Changing the World in 2014: People and Ministries Making a Difference
There are people who think about changing the world and then there are people who put their thoughts and dreams into action. With success and celebrity comes a platform to initiate change and the opportunity to motivate fans to donate their time and resources in support of worthy causes. Needless to say, there are a variety of organizations that need assistance, both physical and financial, and some of the top names in the music industry are mobilizing their fans to help change the world in 2014. From Steven Curtis Chapman’s ongoing efforts for orphans through Show Hope to country star Josh Turner’s foundation that provides scholarships for music education to the band VOTA’s efforts to fight human trafficking on the border of Nepal and India, there are people working hard to make the world a better place.
Ending world hunger is an overwhelming challenge, but with Hymns for the Hungry Cindy Morgan and Andrew Greer are using their musical gifts to help local communities meet the needs of those closest to them. “It began out of a desire to be involved in something beyond a purely music driven tour,” Morgan tells UP. “Andrew and I wanted to combine a love for something foundational to the faith, hymns, with a greater purpose, hunger. We have seen hymns break down barriers among people of different ages, religion, and social and financial backgrounds. Partnering with different relief organizations has brought the opportunity to connect with people in local communities who are in need.”
“We started in the fall of 2012 and continued in the spring of 2013,” adds Greer. “Then we just continued to have more incoming calls and emails and people interested so we decided to make it an ongoing thing that would always be incorporated to our careers.”
Morgan and Greer enlist the help of the promoter in each city and partner with local relief agencies. The food, coats and money donated in every town remains in that community. In addition to raising money and supplies, they also help raise awareness of the needs in each community and how people can help their local agencies. “We also have opportunities during the show where I call the director of the organization or a volunteer to the stage and do a three or four minute Q&A with them,” Greer explains. “I say, ‘Here are the folks that live in your neighborhood. Here they are right in front of you listening and sometimes they just need more than money. They need volunteers. They need time.’ The whole night is focused on the local community. We also partner with Food For the Hungry in Nicaragua and raise child sponsorships through the night on top of the local relief efforts, but the local relief efforts are the focus. It’s neighborhoods, the local folks and their relationships with each other, that really perpetuate the change that has this rippling effect all over the world.”
Morgan and Greer encourage others to become involved. “Be aware of what’s going on in your own community,” Morgan encourages. “Find out if there is a local food pantry or soup kitchen. See what their greatest need is. Get involved, volunteer to help stock shelves or make donation boxes. Take your kids to volunteer. My two daughters and I volunteer several times a year at our local food pantry and we love doing it. I think it’s easy to feel awkward around folks who are in need, but it shouldn’t be that way. We are all poor in one way or another. Ironically enough, some of the poorest people I know are the richest in kindness and faith. Just opening our eyes is half the battle.”
Morgan grew up in a poverty-stricken area of East Tennessee and recalls her father delivering food baskets to the needy. That memory is one of the reasons she wanted to launch Hymns for Hunger. Personal experience is often a driving factor in artists launching and/or working with a particular ministry or foundation. Music has always been an integral part of country superstar Josh Turner’s life and it’s a blessing he wants to share with others. Thus he and his wife Jennifer started the Josh Turner Scholarship Fund in 2005. “I didn’t have any music opportunities in high school,” he says of growing up in Hannah, SC. “I saw a need and I wanted to meet it. I know that there’s other students out there in a rural setting that may have a dream or passion for music or art and they want to do something with that in their life and sometimes all they need is a little financial assistance. That’s what this scholarship fund is for. The first three or four recipients actually came from my old high school which was great to see.”
Sometimes tragedy spurs people to launch a new ministry.Veteran country artist Collin Raye founded The Haley Bell Blessed Chair Foundation in memory of his granddaughter Haley, who died in April 2010 after a life-long battle with an undiagnosed neurological illness. She was only 10-years-old and Raye chronicles the heartbreaking loss in his new book, “A Voice Undefeated.” Raye’s family was able to take Haley places in a special wheelchair, but many families can’t afford chairs for their children and insurance often doesn’t cover the cost. “We raise money to supply these chairs to those families because without them, those children and those families have no mobility,” Raye tells UP. “That chair was Haley’s mobility. Without it, she would have had to stay in bed all the time, so it’s a huge thing to those families and it allows us to get to meet so many of them. It’s hard to see those kids, but it’s also a joy. They are perfect people. The goodness that comes out of those kids will change your life forever, and I think no other time in your life are you closer to God than when you are with one of those children.”
American Idol alum Danny Gokey also launched a wonderful foundation in the wake of a devastating loss. The Sophia’s Heart Foundation was inspired by Gokey’s wife Sophia, who died unexpectedly after what should have been a routine heart surgery. The couple had been high school sweethearts and Danny was devastated. Prior to Sophia’s death he had promised her he would audition for American Idol. Just a month after she passed, he kept that promise and he placed third on season eight. To keep Sophia’s legacy alive and honor her desire to make a difference in the lives of children, Gokey launched Sophia’s Heart.
