Love compelled Jesus to the cross. Love rose Jesus from the dead. Love leads Jesus to intercede for us right now. On this Easter Sunday, the Savior of the World invites you in loving relationship with Him.
To give thanks to Jesus for His love, enjoy this song by Anthony Evans:
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” – Maya Angelou
Artists on the rise have a greater probability of dealing with adversity from those questioning their motives or raising doubts about their message. These artists have a choice: either wallow in the onslaught of attack or rise above it with their message in tack. I’ve witnessed an artist and a man of God rise above it and ready to release to the world a new sound and message. On February 12, 2016, Datin Berrios will release THE ROAR. I talked to Datin about life, ministry and this new album. This is what he had to say:
RF: If you could describe in one sentence where you are in life right now, what would you say and why?
DATIN: Being still. This is the season where I’m about to jump off the plane and the skydiver instructor is the Lord and waiting when he pushes me. I don’t get to choose on when to jump. When the Lord pushes, I trust and let Him lead me. Right now, I’m putting my all in my art. It can be a nervous time, but I also know the Lord is leading me. He has been dealing with me about going full-time in ministry. I know rappers who are struggling financially and cannot do that. It’s easier to rely on a bi-weekly paycheck but I have to trust Him in every area of my life. Since the age of 14, all I’ve known is work — and I ready to work for His glory!
It can be nerve-racking, but man — I have God’s peace. That peace has not misled me. Right now, it’s a privilege to hear the voice of God. The same voice is telling me TO GO! I have to go! And may it be for God’s glory!
RF: You have many around the country who are supporting your work and the message. Who would you consider your biggest supporters/backers?
DATIN: My wife (Johely), Lionel (King), my new family in Florida (who have been extremely supportive) and my Christ Church (New Jersey) family. I can always rely on them to support, to build me up and strengthen me during the most difficult times. I’m thankful bro!
RF: Every life should be about a cause. You haven’t shied away from that. How would you describe your life’s cause? What are willing to sacrifice for and die for?
DATIN: Dude, that’s a good question. Solely to make disciples and to share the same medicine that saved me.Everything else is secondary. Even the secondary things are for God’s glory. When I serve my wife and my daughter – I want to raise and serve for the glory of God. It’s about His glory. I don’t want to do anything that distracts from that.
RF: Since signing with God Over Money (GOM is Datin’s label), what has changed?
DATIN: GOM has been good to me. Bizzle (rapper) shares his platform with me. After signing with GOM, it has taken things to a whole new level! It’s not simply a label – it’s a family! Me and Bumps, Selah and Bizzle — we are real friends and family. It’s beyond business. It’s personal. They hold me up, keep me accountable and have helped me along this journey. I’m beyond grateful.
RF: Let’s talk about THE ROAR. ROAR stands for Rise of a Revolution What are most excited about the album?
DATIN: Ryan, you can’t ask me that man! 🙂 I can’t wait for people to hear this. When you’re in the studio and recording, you’re feeling good about the lyrics, music and production. But, when it is done, you start questioning “Is this good enough? It’s time to peel the bandaid. I’m ready for this man! I want people to be blessed by it. I want to make good art that glorifies the Lord.
There are things on this album that are prophetic. Am I saying this because it raps and rhymes? No. It is speaking to what we are dealign with right now. For example, the single Hallelujah All Day– I talked about persecution and I’m seeing the rise of ISIS. I wrote “HAD” a couple of years back. Or when I talk about baphomet symbolism and devil worship. You then see DRAKE putting out cover art with the devil worship symbolism. Now, the baphomet statue is going on tour. I see how God used the music on THE ROAR to prophetically speak to these issues.
RF: I know there has been some controversy swirling around the shock value of the album cover for THE ROAR. Do you care to address it?
DATIN: At first, I wanted to rebuke it but then received a revelation. God inspired a thought. Bizzle didn’t want it thinking it was a bit too much. But, I knew this was speaking to the core of the music. I wanted The Lion, which symbolizes the Body of Christ starring and roaring at the barrel of the gun, symbolizing the face of death. The guy holding the gun, suited guy like an angel symbolizes persecution. In other words, the world is trying to keep us quiet and cause us to embrace lukewarm Christianity and legalism. It’s an anti-Christ spirit. But, we need to ROAR the gospel everywhere we go!
RF: You’ve heard the criticisms and read the posts about your music, tone and even demeanor appearing demonic or angry? You responded through your music to those criticism. But how does that make you feel when you are trying to rep Christ?
DATIN: Ryan, it’s about the love we share. It bothered me because it’s not who I am. Like on the song HAD ENOUGH, I’m here saying, “you’re not out here. You’re behind a keyboard. We out here representing the Kingdom!” When the put out OFF THE LEASH and we heard the criticisms – my first reaction was laughter. I couldn’t believe it because God had a plan already in the works. We had already planned to send out HAD ENOUGH featuring Bizzle and it was a revenant rebuke! God knows my heart and he provided a prophetic flow. I’ll let the music speak.
RF: What do you think is the state of CHH now?
Here’s what I like: That’s its growing and opening up doors for artists. Artists like JGivens, who I know he has a heart for Jesus, given a great platform.
Here’s what I hate: I hate that it is becoming an idol (too many false motives). CHH (Christian Hip-Hop) is becoming the pastor and church rather than becoming discipled. CHH has their own followers. This is not how it’s supposed to be. We need more discipleship and more accountability. Every rapper should have church covering. I hate that Jesus is being removed from it.
When I say this, most may misunderstand and automatically point to well known artists like Andy Mineo & Lecrae. Here’s the thing – they are doing what they are prompted to do by God. I want to make sure all of our motives are pure. For example, that’s why I like to lay down my track first when collaborating. I don’t want body anybody on a song. PRIDE – It’s the elephant in the room. When I see it, I just say “Stay right there in the corner, pride!” Otherwsie, I will be on my back.
RF: For those who are watching your career and hearing your music and are inspired to do the same, what would say to them?
DATIN: Don’t be stupid – don’t think you can get around God’s truth. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added (reference: Matthew 6:33) There is nothing I have done but where God has told me to do and go. I didn’t make these deals. God supernaturally orchestrated it! My salvation and my walk is divinely orchestrated!
Seek God in prayer, read His Word and obey! It ain’t all pretty. But, it is always a privilege to serve the Master.
DATIN’s new album, THE ROAR, is available on Friday, February 12th on God Over Money.
