Interview: Steven Curtis Chapman

By CRYSTAL CAVINESS  |  Oct. 29, 2003 at 5:00 PM
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NASHVILLE, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Steven Curtis Chapman is closing in on 15 years in the music business, a pioneer of sorts who has done as much as any other artist to bring contemporary Christian music to its current popularity. With 40 No. 1 singles, 9 million records sold and four Grammy awards to his credit, Chapman, 40, is as consistent a hitmaker as the genre has, spreading the message of God's love in uptempo, guitar-driven songs.

That said, Chapman recently talked about why he felt the time was right to record a CD of love songs for his wife, his passion for adoption that brought two daughters into their lives, and why putting his socks on everyday reminds him of the life-changing impact of an Ecuadorian jungle tribe.

UPI: With your current CD, "All About Love," which came out earlier this year, you've been up front about how this music is different from what your fans are used to. What has been the response from your fans?

SCC: I had a few people who asked if I was going to continue making the kind of music that they've gotten used to me making, or is this a new direction for me. ... For me, as I first started working on that (record), so much of the music that my friends are making right now falls under the category of worship music. ... I really struggled with that even myself. Personally, I was going: OK, should I now be making a love song record when so many of my friends are making worship music? While I was wrestling with that, I got the sense that God said this is worship music. If you are loving your wife in a better way to His glory and being a godly husband and trying to encourage others to do the same, that is an act of worship. So I came to peace about that. By and large, it has been received that way and I'm really thankful...

Sometimes an album like this can be listened to like that's really cool that Steven did this for his wife ... but what I've been thankful for is that this record has a chance to go deeper. Even though there's a kissing song. I used to say, wait a minute, Steven Curtis Chapman can't write a kissing song. ... It's not allowed. ... If it's a good date night record with your wife, great.

But I get excited that it may encourage young people as they begin to shape their ideas of what romance is about. We've got to be honest, from Hollywood, there's been a little bit of deception about what goes on. Shaoey (Chapman's 3-year-old daughter) loves "Cinderella." She would watch it five times a day if we'd let her. ... And yet, that movie, as great as it is, never shows what happens in five years. Cinderella has had a couple of babies; the prince ain't so charming anymore; he's got three days of stubble and put on a little bit of weight. What's happening now? Most movies don't show that. So what happens when you find yourself there?

I think so much of the time in our culture, you go back in search of that feeling again, that thing that gives you that spark of excitement. You don't dive in deep and walk through all of those seasons of life with the person who God put you in a relationship with. All of that stuff hopefully will be pondered with this album. ...

That was a lot of why this album was important for me to do, to say by the Grace of God, I've been married 19 years to this same person who is my best friend, the love of my life, the girl of my dreams and sometimes the hardest person in the world to love and sometimes the person who can make me the most frustrated and angry, and I can do the same for her and we've walked through so much together. We've hurt each other, been hurt by each other, been disappointed. And yet I've never been more in love with my wife.

So let's talk about that. Is that worth talking about? We think it is. So let me write some songs about it and that journey, because I really think that's where more people are. ... It's just being honest enough to say, "It's hard." ...

And this album just grew out of the seasons of life that we've passed through together and coming to realize what an incredible thing it is that God has created in the marriage relationship and what a wonder, what a mystery it is.

UPI: When you adopted your daughter, Shaohannah Hope, that was a personal decision. Now you've added Stevey Joy, who is 11 months old, to your family. Through these adoptions, your passion has become a very public campaign, and you and Mary Beth have started the Shaohannah's Hope Foundation.

SCC: When we came home with our daughter, Shaohannah, all we knew at the time was Emily (now 17) wanted a little sister. (The Chapmans also have two sons, Caleb and Will Franklin)...

When we did go to China, all we knew was it was what we were supposed to do. It wasn't the comfortable thing, it wasn't the safe thing, it's not the smart thing, it's probably not the sane thing, but it is the right thing. We didn't have any idea that it wasn't God making us do something, but rather God inviting us into this whole new experience of life and His Grace and Goodness and all of that.

But when we returned, we began to have people approach us and say that they wish they could do this, but the cost is prohibitive for them. To adopt from China is $15,000 to $20,000. Russia is more expensive. All places differ. It can cost a few hundred dollars domestically to upwards of $30,000.

With my wife, being the one that says show me a problem, we will fix it, she said (to these families): "How much do you need? As long as we've got money and we can help you, let's help you." That's really what started Shaohannah's Hope. We started doing this for families. Then we started looking for a mechanism to do this in a bigger way, because more and more people started coming to us. We needed some way to formalize this.

Then we started to dream about, pray about it. ... Now we have a thousand requests for assistance from families, and we've given an average grant of $3,000-$5,000 per family. You start to do the math on that, you start saying, we need a million dollars. We don't have the way to resource that. So maybe there are other people who would like to help support this, other families who feel like they aren't supposed to adopt a child, but they would like to support this. Especially as people of faith, it's very clear that God's heart beats for the widows and orphans and homeless children. ... And of course the more I've talked about it, the more requests come in, so that now we get about 150 a month. ...

Currently, we've been able to help about 50 families. It's been incredible.

