Rebecca St. James
Music, Mentoring, and Miracles in Rwanda
Award winners donít usually quote Scripture during acceptance
speeches, but thereís nothing usual about Rebecca St. James. Born in
Sydney, Australia, the eldest of seven, Rebecca got her first taste of
Christian music from her dad, a Christian concert promoter. At 13 she
performed at the invitation of Christian music star Carman on his
Australian tour, then moved to the U.S. and began recording at age 16.
Her aim in life was not Grammy Awards, but to live for Jesus. Mark
Moring of Campus Life calls
her music ďhip and
innovativeĒ but believes ďitís her underlying commitment to
Christ and her unabashed proclamation of Godís love that primarily
attract the listener.Ē That commitment sees her performing on stage
at Franklin Graham Crusades, volunteering behind the counter at a
student coffeehouse, or climbing down past manhole covers to share the
Gospel with homeless children in Romania. Sheís been called the most
influential woman in Christian music and her voice is being heard by
teens and their parents who pack out her 200 concerts a year. ďLive
radically for God,Ē she tells them. ďRead the Bible. Pray. Stand
up for what you believe in and make a difference in your world.Ē We
caught up with Rebecca in Nashville where she talked about
accountability, missions, and an old mentor some readers may remember.
Phil: Tell me a bit of
background, Rebecca. You are living in Nashville? Are you married?
Yes, I live here and no, Iím not
I will avoid all the standard
questions you get about that. I understand youíre a native
Yes. Iím part of a really strong
Christian family, which was quite rare because there are not that many
Christians there. Iíve heard statistics as low as 5 to 7 percent of
the 20 million people. Itís a very secular world so having that
Christian heritage was amazing. I had really strong parents in that
they were really showing me Godís love from an early age. Then when
I was 14 my dad really felt God calling the family to America so we
moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he had been offered a job. About
two months after we moved, his job fell through when his boss just ran
out of money for the work my
dad was doing. So we were now on the other side of the world from all
our family and friends and we had no car, no furniture, we were
sleeping on the floor, six kids in the family at the time and my mom
was pregnant with my sister. We had never been through anything like
this before and didnít know what the next step was. So we just sat
on the floor as a family and we prayed and we asked God to provide for
our needs, everything from money and food to a car. We often saw
miracles happen, sometimes on the same day we prayed for something an
answer would be given, things like a random check coming in the mail
that would just cover our bills by a couple of dollars or groceries
would get dropped on the doorstep. A Sunday School class found out we
had no furniture and they delivered truckloads of furniture. A
home-schooling family let us use their car for as long as we needed
it. Somebody paid so that my little sister could be born in a
hospital. We donít know who that was. When these amazing things
happened that really gave me as a fourteen-year-old something to think
about. I got signed to a record label at 16 so that really gave me a
How did it happen?
Iíd done a lot of singing back
in Australia. Iíd been singing in a Christian rock band at my school
and done a bit of recording. Iíd recorded a demo tape at 13 that a
Christian artist named Carmen heard and he asked me to tour with him.
My dad was his concert promoter so Iíd known him from other tours as
well. Dad wasnít so sure about his little girl going on the road but
he was the promoter of that tour so we went. After that I did a little
praise and worship album back in Australia and when we moved to
Nashville I sang some of those songs at youth groups. A man who was
working at a record label came and saw me sing at my church.
What surprises you most about
some of the things that have happened?
Itís all pretty surprising to
me. I think at 15 you only have the capacity to understand so much
about what signing a contract might mean, though I did grow up around
the whole music scene. Iíve never felt like Iím the best singer in
the world. There are far more talented people out there. But it was a
situation where Iíd said to God at about 12, ďI donít know
exactly what I have to give you, but hereís my talent. Hereís me
and I want you to use my life.Ē It was around that time that he
started to lead me into music, so I think everything in how it has
happened and the huge journey that itís been has had an element of
surprise. Probably the challenges of life in the spotlight have
definitely surprised me. The glamour that some people picture when
they think of somebody in music was definitely removed from my
thinking before I even started because Iíd been around the scene.
But at the same time I donít think I knew it would be quite as
challenging as itís been at certain times too.
What has been one of the most
rewarding things about all this?
looking out on crowds and really seeing people connect with God,
people being lost in worship. Hearing stories about how people are now
in ministry because they responded to an altar call at one of my
shows. People who several years ago gave their lives to God and now
theyíre following him or theyíre in ministryóthatís really
cool. Or I hear about people who saved sex for marriage because they
heard me talking about it or they heard my song Wait
for Me and now theyíre married and theyíre so glad they
waited. Itís those stories of lives changed that are really very,
very powerful things.