If you’ve seen the OWN series Tyler Perry’s The Haves and The Have Nots, you have been introduced to Veronica Harrington aka The Ice Queen. To characterize Veronica as ruthless would be the understatement of the year. In the upcoming promo for the new season (starting on June 30th on OWN), The Ice Queen herself bookends the commercial callously remarking, “When is the devil ever too tired to raise hell?” After hearing those words, I would prefer to forego ever meeting Veronica in person (and keep her in fervent prayer). But, thankfully, I’ve had the honor of meeting and knowing the woman behind the character. Angela Robinson is a gifted artist with a heart for others and their dreams being fulfilled.
In this REFlections interview, let me introduce a woman whose talent is only outmatched by her character, love for the arts and her genuine love towards others. Thank you Angela for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights. For our readers, enjoy!
RF: Ryan Faison | AR: Angela Robinson
RF: How would you describe Angela Robinson in one sentence?
AR: A work in progress. I’m constantly working on myself. I’m a painting that’s not nearly done yet.
RF: I wonder how Veronica “The Ice Queen” Harrington (from The Haves and the Have Nots) would answer that question! Due to the success of this drama on OWN, you are becoming a household name. Do you relate to the character you play in any way?
AR: I definitely can relate. I don’t think it’s possible to play a character that you can’t relate to. I can relate because everyone has their own “stuff”. My character Veronica is walking around with a suitcase full of “stuff”. She has not even begun to unpack yet! I can relate to someone being so controlling and so interested in what people may think to the point of hurting people around them to keep up the facade of perfection. I am not that, but I can relate to people who are exactly that.
On Acting: I don’t think it’s possible to play a character that you can’t relate to. – Angela Robinson
RF: As a work in progress — the painting still being actualized — what is the one thing, the passion, that wakes you up every morning?
AR: I’m most passionate about being exactly where God wants me to be and doing what He’s called me to do. I believe what that is — is to encourage people to pursue their dreams and their purpose. This gives me life and wakes me in the morning. I am always thinking of how I can encourage and talk people “off the ledge”. I understand that when we truly walk into what God has destined for us, it doesn’t always look “traditional”, especially traditionally Christian. It’s scary. You may have people talking you out of it. But, you must discern the voice of God and the few people in your life that will encourage you to take the step of faith. I wake up with a passion for people living their fullest life. I think too often we live in fear of rejection, fear of lack, or fear of “will this pay enough?”. Typically, I find my niche in the area of artistic pursuits.
RF: What words of wisdom would you share with those who are driven to pursue their dreams but also need to balance their lives, especially at home? How do you do this Angela?
AR: You have to be intentional. I married an artist (Scott). We get each other. We understand the business. When we first got married, we made a conscious decision not to travel for the first year of our marriage. Sometimes that’s hard because you are looking for that perfect job that may require you to travel in that first year! You have to make that sacrifice. You have to say, “Even if I have to work at a restaurant to make ends meet, I want to invest in my marriage (or home life).” You must lay the foundation. We have a rule in our marriage that we don’t let three weeks go by without seeing each other. You have to be intentional because your family comes first.
RF: How has Scott (your husband) inspired you to reach your dreams and goals?
AR: I couldn’t do what I do without him. He is the wind beneath my wings. We are in this together. Someone asked him recently, “This must be really hard for you with Angela’s success”. Scott was taken aback by the comment because we are one. Our approach is that when the other is doing well, we are doing well. We are one unit. My husband reads lines with me. He helps me memorize my lines. He prays with me before a difficult scene. We are just partners. There is not the attitude of “I’m doing this, you’re doing that.” He’s teaching, he’s acting and he’s very busy himself. We never look at it as separate careers. Our position is what are WE doing next.
On Marriage: It’s about what WE are doing next. – Angela Robinson
RF: I first met you at Metro Community Church. We were singing together on the worship team unto God. Your passion for God was undeniable. How do you live out your faith in God in your career?
AR: If I were a teacher or waitress, I would use my faith. The same applies to being an actress. It’s an expression of my gift. I studied and trained and I love it. I take it very seriously. In my career, if I played a part where the character is not Christian, some would question and say, “How can you do that?” I respond by simply saying, “That’s not me. I studied and trained so I could diversify and play different, complex and crazy characters.” Living my faith is a walking out.
RF: Does it help to have a boss (Tyler Perry) who has publicly shared his faith in God?
AR: Tremendously. I’ve never experienced that before. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’ve done theater for so many years. But, I’ve never experienced THAT before. I got a little taste of it when I was in the cast of “The Color Purple” on Broadway and Oprah (Winfrey) was one of our Executive Producers. The ship was run a bit differently because her focus was more on the spiritual side of things. She wasn’t there on a daily basis but had great influence on the show.
With Tyler (Perry), he directs every show (of The Haves and The Have Nots). We are with him on a daily basis. To have a boss who starts everyday with praying is refreshing. We pray together as a cast and crew. When we think about character choices, we always consider from a perspective of faith. We present characters with flaws — they’re not perfect people by a long shot. But, we consider faith in the equation. Christians are watching and we want that represented. Tyler walks out what he talks about.
On Tyler: He walks out what he talks about. – Angela Robinson
RF: The rating success of the show is quite overwhelming, especially on a relatively newer network. Did you expect the response to The Haves and The Have Nots? How have you dealt with the “celebrity” and larger platform as a result?
AR: That’s a great question. I teach actors and I always say, “This can’t be about the fame and celebrity. You have to LOVE THE WORK!” I used to boast that I don’t run after fame. I want to be a working actor. And then it happened!! I still to this day and shocked when people come up to me and ask for a photo and say, “Oh my…that’s Veronica!” Ryan, I’ve learned not to go out with my do-rag! You never know who you will run into. I must admit that I’m surprised by the whole celebrity deal.
With the celebrity, God has opened the door to more speaking around the country. I’ve always loved that and appreciative of those doors opening. I tell you — it makes me think all the time. I see why people get addicted to it. I have a greater understanding of why there are those who will do anything not to lose their celebrity because people treat you differently. I’ve said, “Why are they giving me free stuff?” I’ve asked, “Why did I get in and people are still waiting?” I can see how it is an addiction. So, there are those who will take roles that don’t represent them or their values in order to maintain the celebrity. I pray often that I never have that issue. I do see how it can happen. It’s very interesting.
On Fame: This can’t be about the fame or celebrity. You have to love the work! – Angela Robinson
RF: With the celebrity and the greater platform, what are some causes that you champion?
