Editor's Note: The Long Road to Heaven welcomes Christian musician Sara Groves. In addition to being an awesome acoustic pop musician, Sara Groves is involved in raising awareness for a number of social justice causes. In a recent phone interview with me at the Daily News, she shared her impetus for practicing what she preaches. (SEE BELOW TO WIN HER NEW CD.)
K.H. You bring awareness about a lot of things to your audience. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in raising awareness for the genocide memorials of Rwanda and the sex-trade survivors of Southeast Asia?
S.G. The starting point for me, I’ve always had people in my family — my grandparents have done a prison ministry for 40 years. I have different members of my family that are service oriented. But there is a part of social justice that we didn’t really engage in. I just was restless, I guess. I felt like I was grooming and grooming and grooming my faith, but I couldn’t figure out to what end that was, other than just selfishly to be a stronger, better person.
I felt like there was a piece missing. I started reading about International Justice Mission, and when I discovered — before I did music, I was a history teacher. When I discovered there was a real underground railroad at work today, I just couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t sleep at night. I was excited, almost, you konw, that this was possible.
I had just been learning about the problems with modern-day slavery. There are more slaves today than 400 years combined of Trans-Atlantic slave trade — many of those are women and children. A majority of those are women and children and many of them enslaved in the sex industry. The first few months, the conversation was about my ability to handle the conversation or not handle the conversation.
You hear about young girls being sold — really young sometimes — being sold for sex and it can be really overwhelming. It was just a process for me.
I remember, I had been reading out of IJM I went to Troy one day and he was watching football or something. I stood between him and the TV and said, “We’ve not been the Good Samaritan. We’ve come up with every reason to walk on the other side of the road.” There’s this great story that Jesus tells about how we are to respond to people in need. I said, “We’ve not been doing it.” We think these are all great reasons, but I said, “The next time we see someone hurt and one the side of the road, can we just run and go and be a first-responder. The next opportunity will you help me practice being a Good Samaritan?”
That was on Friday night, and then on Sunday Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I remember going to Troy and saying, “You need to go down there.”
He laughed at me and said, “What happened to you? This is your conviction?”
I said, “I don’t have anyone to cover the kids. It’s so busy right now. They say that it’s dangerous.”
Troy said, “You need to go. You’re the one who said two days ago you wanted to practice.”
We loaded up our tour bus with baby supplies and went down. It was just me practicing.
I remember the first — just a few month after that — I met Elizabeth who absolutely was a life-changing encounter. A young woman who was trafficked at 15, I got to hear her story, her testimony, in Washington, D.C. Not even three weeks after that, I was in Rwanda. I felt like God was trying to tell me something. My mouth was closed; my eyes were open. I was just learning.
So, once I felt a little bit equipped to be an advocate — I’d never considered myself an advocate — this was in ‘04. But again, I began practicing. I think the thing that really compelled me was Elizabeth’s story. If she can tell this story through great personal pain, I can advocate and stand with her as well.
K.H. Does it get depressing? How do you keep it from becoming depressing when you’re dealing with all of these stories of horrific events? How do you keep your faith honed instead of asking, ‘Why does God let this happen?’
S.G. I did go through that season several years ago. I went through a faith crisis, and a lot of it had to do with suffering of innocents — of innocent people. What’s interesting to me is the very thing that caused me to question God has been the very place where I found him. Elizabeth is an example.
Before I go into that, I was reading Gary Haugen — he’s the president of International Justice Misson — his book is called “Terrify No More.” He said in times of despair and the crushing of the innocent — he had worked under Desmond Tutu.
As a graduate of Harvard, he went to South Africa and was working. He witnessed, firsthand, the fall of apartheid. And then (he) worked for the justice department and was an investigator for Rwandan genocide and now works combatting human trafficking. He’s seen the worst that humanity has to offer. In that context, he writes, “In times of despair, I used to ask, ‘Where is God?’ But now he said my plea is changed I ceased to ask, ‘Where is God?’ and now I ask, ‘Where are God’s people?’
You can’t read the Bible -- if you are a follower of Christ -- you cannot read the Bible without the deep conviction that God has asked us to be involved in his work in the world, in his making light of all things and redemption. We’ve been invited to be part of that. The world is broken. It’s evident everywhere. But people can be part of change and redemption. That, to me, is the Good News, and that’s what I have been encouraged to find in every corner of the world.
I feel like there is this neat thing happening right now where people are waking up, and instead of just grooming their personal faith, which is what I was doing for years — just grooming and grooming and grooming my devotional life — God’s been asking me the question: “To what end have you done all those things?”
I think it’s at the heart of all of our favoirte movies.
Luke Skywalker is up against the Death Star. He gets in that tin can and he goes and flies, and we cheer for him not because we think he might win, but because of the bravery of it. To get in this tin can and go up against this big prevailing evil.
And Frodo, he just walks and we’re so moved. This is the heart of our favorite stories. It’s so dark, and yet, good prevails. That’s what I have seen and that’s what gives me great courage.
K.H. How did you go from being a history teacher to a musician?
S.G. That’s a really (laughs) I’ll try to nutshell it. The short story is: I had written music all my life. I started writing — my mom said I wrote my first song when I was four. It was always an outlet for me. My family are all educators. I didn’t think I’d ever do music for a living.I didn’ t think that real people did that. (laughs) So, I went into education because everyone in my family were all educators. I taught history and English for three years. My husband is the one who gave me the courage to make our first album in ‘97. One thing led to another and we’ve been traveling ever since.
K.H. If there was one thing you wanted to convey thorugh your music, what woudl that be?
S.G. Ten years ago, we wrote a mission statement that still holds true today. We believe every person has a next step with God. An atheist might wake up tomorrow and say, “Maybe I’m agnostic.” That 99-year-old woman who served in church all her life, God still has a purpose for her. She’s still God’s workmanship. She’s still God’s art. We are, with music, every album in a different way is asking the question, “What’s next?”
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WIN SARA'S New CD, "Tell Me What You Know," or Brandon Heath's latest CD, "What if We" by visiting my work blog and leaving a comment there (click through the error message if you receive one). I'll choose a winner next Thursday!