When I was a teenager I had a
few records by a lady by the name of Evie. Do you know what happened
She became a wife and mom and
after her kids grew up she became involved in a Christian television
ministry. Iíd met Evie in Australia when I was about 2 when she was
packing out the Sidney opera house. Then about six or seven years ago
she waltzed back into my life when she came to one of my shows in
Florida because she lives there now. She has since become my mentor
and she is an amazing woman of God. I love her so much. Sheís been
so life-giving to me. God has really used her to bring encouragement
and renewal. Sheís one of those people whoís just so full of joy
and love, sheís a gem. So actually weíve been doing some shows
together recently, mother/daughter events where we both sing and share
from our hearts about certain topics that are in my books. Topics that
women are wrestling with today. We talk about the hope that we have in
God, the beauty of his way. Itís been pretty sweet.
What is your message to teen
The biggest think Iím focusing
on right now is Godís love for them and for all of us because
everything else in the Christian life comes from that. We can get into
a very legalistic place where weíre just doing it out of almost
religiosity but the essence of the Christian life needs to be lived,
if itís going to be true, from the knowledge of Godís extravagant
love. There are other huge messages that Iím speaking to girls about
like purity and modesty and finding that inner beauty that comes from
time with God. But all these things really do come, if theyíre going
to be lived out in the truest way, they come from knowing that weíre
loved. Then you will honor your body enough to live in a way that
glorifies God and youíll honor God with your actions in things like
modesty. Thatís probably my big think right now.
The evangelical world
recently saw another leader fall. What steps do you take to guard your
I like that question. I think it
needs to be asked more of leaders. For me there are a couple of things
that God has given me that have really helped in this purity stand. I
travel with my family and thatís always been the case. My dadís
always been my manager. My entire family used to come on the road and
fulfill different roles. Now consistently my dad and two brothers at
least and when weíre on a full tour probably 3 or 4 siblings and my
mom will come, so thereís always major accountability with family
being right there. They know me and Iím the kind of person who has a
hard time hiding the truth. I love living honestly and being straight
up with close friends and family about whatís going on in my life. I
think itís the most free and joyful way and leads to strength when
youíre vulnerable and youíre willing to be open and weak before
close people in your life. So Iíve been intentional about that,
being honest with Evie, my mentor and a couple of close friends and
family. I live with my brother when Iím back here in Nashville. So thereís a lot of built-in accountability there and I
think that also just having daily time with God. Prayer is a part of
my life, also reading books that are challenging me because I think
when youíre reading and sitting under good teaching, Iím at church
whenever Iím home. And those books and that right teaching prick
your heart if youíre not in that right place. Thatís another level
of accountability that Iíve submitted myself to. I really want to
honor God with my life. That is so my heart and thatís why I invite
this kind of accountability. I really donít want to go down a path
that is not towards God. And also I donít want to cause all the
people watching me to grieve and to hurt because of my actions but I
want to point them toward God by the way that Iím living.
What books are you reading
Iím about to start a book called
Life on the Vine by Philip Kennison. We just finished Cost
of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer and Iíve also just
started Battlefield of the Mind
by Joyce Myer. Iím also reading Let Go by Fenelon. Itís just changing my life.
So youíre not reading one of
You have to send me one.
How do you find time to be
quiet with God?
There are some times in my life
when I do better about having quality quiet time and there are other
times when the silence is just scary and thereís just too much there
and Iím too tired emotionally to recognize what is happening in
those silences. When I see that happening I see that as a warning sign
that I need to start also speaking to my accountability partners.
Sometimes Iím better about the disciplines and sometimes Iím not
so good. The whole schedule thing, honestly Iíve felt out of balance
for a reasonable amount of 13 years of ministry and I think any leader
if theyíre honest would say they struggle with balance because there
are huge expectations from everyone in your life from family to people
that youíre leading to your team around you or the congregation or
the audience. Itís just so hard to balance that and to say no when
you need to say no. I feel like Iím still just learning about that.
Itís kind of a work in progress.
You were just in Rwanda. Tell
us about it.
That came about with my
partnership with Compassion. I love their ministry. Iíve been to
India and Equador and met the children that my brother and I sponsor.