AR: The Broadway Inspiration Voices. We’ve been together for almost 20 years, comprised of Broadway actors. We have a concert a year and it’s like CHURCH! It’s sometimes the only church some people will ever attend. It’s everyone — Jews, Gentiles, Muslims — to hear the choir. I champion veterans, cancer awareness, and issues I’ve been directly affected by. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at several United Negro College Fund (UNCF) events. I attended a historically black college, so that means a lot to me. All of those things are important to me.
The main thing I echo is that you cannot sit on your dreams. Dreams are from God and are meant to be pursued. “I want to be famous one day” is not a dream. But, if God has put a song in your heart, sing! If God has called you to be a worship leader (like you Ryan), do it! Whatever that is — you cannot allow fear to cripple you. I always say that your life depends on it because your life does depend on it!
RF: Speaking of dreams, Dr. King had a dream. Yet, we see like in the recent Charleston, South Carolina shooting (which was racially motivated), there is a segment of our society that rather live the nightmare of discrimination, violence and division. As an actress and who is a world traveler, how do you respond to these events and offer wisdom for healing?
AR: You mentioned Metro. It is a special place. We prayed early in the morning with the pastor and staff to pray for healing. We believe in prayer. I believe there needs to be intentionality in working toward healing and justice. I am praying for an awakening. Racism does exist — its not in our heads — it does exist. We must acknowledge that and then move forward toward healing. I have been impressed by my white brothers and sisters who have acknowledged the issues and have stepped out to speak out. Hopefully, we can all join in, unify and work together for the common good. For when you have someone who has such hate to kill, my earnest hope is that that these individuals will not be welcome or have any friends because their positions are not embraced.
On Charleston, SC Shooting: I’m praying for an awakening. – Angela Robinson
RF: Thank you Angela. It has been encouraging to see millions of people around our country and around the world rally for justice and bridging the racial divide. With that said, what are some things that are coming up for Angela (that you are at liberty to share)?
AR: June 30th, The Haves and The Have Nots are coming back! We are excited about TEMPTATION TUESDAYS starting again on June 30th at 9 PM EST on the OWN Network. It is a great season. I’m doing a lot of auditioning as well as serving as the Performance Arts Director at Metro. I’m doing more speaking. Ryan — I’m living my life like it’s golden! (Ryan: Alright, Jill Scott)
RF: What lasting words would you give that person reading this interview. They are pursuing their dreams (that which is in their control), but they are disappointed, dismayed, and disheartened. They feel like they’re not making forward progress. What would you say to them?
AR: Quitting — is not an option! If you were born to do it, you were born to do it. That doesn’t change because others don’t see it in this moment. You were born to do it. You have to be creative — how to value your time until someone sees it — because they will. When I started working at Metro, I was on the road with The Color Purple for two years. I had been in the business for a while but when I came back, I couldn’t get a job for a whole year. This has never happened. Metro offered me a job and I took it. I was able to do arts and still audition. But, I found something to do in the meantime. After taking the Metro role, doors began to open.
I love Philippians 4 where it says, “I’ve learned to be content in whatever state I’m in.” As artists and individuals-at-large, we must be content where we are because it can be up and down. In this business, you fail more than you win. The key is what you do with the wins. When you are winning, what are you doing with that time? Make use of your time. Keep pursuing and don’t give up because it will be seen eventually. Don’t give up before you get the YES! Hold on to what God promised you and it will come to pass!
To Dreamers: Quitting is not an option! – Angela Robinson
Heavyweight Champion and professional boxer Muhammad Ali, considered by many as the Greatest, once said that:
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Millions of people witnessed the greatness of Muhammad Ali but didn’t get to experience the sacrifice of training, hard work, and discipline that led to greatness. As a part of the REFlections interview series, I had an opportunity to interview an emerging leader who has developed the fight within. As the E-Pastor and Young Adults Pastor at The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, Onterio Green has developed the discipline of fighting the good fight of faith. His heart’s desire is that you develop that same kind of tenacity. It’s my prayer that this interview challenges your core to be the person God has created you to be. Thanks Onterio for sharing life-changing words!
KEY: RF: Ryan Faison | OG: Onterio Green
RF: If you had to describe yourself in one phrase, what would that sentence be?
OG: A family man. Family is a supreme priority for me. Family always comes first. No matter what else I have on my schedule, my #1 priority is the health and wholeness of my family. This is partly due to my upbringing; I attended 16 elementary schools, 6 middle schools and 4 high schools. These challenges, amongst others, prompted me to take a greater focus on the health of my marriage and family. Above all else, I want to be known as a family man — a man who invests and loves his family first.
RF: Your family is extended to your Potter’s House family in Dallas. As the E-Pastor (Online Campus Pastor) and Young Adults Pastor (BrickHouse), what would you consider the “secret” to godly success?
OG: Teamwork. At the Potter’s House, it is a core value and one of my core values. From top to bottom, teamwork is demonstrated in the daily operations to the national and international conferences such as The International Pastors & Leadership Conference (recently held in Orlando, Florida) and the upcoming Mega-Fest (in August 2015 in Dallas, TX; www.mega-fest.com). Within this teamwork dynamic is structure that allows for fluid communication and greater effectiveness. As E-Pastor, our online campus is the largest campus with over 300,000 viewers around the world. In order for this campus and others to thrive, teamwork is the key.
For example, our Brickhouse Young Adults Ministry is based on team. Our visionary, Bishop T.D. Jakes, has taken a vested interest in the Now Generation. As pastor of Brickhouse, I’m blessed to lead this ministry with a core leadership of eight (8) leaders and sixty to seventy (60-70) volunteer leaders. As leader of The Brick, I employ the same work ethic I had ministering in Upstate NY, Florida, Kansas City and now in Dallas. With over nine years in ministry, I would consider myself a go-getter and a workaholic. Our team has the same flow and we’re excited about the opportunities to serve our generation.
I must say my transition to The Potter’s House was a bit intimidating. You had a high capacity team who are all go-getters! In my time at The Potter’s House, it has been a joy to work such a team that has a global impact. Success in ministry demands teamwork and a strong work ethic!
Success in ministry demands teamwork and a strong work ethic! – Pastor Onterio Green
RF: Who are your greatest mentors and what are your thoughts on mentorship, especially for our generation?
OG: Pastor Chris Hill (Senior Pastor of The Potter’s House in Denver, Colorado) has been a mentor and spiritual father for me for over 17 years. Pastor Chris has taught me how to be a father, a husband and a man. He has been whispering in my ear and giving me godly advice like a biological father. I also thank Lady Joy Hill for her impartation to both my wife and me over the years. I also have other mentors in my life that speak into my life. They may not be well-known, but their investment in me is invaluable.