We did our first public fund-raising on the K-LOVE network and KXOJ in Tulsa (Okla.). We raised $150,000 between the two stations to give to families. It really has been amazing and it really is a miracle. ... We know from our experience that it's going to be difficult, there are going to be challenges, struggles, suffering involved. Anytime you're doing anything of value and worth, and especially of eternal worth, there's going to be. The reward is that you get to be a part of the miracle, front row seat, right in the middle of a miracle that's taking place. ... We're so new, started a year ago and it's already much bigger than us.

UPI: You've just entered into a new partnership with Hallmark Stores for the holidays. How did that happen?

SCC: When I was first approached about this, it was a unique opportunity to present my music potentially to a lot of new people who may have never picked up one of my records before. Unless you frequent a Christian bookstore, you can find my music in a mainstream music outlet -- Best Buy or Walmart or Target -- but you've got to go looking for it.

This is a great opportunity for people who might not be familiar with my music. You go in to buy a card, and on your way out you see my record sitting there on the counter, and it's Christmas music, and it's got some songs you recognize. That part of it for me was very exciting, and I was honored that Hallmark would come and ask me to be a part of a roster of artists like Tony Bennett, Amy Grant, both of who did this a few years ago.

UPI: You have a new DVD coming out, "Steven Curtis Chapman Live" on Nov. 4. What will your fans find on this DVD, which is from your "Live Out Loud" tour?

SCC: The reason I did this one is because this concert was not a concert. And I don't even know what to call it, and I will struggle forever with what to call the event that happened on this tour. It was so much bigger than me. I knew within the first week of this tour that I had to capture it somehow in film, to have it archived. Because, number two, I would be able to remember and experience it over and over again, and number one, for anybody who didn't get to sit in the room and experience it, and not me, but because of the story that I got to tell that night.

It was a story that really shaped the tour and even a lot of the album. It was the story of five missionaries who were martyred in the 1950s. Most people know it as the Jim Elliott Story or "Through the Gates of Splendor," which is the book written by Elizabeth Elliott that recounts the facts of the story: Five men went to try to take the message of the Gospel to an unreached savage tribe known as the Auka Indians in the Ecuadorian jungle. They were attacked, brutally speared to death by six men who attacked them and killed them.

Rather than that being the end of the story, Jim Elliott's wife and one of the sisters went in to live with this tribe, and many of the tribe became converted to Christianity and stopped killing each other and outsiders and became a peaceful tribe. It's an incredible story of the power of the Gospel and God's work, but also just an incredible story that anthropologists have studied about what turned these people overnight to being a peaceful tribe from being so savage and feared by everybody. It was a story that really impacted me when I read the book, and I never imagined in a million years would I have a chance to tell this story in my concert in such a profound, personal way.

In the tour, I ended up having (Steve Saint) the son of one of these martyrs on the tour, night after night, who came out on stage and told his story of being a little boy who was five years old when his dad was killed. He told of growing and up and actually being friends with this tribe and one of the men who had killed his dad actually became like a father to him and taught him how to live in the jungle, and then his kids became so well acquainted with this man that they called him grandfather, the very man who actually killed their grandfather. It's just an incredible story.

And then this man, Mincaye, who actually killed this man's father, was also on tour. He would walk out on stage and tell his story in his own native language, with the plugs in his ears, the earlobes the way they would do the tribal dress. He would come out and tell his story. It was so incredible that I just knew for people who didn't get to see this happen, they needed to be a part of this. That was the reason we made this DVD, to be able to retell this story. ... Every person who experienced this walked away saying my life will never be the same. It was truly a life-transforming experience, and it was nothing about me. I was just the facilitator. I just got to be the presenter of this story.

It's had a tremendous impact on my life. I've gone to the jungle twice and spent time with Mincaye and the tribe. I took my sons with me last summer in Ecuador. I worshipped with them, ate with them, hunted and fished with them.

And to get to be on tour with them. ... One of the most incredible things to happen was right at the end, they called us into their hotel room, Steve and Mincaye. They came out with a basin of water and they knelt and washed our feet because of how we had served them on the tour and just the friendship we had developed. We were all grown men, and we were all balling like babies with the emotion of this. I really prayed then to God that I don't want to forget this, I want this to change my life, to mark my life so that for the rest of my life, there's something different ... the way that I live is different.

So, as a reminder ... I am not a tattoo person. I'm the guy whose never had an ear pierced, even when that was the cool thing to do. As radical as I ever had was what you call a mullet now, the long hair in the back. So, I'm not a tattoo person ... never had a body piercing. I had a sign of the Waodoni Tribe tattooed on the inside of my ankle, a sign of the missionaries.

When they go to the jungle, they take this plant and they make a dye and they put these designs on the inside of their arms and then they call themselves "God followers," and I wrote a song called "God Follower" about that tribe. So I created this little symbol on my own. ... I created this symbol with a G, with the F inside of it, so the Follower is inside the Big G. And kind of put that in the middle of my tattoo.

So, I've got this little thing. It was kind of this wild, crazy little thing and I've actually never talked about it in an interview. ... Unless I have sandals there, nobody knows it's there. But everyday when I put socks on, it reminds me of what an impact that had on my life.

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