So Iíd seen their work before. Then I met my sponsored child in
Rwanda and was just so blown away by how much it means to these kids
to be sponsored. He told the film crew that meeting me was the best
day of his life. Itís because Iím his sponsor and he loves me so
much. But Rwanda also went through genocide about 12 years ago and I
expected to find a place that was broken at every level and to sense
huge emotional devastation still. And obviously, when you hear people
tell the stories thereís a lot of brokenness but I was actually
really surprised by the amount of healing that has taken place in
these peopleís lives in such a short time. The president of Rwanda
is a Christian and heís instituted this no-revenge policy and
encouraging people to forgive instead of taking revenge on those who
killed their families. Because of that forgiveness I believe a lot of
healing has taken place in that country. It turned out to be quite an
encouraging trip not only on the level of meeting my sponsor child but
of realizing that where thereís forgiveness thereís healing.
Thatís on multiple levels, with God, with people, where thereís
forgiveness thereís healing. The Rwandan people taught me that.
Madonna and other celebrities
have adopted children from Africa. Why the recent interest?
One of the reason Iím so
passionate about talking about Compassion in every one of my shows is
because itís a real, legitimate arm of the caring love of God.
Itís really working. A lot of people question sponsorship ministries
because they donít know if the money is actually getting to the
kids. But Compassion is so solid and has been for many, many years and
I just love it. But I also think itís important for people to go and
to do as well. I recently read The
Irresistible Revolution and although I didnít agree with
everything in the book, the jist of it was that we should take very
seriously Jesusí call to love and the second greatest commandment
being to love your neighbor as yourself. And to make it practical, not
just to send money off somewhere but to actually go and do. He
doesnít feel that on the last day Jesus will say you ministered to
me personally when you sent off that money to UNICEF. Heís saying
when you gave me the cup of water, when you visited me in prison, when
you do it for those who are hurting you do it for me. So I think the
checks to Compassion and UNICEF are important, but also going on a
missions trip. It might not be to Africa, but it will change your life
and the lives of the people there. I want to step up myself and be
more hands on in practical ministry and I want to encourage others to
be that way too.
When all is said and done,
what would you like to be remembered for?
Iíd like to be remembered as a
woman who passionately loved God and people. If because of that love I
drew people to God, I will have lived a successful life.
Where to from here?
This coming year weíre touring
quite a bit. Iíll be doing a Christmas tour with Brian Litrell,
formerly of Backstreet Boys whoís got a Christian album out so
weíre doing a couple of weeks of Christmas touring here pretty soon.
We are also touring with Delirious next year and Iím very excited
about that, love their stuff. Also doing some more dates with my
mentor Evie and then headed back to Australia and New Zealand for a
couple of shows, so weíre really touring prettily heavily. The
albumís been out about a year now so hopefully weíll be talking
about a new album at some stage but weíre not moving towards that
I almost forgot. Anything you
want to say about your most recent album? Go ahead and plug it.
It is an album that really focuses
on the love of God. I went to LíAbri in Switzerland a couple of
years ago and God really did an awesome work in my heart during that
time. I really felt him speaking to me about his love, that thereís
nothing I can do to make him love me more or less, just to rest in his
love. I love that little community there with people from around the
world. A lot of the subjects that I broach on the album are from my
time at LíAbri but the biggest theme is the whole passion to share
the love of God. The title If I
Had a Chance to Tell You Something comes from a song called You
Are Loved. Lyrically, itís biblical, itís vulnerable, itís
real, itís challenging to live out the Christian life intentionally.
Thereís a song about having compassion for the hurting, a song about
community, a song about surrender to God, so it covers a lot of
different aspects of the Christian life. Musically itís pop/rock;
itís got a couple lighter moments, a touching ballad kind of song.
But I think itís very relevant to a lot of different age groups and
the message is relevant to us all.
Is there anything else I
didnít ask you that I should have? I'm getting a little older now,
you know, so those kind of questions save a guy.
The only thing I think I could
speak to is that I speak to teens all the time about purity. I have a
song to my future husband, telling him Iím waiting for him and
asking him to wait for me too. One line says, ďI want to be now and
always faithful to you.Ē I think the song is not only relevant to
teens and single people. I believe itís relevant to married people
of all ages because thereís such an attack in this day and age on
purity. Itís everywhere, itís rampant. I really would love to
encourage every leader to be committed to God and guard our purity.
The enemy is prowling like a roaring lion to kill and destroy us. One
of the biggest ways he can destroy our credibility is in the area of
purity. If weíre indulging in impurity he can shoot us down. Letís
commit to being accountable and putting ourselves under authority so
that people know whatís going on in our lives.
God continue to make you an
incredible blessing, Rebekah.
Same to you.
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