Here are some things I’ve learned about mentorship:
You can’t choose a mentor. A mentor chooses you. You can’t throw yourself at people and then get upset when they don’t catch you. Our responsibility is to ensure we are open to instruction and to be teachable. This quality is attractive to mentors.
God will give you who you need for where you are going. Value every level of mentorship. Don’t despise small beginnings. God will provide you everything you need for where you are going. Trust God to resource you and to be your provision.
God will give you who you need for where you are going. – Pastor Onterio Green
RF: Onterio, what would you consider the greatest moment or the most exciting moment in the last year?
OG: I must say that the “Running Reckless” Brickhouse Young Adults Conference held in November 2014 was one of the greatest moments in ministry. It was an opportunity for our generation to get Bishop’s (T.D. Jakes) attention. This conference set the stage to restore trust in the older generation to pass the baton to the younger generation. This conference placed attention on valuing the anointing and being poured into. We’re excited about this year’s conference (Running Reckless) on November 20-22 at The Potter’s House in Dallas!
RF: What would you consider the most challenging in the last year?
OG: The most challenging would be the responsibility of being on bigger stages. The transition to larger platforms such as global conferences require a greater level of maturity, character and scope. You are not only talking to the same audiences you are used to. I’m thankful to Bishop Jakes, First Lady Jakes and The Potter’s House family for the opportunity. I realize it is a blessing to be treasured and taken seriously.
RF: On a personal level, what are the most exciting moments for you right now?
OG: It’s watching my children enter their pre-teen years. They’re entering youth ministry and it’s a joy to watch them grow in their relationship with the Lord. At their age, I was not sold out to Christ like they are. It is a joy for me. We pray every morning and to see them take greater ownership of their relationship with God is a father’s greatest joy!
RF: What was the most challenging for you?
OG: Over a month ago, I defeated thyroid cancer. Only a few people knew of the diagnosis and prayer warriors surrounded my family with prayer and intercession. After the surgery, I did post on social media about God’s grace and overcoming power. I didn’t make it public because I think at times Christians cry too much about what’s wrong. My wife and I made a decision to fight. We are fighters! As a leader, you don’t have the time to sit and cry. Check in and fight! We fought in prayer and stood on the promises of God. I’m a living witness to God’s faithfulness! No matter what the situation, don’t stop fighting! Discover the fighter within!
RF: Speaking of fighting, there are leaders reading this interview that are tired. They have tried different strategies and have not seen the results they were hoping for. They hear of your success and may question what they are missing. What would you say to them?
OG: Great question. As a leader, you have to fight for the dream. But, your dream needs a team. How much is your team invested in the vision? I would even add — can your team explain your vision to you? If not, it’s important to make the vision and mission clear. Also, it’s important (if you’re in a ministry context) to have 100% support of the senior leader and have their public endorsement of the vision. If the senior leader/pastor is excited about what’s happening, others will discover it’s importance and value.
Another key point is prayer. Do you have prayer meetings or prayer times? With all the strategies, goals and dreams, if prayer is missing, you will not have the power of God that you are seeking. Remember — it’s about following God’s will, not the stage lights. Stay consistent and stay committed.
RF: Thanks Onterio. What lasting words will you leave to leaders, especially emerging leaders?
OG: When you read Genesis 37 (the life of Joseph), it actually resembles a life of a young adult Christian leader. The story speaks of purpose, the pit, pharaoh, prison and the palace. Once you discover your purpose, you may find yourself in a pit. In those seasons, don’t check out. Don’t give up. After the pit, you may find yourself in front of the leader! The pharaoh stage is the season of learning how to serve and honor your leader. If you cannot serve the vision of your leader, God will not entrust you with your own. As a leader, you may even find yourself in a prison. You may feel like you’re stuck. But, the prison stage always precedes the palace. When you read the life of Joseph, in every stage, He honored God in his words and behavior.
As a leader, you have the opportunity to impact your generation in unique ways. God has shaped you for purpose. Trust God to set your path and watch Him do supernatural things in your life. I’m thankful for God’s grace and look forward to what’s ahead!
As a part of the REFlections Interview Series, I’m honored to present an interview that speaks to the successes and challenges of ministry and our life of faith in Christ. As one of the emerging voices in our generation, Ken Hester has proven through word and deed that his faith in God is real! Ken is the campus pastor at Elevation Church, overseeing the Gaston campus in Gastonia, North Carolina. I became acquainted with Ken about 6 years ago when he was the College Pastor at Crossroads Fellowship in Raleigh, North Carolina. Presently, as an Elevation Church campus pastor, Ken shared some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.
It’s my prayer that this interview blesses you like it blessed me. Thank you Ken for sharing!
KEY – RF: Ryan Faison | KH: Ken Hester
RF: If I had to describe Ken Hester, how would you want me to describe you?
KH: A passionate leader. I’m not afraid of change (and I could be accused of embracing too much of it)! I like fun stuff and I’m certainly a thrill seeker. I’m a husband. This year on June 2nd, my wife and I will celebrate 8 years of marriage. I’m a coach. I’ve enjoyed my experiences as a basketball coach over the years and even thought it would be my career. I’m a pastor. As a thrill-seeker, it is awesome that every weekend, GOD WINS! Jesus is #1 on the scoreboard! There’s salvations and baptisms every week. This is my greatest joy.
RF: In this season of your life, what is the most rewarding?
KH: Rewarding for me is that my staff, leaders and volunteers feel cared for. I find my reward in the great consistency rather than the great moments. We often times celebrate the moment rather than the consistency. Christ celebrates the consistency. In the NBA Playoffs, Derrick Rose hit a major shot but lost the playoffs. It may be SportsCenter moment, but we may dismiss the team’s consistent effort. The same thing applies to our spiritual life. When I see a congregation consistent in giving, serving and loving, this is my greatest reward.
“Christ celebrates the consistency!”
– Pastor Ken Hester
RF: Consistency is important to you. How do you value this in your life?
KH: I value it but working on the discipline of consistency. I tried to find a formula for devotion before God. What I realized that for me its one Scripture (maybe two), praying specifically that God reveals Himself in that Scripture, worship in my car (blasting worship in my car for 20-30 minutes), praying on my way home. I realized over the years that it’s not about a formula, but a relationship. I desire to be consistent in that area of my life.
RF: What would you say to someone who is focused on “formulas”?
