatings, Paul and Silas found joy and peace in singing songs that declared the glory of their Lord.
My friend S____, in her awesomeness, sent me a letter today with some quotes from Shawshank Redemption (a movie that takes place in a prison... if you haven’t seen it, then stop reading right now--seriously, stop--and go watch it.  Amazing movie).  One character, Red, is remembering a day when another prisoner somehow managed to get his hands on an Italian record, which he played over the loudspeaker.  Red says, ‘I have no idea to this day what them two Italian ladies were singin’ about.  I like to think they were singin’ about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.  I tell you, those voices soared.  Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream.  It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away...and for the briefest of moments--every last man at Shawshank felt free.’
I imagine that’s what it was like when Paul and Silas were in prison, only the feeling lasted more than ‘the briefest of moments’ because they knew, and I think the other prisoners could sense, that their freedom was eternal. 
Friends in Villa Franca
I want the same thing for Villa Franca, and I felt a piece of it today while singing with my new friends. It’s not a literal prison, of course, but surely it must feel like it to live there sometimes...struggling to survive, living amidst gangs and constant violence, oppressed by poverty, trapped in a life in which there seems to be no rest.... The people of Villa Franca need the kind of music that can set them free forever.  They need a sweet melody to come and free them to dream.  That song is coming, and indeed, it’s already here, growing louder and stronger, piercing those  crumbling gray walls and echoing off the scrap-metal ceilings.  That song is moving through Villa Franca, bringing hope and helping hearts soar ‘higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream’....”
Freedom's rising, one changed
life at a time.  
Sitting here in a comfortable house on a beautiful Independence Day, Villa Franca seems words away.  But you know, I want the same thing today as I wanted then.  I want it for this city as much as I want it for Villa Franca.  And we *need* it just as much as Villa Franca.  Our chains may be different, but they’re there nonetheless--able to be bind, but able to be broken.  
I want the intensely beautiful melody of real, lasting freedom to pierce the walls of my heart, and I want to join in a song that grows louder and stronger until it is heard, felt, and experienced by this city, this region, this nation.  Let us thirst for real liberation.  Let us desire and pursue freedom that can’t be given or taken away by anything or anyone in this world.  Let us experience it, and let us share it.  
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” -Acts 16:25-26
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” -John 8:36

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yolk?" -Isaiah 58:6