The foundation operates a building in Nashville that helps homeless families. Though most shelters are either equipped to house men or women and children, Sophia’s Heart is a place that keeps homeless families together and helps them get back on their feet. “They go there for six or seven months to a year, depending on their needs,” says Gokey, who is now remarried and has a 14-month-old son. “In 2012 we took 25 families off the street. When a family comes in, they get their own room with a bathroom. I always tell people what’s worse than going homeless is going homeless and then being split up from your family. We have a solution to put the whole entire family back together. We provide help and education for mom and dad and programs to further their skills. At Sophia’s Heart we’re not just providing food and shelter, we’re providing programs that help their future.”
Sophia’s Heart is housed in a large building in Nashville that was donated to the foundation. Gokey works closely with the staff and says he’s hoping to expand and be able to take in 300 families a year. “Originally when I started Sophia’s Heart it was birthed out of a place of brokenness and trying to keep my first wife’s legacy alive,” says Gokey, who recently released his autobiography, “Hope in Front of Me” and is working on an album that will carry the same title. “When I said, ‘Until death do us part’ to Sophia, I didn’t think it would happen four years later, so it really was from a deep wound in my soul that I started Sophia’s Heart. I always had a passion to help people; that was always there and so did she. I’m always working on Sophia’s Heart.”
For the people that launch a ministry, there’s nothing more gratifying than seeing it grow and be able to assist more people every year. It’s been 11 years since Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth founded Show Hope with the goal of financially assisting parents who wanted to adopt but couldn’t afford to do so. Since then more than 4,000 families have been given adoption grants meaning than over 4,000 children now have been placed in their forever homes. Steven and Mary Beth adopted three little girls from China starting in 2000 when they brought home their daughter Shaohannah Hope. Wanting to help other families who were looking to adopt, they launched the organization which was originally called Shaohannah’s Hope, and is now called Show Hope.
Over the years the organization has grown to include other facets, including the Empowered to Connect conferences that help parents who want to adopt and The Red Bus Project, which travels to campuses to increase awareness of orphans and how students can help. They have also founded Maria’s Big House of Hope and three other special centers in China where they care for special needs orphans. To date, they’ve medically cared for over a thousand orphans at their centers. Maria’s big house was named in honor of the Chapman’s youngest daughter Maria Sue, who died in 2008.
“It is an amazing place that captures everything that Maria’s name means to us,” Steven says. “It was a little orphan that came and for a short period of time marked our life’s and changed our lives. She showed us better the face and the heart of our God and then left us with this longing and aching for heaven. Maria’s Big House of Hope is this amazing beautiful place. It is full of broken little people who are the least of the least of the least of the orphans. Love is being poured into them there.”
Another Christian music artist who has a heart for impacting people on the far side of the world is Bryan Olesen, lead vocalist of VOTA. For over a year, he and his band have been working to raise funds and awareness to fight human trafficking between Nepal and India. The band offered fans a free copy of the latest album in return for donating to the “Love Found Me” campaign. In partnership with Tiny Hands International, the “Love Found Me” campaign surpassed its initial goal of raising $150,000 to fund five monitoring stations on the border of Nepal and India for five years. “It gives us an opportunity to do something great with our album,” says Olesen. “We thought, ‘What can we do with this record that would advance God’s kingdom and do something good and bring awareness to a great need?’”
They met with people from Tiny Hands International and decided to partner with them. “We knew about Tiny Hands International the work that they’ve done in Nepal,” says Olesen. “I sat down with the directors and they shared about a specific situation where traffickers were targeting poor families and taking their daughters and young children across the border and selling them to brothels. I thought we can rally our fans to support efforts to fight this.”
Olesen acknowledges the problem is huge, but every little bit helps change lives. “The number of girls being trafficked across the border is about 15,000 per year and even though our campaign is successful and we’ve met our goal, it is estimated that we will help stop about 3,000. It’s barely putting a dent in the problems of just this one area,” he says, “but you can easily look at any situation and let it overwhelm you and then you do nothing. You have to rise above that.”
Olesen encourages others to make a difference where they can and follow God’s tug on their hearts. “I feel God is calling us to this. I believe God is in it,” he says. “Even with that, the first month when we jumped into the campaign, we told everybody in the world that we knew. We Facebooked. We emailed. We called friends. We did all the work we could and we raised about $10,000-$12,000 which is respectable, but I remember the feeling at the end of that month, ‘Oh no, we barely scratched the surface of the goal that we set, and I don’t know what we’re going to do from here’ and God just showed up, cool and unexpected. God didn’t give it to us all at once. There was a faith journey. [We were] kind of feeling downhearted, but then something amazing happened. That’s just a part of the journey in life is having the faith, and if God stirs a vision in your heart, follow it. What was cool to see is we had some fans who made scarves. These girls would call and say, ‘Hey, I want to do with scarves with what you guys do with your album,’ and that’s exactly what I loved hearing, that people began looking at their gifts and talents and seeing how they can make an impact for the Kingdom.”
Olesen has plans to travel to Nepal in October and one lucky fan will have the opportunity to go with them. “I’m sure it’s going to be humbling because we haven’t seen the devastation first hand, but it’s also going to be really cool to visit one of these border stations,” he says. “I’m going to take videos and photos and we’re going to make a small documentary. I’m sending that back to everybody who supported this campaign just to reaffirm that ‘Hey, we did this! I wouldn’t be here in Nepal right now if you guys didn’t download an album or chip in $5 or $10. We did this together.’”