KH: It’s about how God is stretching your faith, not a set formula. Too often, our culture is focused on calculated risk. Faith is “I’m jumping out an airplane and I don’t have a parachute but I know God will catch me!” I’m encouraged by a couple of folks in our apprenticeship program. One apprentice moved from South Africa to serve in Gastonia, North Carolina to be a part of what God is doing. That faith inspires my faith. Another couple just recently got married and moved from Sacramento, California to serve here at Elevation. This is the faith that is demonstrated in the Bible. I need to be challenged in faith. I encourage others to look for everyday faith. If God did it before, He can do it again!
RF: What’s the most challenging area of your life?
KH: One of the most challenging areas on my life (and my wife) is regarding family. We are beginning to share more and more about it with others. We’re been trying to start a family for five years. To say its been a struggle is an understatement. You get a monthly reminder that God has not chosen you to have a family yet. What have you tried for five years and still not seeing fruit from? Not many things. If you go to school for years, you received a degree. We’ve been trying to have a family for five years and haven’t seen that reward yet. It challenges our faith. We’re mad and hopeful. An array of emotions. What’s challenging for us is to remember that God’s promises never return void. When all you see is void — it can be a direct challenge to your faith. We’re reminded of Abraham. I hope I don’t have to wait 35+ years (lol), but we trust in God’s promise to have a family. We can’t see it now, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
“When all you see is void — it can be a direct challenge to your faith.”
– Pastor Ken Hester
RF: How do you minister to your wife during this challenging season?
KH: Supporting my wife in the small things makes the difference. It’s not only about extravagant gifts. It’s praying for my wife when she’s not aware I’m doing so. Doing little things around the house that relieve pressure. When we are battling, we are in this together. My wife’s not battling infertility – we are battling infertility. It’s a team effort. We are in this together.
RF: In the midst of your own challenge and the challenges your church faces everyday, how do you encourage them not to get discouraged when promises come to pass in someone else’s life but you’re still waiting?
KH: I’m always reminded of Pastor Steven’s (Furtick) words: “Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel!” The highlight reel is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, etc. But, what are others struggling with that they don’t want you to see? They may have a child, or a spouse, or blessed with a job that you think that you want, but they also have behind-the-scenes. They just haven’t told you about it. If you were to go through my social media platform, you would not know the struggles. Even on a campus level — people see the moments, but not the struggles. It’s death by comparison. Don’t be discouraged by a post that doesn’t tell the whole story. If someone receives a blessing, celebrate it! It’s their blessing, not yours. The comparison game is a slippery slope. Focus on what gives you joy and write them out. You’ll be surprised — you have more joys than struggles. We tend to focus more on the struggles than the joys.
“Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.”
– Pastor Steven Furtick (quoted by Pastor Ken Hester)
RF: What brings you joy being a part of Elevation Church family?
KH: I want to thank Pastor Steven for the opportunity to serve. I appreciate the passion and consistency in pursuing the vision of people far away from God being raised to life in Christ! Pastor Steven has shared with all the campus pastors that this is not his vision, but our vision. As the Gaston campus, it is Elevation but its own feel and identity. It is a joy to see the growth and the love of God shared throughout all the campuses.
RF: Where do you see your campus going in a year?
KH: We’re believing God for 3,000 people. Right now, we are averaging 1,100. If God did it once, He can do it again. If I see in Acts 2:41, it can happen now. It is not out of the realm of God’s perspective. It will take work, prep, innovation, creativity, people and prayer. I want our campus to align with God’s will in every way.
“If God can do it before, He can do it again!”
– Pastor Ken Hester
RF: Last question Ken. If you could talk to younger Ken, what would you say?
KH: I would probably say — don’t make too many plans for yourself because God will change them. I went to school to be a basketball coach. I was one. I won 5 championships. I was successful (or what I thought was successful). As I look back, I learned so much in coaching that informs how I pastor and serve people. I think I would be a bit more generic and leave room for God to change my plans. Let God change your plans! I was stubborn especially since I was up for an Athletic Coordinator job. But, they went in another direction. Three days later, I received a notification from the Senior Pastor of my church inviting me to be the College Pastor. The rest is history. Let God change your plans. It’s my prayer that sharing the struggles helps others see that God has a plan for your life and He will accomplish it through you.
Ken Hester is the campus pastor at Elevation Church Gaston. An innovative and proven leader, Pastor Ken leads along with a team of devoted Christ-followers at Elevation Gaston to see people far away from God being raised to life in Christ. Ken studied Sports Administration from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He is married to the love of his life, Ashley Hester.
The “has it” quality includes their vision, character, integrity and how they value their team. When you are in conversation with them, you can immediately tell that their focus is on others and not themselves. Their words are seasoned with grace and convictions anchored in their deep-seeded values. Jonathan Burgio is one of those leaders.
Jonathan serves as the Executive Director of BASIC College Ministries, headquartered in Rochester, New York. This life-changing ministry has been transforming the lives of college students in the Upstate NY area. BASIC is now expanding the ministry outreach with their first New Jersey conference on November 21-22 at Christ Church in Rockaway, NJ. I had the opportunity to ask Jonathan some questions in this special #REFlections interview:
How would you characterize your transition as the new Executive Director of BASIC?
A huge life change. Being in charge of an organization isn’t just a job title change or a responsibilities increase, it is a total life change. At the end of the day the success or failure of BASIC comes back to me. I love BASIC with all my heart and want the best for the organization so I take it with me wherever I go. This is no longer a 9-5 kind of job. Everything I see or do can become something I am doing for work. I love it so it is easy to get wrapped up in it and talk about it all day but now I am also in charge of it which makes it even easier to be in every aspect of my life.
If you could describe this generation in one word, what would it be and why?
New – Never before has there been such a demand to have new stuff constantly. The obvious is the demand on the newest technology, iPhones being sold out the minute they come out, or the constant change in clothing styles. We see this also in music, art, trends, etc. But there is more than that. There is a need to be constantly engaged, impressed, or whatever it is to have something new. I don’t say this to be negative it also has many benefits. For example, our technology is increasing at a bigger rate than ever because demand is higher than ever and so on.
What is your ultimate prayer for this generation and the one to come?
That the ones sharing Jesus would be better examples of who He is.
From my interaction with you, I have witnessed first hand how you value teamwork. How has the BASIC College Ministry team added to your leadership?
The BASIC staff is incredible so it makes leading them easy. The ability to allow others to express themselves and have ownership over their work has greatly effected the way I lead. Once I find someone and discover what their talents and abilities are and what they enjoy doing then I take a huge leap of faith and I trust them to do a great job in whatever I ask them to do. I do not micromanage them. I have learned I need to clarify exactly what we want but in the end they have a lot of control over how to get us there. I take the heat if something goes wrong but all in the effort to show them my trust and belief that they can create something better. We are raising up individuals who are mastering certain areas of ministry. None of us can do everything so I rely on others to do what I can’t do so I can do what I am good at.
