This article is one component of the cover package on "Songs of Justice, Missions of Mercy."
Sara Groves has long championed the virtues of child sponsorship and social justice, but it wasn't until a 2005 visit to Rwanda—with Rick Warren and a team from Saddleback Church—that she really started to get it.
"It was life changing," she said in an interview with Thought Quotient, in which she spoke of her former "self-congratulatory" attitude. "There is a huge difference between charity and justice. I was acting out of a heart of charity—'I am going to help Africa'—and God really broke my heart. God showed me there is a tremendous injustice."
But she was also captivated by a nation where, as she told Christianity Today, "hope and pain were so close together. The beauty and the hope were my undoing." At the end of the 2005 trip, Pastor Warren told the team, "Dream about how you could partner with Rwanda."
For Groves, that meant eventually connecting with Food for the Hungry (FH), asking the nonprofit relief ministry a simple question: What can I do to help your work? She and FH created a plan to sponsor an entire Rwandan community—the rural village of Gisanga, where FH was already providing education, job training, nutrition, and medical care. During her 2008 Art*Music*Justice concert tour, Groves recruited about 700 people (en route to her goal of 1,200) to sponsor children in Gisanga.
Earlier this year, CT joined Groves and a ministry team from FH on a return trip to Rwanda. One afternoon in Gisanga, the team visited the home of Ann Marie, a widow with five children ages 10 to 19. Their mud-brick dwelling, about 10 by 12 feet, had a thatched roof and a fire pit for cooking. The family slept on a straw mat on the dirt floor.
The team of 10, including Sara's husband, Troy, and their 8-year-old son, Kirby, crowded into the house to listen to Ann Marie's story of raising her family in a nation still struggling to get back on its feet 15 years after genocide.
"What room in our house is this size?" Groves asked her son.
"Our bathroom," Kirby replied.
Groves began weeping quietly. Later, she explained why. "As a mom, I can't imagine trying to raise my whole family in my bathroom." (She and Troy have three children.)
"It was a vivid lesson in justice," Groves said. "I thought, This is not acceptable. This is an injustice, and this is where we begin."
It was an injustice that Groves and the FH team were able to begin putting right, as they helped to build a home for Ann Marie, whose family moved in shortly after the team left. But it was only a start: Rwanda's population is growing faster than the rate of new housing, and 25,000 new homes are needed in urban areas every year.
Songs for The Journey
After her 2005 visit to Rwanda, Groves's passion for social justice was further stirred by Terrify No More, a first-hand account of Cambodia's sex trade from Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission (IJM). After finishing it, Groves told her husband, "We are not the Good Samaritan. We create a lot of good reasons to walk to the other side of the road. The next time our neighbor is hurt and down, let's practice responding."
After meeting Haugen, Groves began to speak widely about how his organization rescues children from human trafficking. She once told Haugen that she was ready to give up music, become a human rights lawyer, and join the IJM team. But Haugen told Groves to stick with her first calling.
"When the work of justice feels overwhelming, we don't need more words," Haugen said. "We need something that speaks to our souls, something that gives us access to the courage within us. Sara's music ministers in this way."
"Sara's songs tell God's story in a beautiful way," said Elizabeth Jones, former director of FH's artist relations program and leader of the 2009 Rwanda team. "Her songs invite listeners into God's ongoing story of justice."
Asked if she ever feels overwhelmed by the scope of the world's poverty, Groves said, "Sometimes I do. But I've committed to walk into seemingly impossible situations. I've seen a lot of people doing that with joy, and I've seen their loaves and fishes turn into miracles and abundance.
"Creativity begets creativity, compassion begets compassion," she said. "We are all called to be people of justice and mercy. It's my job to write songs for the journey."
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
As part of the cover package on "Songs of Justice, Missions of Mercy," Christianity Today also posted the following articles:
Jars of Clay: Clean Water, Clean Blood
Steven Curtis Chapman: Beauty Will Rise
Derek Webb: A Different Kind of Neighbor
Third Day: Diversification Is the Key
Previous articles on Sara Groves include:
Singing Amid Suffering | Sara Groves uses tragedy to explore God's love. (February 27, 2008)
Running to Justice | Sara Groves' new album reflects the personal stories of pain and suffering she's heard 'round the world—and her desire to do something about it … right now. (November 12, 2007)
Adding to the Beauty | After emerging from a period of wrestling with her faith and fears, Sara Groves is now trying to enhance and expand God's kingdom through service and the pursuit of social justice. (October 31, 2005)
More information about Sara Groves, Food for the Hungry, and International Justice Mission can be found on their respective websites.
Christianity Today covers more musical groups through reviews and news stories.
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