Where do you see BASIC in five years?
I see BASIC reaching college students on 50 different campuses reaching thousands of students each week, and having 3 conferences in the fall and one huge conference in the Spring.
What wakes you up in the morning? What do you go to bed thinking about?
What wakes me up each day is thinking about what I can accomplish today to reach my goals in the future. I go to bed thinking about how to reach more people than we currently do. What do we need to change. By changing our approach what are we at risk to loose?
How would describe yourself as a leader?
Laid back, relational, and empowering. I try to stay relaxed and confident. I enjoy being friends with my co-workers and most importantly I go out of my way to empower others to not only do there jobs but to become better at it.
What challenges have you faced that have caused you to draw even closer to Christ?
The challenge I think about often is battling whether I am trying to reach more people to become famous or to make Jesus famous. I never want to be successful so I can be successful. I want to be successful in making Jesus’ name great.
You recently married your wife Nicki. How has your marriage affected your leadership and service to the next generation?
My wife enhances everything I do. Her vision is my vision, her talents compliment mine. I am very, very fortunate to have allowed God to bring me the perfect woman to partner with me in ministry. It hasn’t been a year yet but I feel like she has only made my ministry better. (I have to add an AWWW)
How would like to grow personally as you continue to serve others?
I’d like to always help others to achieve their best. First I believe people will enjoy working with me more but second by doing this we will be able to do whatever we want to do better.
MY CLOSING NOTE: I want to personally thank Jonathan for his leadership and brotherhood. I look forward to the BASIC Conference in New Jersey (BASICConJersey for short) on Friday-Saturday, November 21-22, 2014 at Christ Church in Rockaway, NJ! Get ready to hear more details soon! In the meantime, check out all the great things BASIC is doing at www.thebasicsite.org!
A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. – John Maxwell
The mark of a true leader is clearly identified in their character. Titles and positions will only take you so far. Character takes you the distance! In this REFlections interview, I had the privilege of interviewing a brother and leader with proven character. To modify John Maxwell’s quote above, this leader knows THE WAY, follows THE WAY, and shows others THE WAY. On public platforms and behind-the-scenes, this man of God serves selflessly and cares deeply about our generation.
Chris Estrada is the Director of the Youth Major at Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) in Dallas, Texas. In this capacity, he has been afforded the unique opportunity to pour into leaders and pastors from around the world. Chris has also been entrusted to host the National Youth Leader Experience (see link after interview), taking place this weekend (starting April 25, 2014). Chris has extensive experience in pastoral ministry, business and mission work.
In this interview, it is my prayer that you hear the words of encouragement, conviction and wisdom from a friend I truly admire.
REF: What does a day look like in the life of Chris Estrada?
Chris: Everyday looks different and serves as an opportunity to journey with God. Among the traveling my wife and I do yearly, we lead a small group for leaders and pastors in our local church. I don’t want to be one of those traveling ministers that don’t have a footprint in the local church. All roads lead to the local church. I’ve learned that even with planning out my day (I’m a planner), I need to take time to reflect and praise God for what He’s done in an event or gathering before moving on to the next thing.
REF: What advice would you give leaders about valuing family?
Chris: Ryan, man…I actually learned it through a hard lesson. I went through a situation when my senior pastor made poor decisions in light of his wife’s sudden heart attack. The church was attempting to reclaim its footing after the leader made these bad situations. I learned that there were people who would say (speaking of me), “Pastor Chris will always be there for you.” However, I knew I needed to be there first for my family. At that season of our lives, we neglected our family. While others were at family BBQs, we had to be at a church. If were at a birthday party, we could only stay an hour because we had a leader meeting at church.
Now, being on staff at CFNI, I am free to say to others that I can stay for only an hour at an event or gathering because I have to go be with my family. My family is incredibly important. Nothing trumps my wife and children. I will tell my wife, “If you are not enjoying your life because of something I’m doing or involved in, I will shut it down.” I have no problem stopping what I am doing. My ego is not attached to what I do. I can go back into corporate America or the business world and win my co-workers to Christ. I don’t need a stage and mic to do that.
I am not an absent dad. You will not see me opening my laptop at home with family and rarely will I text or talk on the phone after 5 PM (unless you are Ryan – LOL)!
REF: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would that word be and why?
Chris: I would probably use the word courage. I’ve always been the least qualified or lacking any qualifications to do what I do. I don’t know how I got the wife that I got (it took courage)! Sometimes, I don’t even know how I got in the rooms I got in or developed the relationships I have today. It took courage and not feeling insecure in the shadow of their great ministries or influence. My lifelong battle has been to stay encouraged. Even when facing hard times as a man, husband, father and servant of God. It takes courage to move forward.
Our ministry’s motto is: Releasing courage and power to risk takers & dreamers who want divine turnarounds. That’s who we are and that is our message. We are constantly taking risks and if it doesn’t require courage, we don’t do it. I rather fail and still have courage than have need of it.
…if it doesn’t require courage, we don’t do it. – Chris Estrada
REF: Chris…Pastor Andy Stanley was quoted saying, “A single act of courage is the tipping point to extraordinary change.” So, what act of courage have you implemented that encouraged you to live this life of courage?
Chris: The one that sticks out to me is when I first got saved. I grew up with a Catholic background. My family was from the hood but we had that “street smart”. We were very intellectual at the level. With that said, I wasn’t convinced that Jesus was powerful. I knew He loved me. But, I didn’t think He was powerful until I gave a friend a ride to the impound. God spoke to me when I met up with a man there. God said (a deep impression of the heart), “I want you to wash this man’s feet.” Now, I’m not for weird or spooky. But, when God spoke to my heart, my immediate reaction was, “You wash his feet!” (laughs) In my NO, the sense became stronger and stronger, “Son, I need you to wash this man’s feet.”
I wrestled with the Lord. I saw the man and got a coffee mug with cold water. I thought it would be game over when I offered to wash this man’s feet. It wasn’t. But, when I tell you this man’s feet was the most obscene looking feet I’ve ever seen! It looked like a forest on the man’s feet. You had to peel off his socks. I’m not exaggerating! I said to God, “I know you love me, but in this moment, you must hate me because you would only ask someone you hate to do such a thing!”
Finally, I worked up enough courage to wash his feet and then to have to wash hooves! MAN! As I started to wash his feet, he complained that the water was ice cold. I apologized for the temperature and began to rub his feet. I watched firsthand clear water turn black-gray from the grime on his feet. I will never forget this — God led me to pray for this man as I was washing his feet. I was led to pray for his marriage that was heading for divorce. I sensed he was deeply concerned about how his sons will respond to it and prayed that he would never lose his fatherly voice in their lives. I prayed that what God put together no man would be able to separate. I prayed that he would find the courage to make changes and draw close to God. I remember as I prayed, this huge man who was big and imposing began to weep right over me. It was in that moment I realized that people need courage.
Ever since, I’ve been known to take courageous steps. My family lives by courage. My kids live with courage. My daughter courageously prophesied over a woman who was clinically depressed (and she didn’t have previous knowledge of her condition). I watched my son minister to a man who had a great gift of singing but thought he was going to die prematurely. My son knew this man (a waiter) was tormented by the early death of others in his family and was in the music industry (my son would have never known that). Courage is needed in whatever you do. You can never overdose in courage!
You can never overdose in courage! – Chris Estrada
REF: How do you believe God is using you to infuse the value of courage in the next generation of leaders, especially in your role at CFNI?
Chris: People believe there are not good leaders due to a lack of trust. Poor views of leadership in government and society bleed into the Church. You have many who will question their spiritual leaders’ motives and agendas. But, I believe the lack of trust in leadership is due to not liking the environments they are in. They may be looking for a perfect environment. Ryan, I’ve been in hundreds of churches and know a great number of pastors and leaders. You are not going to find a perfect environment. You are not going to find perfect people. It is essential to beseech people and leaders to be as unoffendable as possible. Our feathers are too easily ruffled. Our feelings are too easily hurt. By no means is this a license to be insensitive. But, we must learn to bear with one another and a heart to bring the best out in others.
My chief job in life to bring out the best in my wife. It is the same with kids, my staff and my students. I am a gold-digger. I am searching for the gold. I understand that in order to find the treasure, I must dig through the dirt. But, my focus is never the dirt, but the gold. When you have this mentality, you are ready to go through some misunderstandings and miscommunication. As leaders, you live in a glass house. It is important that we understand our humanity while demanding integrity.
Ryan…this generation of leaders have much charisma, but character is too often lacking. I say this because I am young. I’ve never had a problem with others not trusting me because I follow through with what I’m going to do. If I can’t do something, I say something. It is a character issue. When I started at CFNI, I was 27 and I’m overseeing a bible college with over 1200 students from all over the world. Why would they trust a 27 year old to run that? It is an integrity issue.
I don’t want to see people in their dysfunction but their destiny. This is why Jesus can see the prophet in the pervert and the apostle in the addict! I’ve heard some preachers say how they have a problem with some titles given to Bible narratives such as “the woman with the issue of blood.” This was her dysfunction, not her destiny. We must see people in their destiny — it’s easier said than done. It is easy to limit others to their dysfunction. But, we must build our spiritual muscle to forgive easier, to overlook and keep going.
I don’t want to see people in their dysfunction but their destiny. – Chris Estrada
REF: How does this philosophy of ministry help you in leading and serving at CFNI?
Chris: Dude, I get many who say that the students we receive at our school are the church’s best of the best. But, you will be surprised to know the struggles they contend with such as homosexuality, addictions and other potentially disabling issues. We are here to train generals and “polished arrows”. But, the Lord sends us the broken to serve the broken. Give us the Gideons, give us the Davids — seeing a king in a shepherd boy. Even with the struggles, we call out destiny and ensure the goal is clear. Too often, we are destination conscious. Destiny is not where you end up but who you end up becoming.
Destiny is not where you end up but who you end up becoming. – Chris Estrada
REF: One last question Chris and its personal…What do you enjoy doing?
Chris: I’m Hispanic so I love to eat! My trainer doesn’t like it, but I love good food. I love good laughs. I love basketball. I play ball every Monday (I might play tonight)! I like being alone too. Don’t get me wrong — I love people, but I yearn for the quiet moments. With 3 kids screaming in the back, I like the peace and quiet. I love plane rides and love to read books. I’m a 6, 7, 8 books-a-year guy. But, Ryan — I do read my Bible and that takes much of my time!! I love seeing people “get it” especially when it comes to identity. When people know who they are, they understand what they are called to.
NOTE: In this moment, Chris spoke personally into my life from the Scriptures by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Chris is a leader God is using to speak life and destiny into the lives of people — including this interviewer! Thank you Chris for your heart, ministry and brotherhood!
Charisa Rouse (aka The Violin Diva) is known for her great talent on the violin and her jazz-infused sounds. Charisa is a well-sought after artist on the live performance stage and in the studio. Recently, Charisa was featured with world-renowned artist Patti Labelle at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Charisa has worked with world-renowned artists and performed on the biggest stages. With her husband (James Rouse) by her side, Charisa has been able to achieve great success and the best is yet to come.
Behind the curtains and bright lights, Charisa offers her thoughts in this exclusive REFlections interview:
REF: What does an ordinary day look like in the life of Charisa Rouse?
Charisa: My day usually starts around 7:30 AM – 8 AM. God has been waking me up earlier than usual. I take some time to pray and do my morning routine. Then, about 10 AM, you will find me sitting at my desk handling business. In the music industry, we are self-contained entrepreneurs. I am running the business, talking with clients, and answering e-mails (the administrative work). It requires me to sit still. Ryan, I’ve learned that there is just some work I must do while sitting still.
Around 2 PM-3 PM, I am heading into the city (New York City) to teach one of the afternoon violin programs. Most nights, I am in recording sessions, out performing a gig or at a networking event.
REF: Besides the violin, what is your greatest passion?
Charisa: God. That’s easy.
Charisa: He’s an old friend that I’ve gotten to know. I trust Him immensely. He’s constantly revealing Himself to me. I’ve had a rough couple of months for many reasons. Unequivocally, through this season, God is the surest thing in my life. I feel because of the immense challenges of the music industry — I don’t know how you can be an atheist and be a musician. It’s very difficult — people will stiff you for money (still waiting on checks). Do I get ugly and take this to small claims court? Questions arise that affect your business. Collections are hard; what time your money comes in — its very nebulous. It’s subjective. You might walk into a situation where you are credited for being a good musician but you don’t fit the mold. You are at the mercy and the behest of other’s people’s opinions and preferences that aren’t based on facts. You have to be sure of who you are, what you stand for, and what you are willing to do and not. God is such an incredible center and He is my anchor. Otherwise, people will go crazy in this industry. You must be sure footed and know who you are.
REF: Charisa, you mention God centering you. Who are you at your core?
Charisa: I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker. I love books. I’m about how things connect. I was that annoying kid asking why does the world work a certain way. My mother would say “Because I said so!” (laughter). She did get tired of me at times. I was always that kid. The older I get, I am still that kid. I turned 30 last year. I love being in my 30s because I feel like I met myself at 30. I know this chick — I know why she does what she does. There is a spirit of acceptance of who I am now.
I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker.
REF: Your future — what’s the most frustrating thing about attaining your personal goals for your future?
Charisa: Two things: (1)Not knowing. I believe God keeps some things secret from me because I can be hard-headed and stubborn. Sometimes I think I know everything. And if He gave me more information, I probably jack it up. I’m a visionary but sometimes not an executor (again, knowing you and realizations about who you are). Some have a 5 year plan. I know the long distance plan, but working on execution. The second thing: (2) Money. As an independent artist, some things take a lot of money. And you can’t crowd-fund every two months!
REF: Do you find yourself frustrated with God or just not knowing the next step?
Charisa: The process. It’s a stretching season and its never comfortable — at least not for me.
REF: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Charisa: Taking over the world (Pinky and the Brain reference)! (Laughter)
REF: And what does that look like for you?
Charisa: I say this to my manager all the time. For me, I would like to tour and play with my band all over the world. I would love my curriculum for violin other schools and programs. I have a real passion for artist development and would like to move into this more. Buy a house, a couple of kids. But, my husband says we may be done after one! 🙂
REF: Have you considered being signed to a label or do you think you thrive in your space as an independent artist?
Charisa: I’m in search for a distribution deal. That is being worked on. In terms of a production deal – if it is the right deal, then sure. I have been approached before by record labels. If it is a mutually beneficial relationship, then sure. But most of the time, it is not mutually beneficial. With the conglomeration of labels, they want 360 deals — if I sing at a church, they want a percentage of that. They have complete control and it is not mutually beneficial. These are not the days of the height of Motown where they believed in artist development. Now, they want you to have the package already set (bundled in, great visuals, great press kits, great videos and 200K followers) and then hand over the keys to the kingdom. A distribution deal is more of a partnership and I am on the hunt. I am control freak when it deals with my brand. I just don’t let just anyone in the circle. When you work so hard and you created it, you have to be a good steward of it. As a woman in this industry, sometimes I’m looked at “sideways” because of my protective nature of the brand. That’s ok with me!
REF: For you, is there a tension between sacred and secular music?
Charisa: For me, no. Both peacefully co-exist within me. I know who I am in God and I know who I am in the world. Truthfully, they are the same person. Some people who are close to me have seen me on a jazz hit in a club in New York and then see me in church on Sunday. I’m the same person wearing the same shoes!!
REF: Do you think others may have a problem with that? If so, how do you handle it?
Charisa: Sometimes. Absolutely. It’s funny. Growing up, I only listened to classical and gospel. It was not a hard rule in my house but it was my parent’s leaning. We were obedient kids (siblings), so we followed the spirit of the house. I didn’t hear a jazz record until I went away to college. I was away at college for a classical music degree. I didn’t feel any lack or void in my life about it because that was my world. To that end, when I was opening up for a big artist, it was the first show my parents saw in R&B/Jazz. My mom was so cute…she was like “Well, baby, I don’t know what you’re singing, but everybody is bopping and clapping! You must be doing something up there, Charisa!” I think they had no idea what I was doing! My mom would be on the phone like, “Guard your spirit girl because you know all kinds of demons run rampant!” That’s momma! I had to educate my own parents to a degree. It was beginning of them realizing that what I do in secular music is not compromising who I am.
I’m a married woman. There are certain things I will not sing about. I do try to codify it for those who ask. Some people are assigned to be attendants only to the house of God like nuns in a covenant. And nothing is wrong with that. That is the seal God has placed on their heart and life to serve the house of God. We absolutely need that. But, there are some of us, like my husband (James Rouse) and I who are assigned to be missionaries on the field in the music industry. And if you are a lawyer and you have clients with all kinds of backgrounds, your mission field is the legal profession. Doctors in the medical field. The same applies to musicians and artists.
God has equipped me to handle the assignment. I have been in the club where a joint is being passed around, a stinkin’ blunt and they pass it right over me. “Hey Charisa, you want a puff?” My response: “No thanks.” Their retort: “Are you sure?” My response: “Yes, I’m good thanks boo boo!” I’ve also been in environments when audience members will compliment my artistry and want to buy me a drink. They will say, “Girl, that was amazing…can I buy you a drink?” My response: “Pineapple Juice!” I don’t drink. By God’s grace, in these situations, I’ve been equipped to handle it. As a mature believer in God, the Holy Spirit helps me to discern what to do and what not to do.
We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!
As a musician, every gig is not meant for you. Other times, gigs turned into ministry opportunities. God has led me to give prophetic words to elite producers who were on the verge of suicide. God has equipped me to be the light in darkness and He continues to lavish His grace to accomplish His mission. We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!
REF: As a servant of God, do you believe the Church (universal) lacks power?
Charisa: Unfortunately, in many cases – yes. A cloud of glory is moving and we are not. We are creatures of habits — we like what we know and too often refuse to open up. God has been dealing with me this year about release. In order for God to release blessings into my life, I must be open. I must release that which I’ve held on to. The Church must release their clinched fists to receive the newness that God desires to bring.
REF: What advice would you give budding artists?
Charisa: Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you. Honestly, there are too many lazy musicians. They don’t want to read, learn music theory, learn singing properly or music lessons. Too often, criticism is shunned and growing as a servant is dismissed. If I was going to be a writer, I must know how to read, right? As a musician and artist, how arrogant can we be to not hone our craft? My mother was approached often with the comment, “Charisa is so gifted!” My mother would respond, “Oh thank you, that’s cute. Charisa – girl, go clean that bathroom before you watch TV.” She was not impressed with the flattery. She wanted my character and integrity to be strengthened.
Think big picture. My husband and I always have a term we share – RESIDUAL INCOME! Think big! House paid off and I am making money sitting on my rooftop reading a book. A good friend of mine said, “Charisa, you’re thinking too small.” Stop thinking too small.
Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you.
REF: Do you think it takes all that you have to achieve that BIG PICTURE?
Charisa: Absolutely! Anything worth having is worth giving your all. It’s been a process. Even my husband and I dealt with 7 months of hell. Gigs fell through, my car was hit a police chase, my husband’s identity was stolen, on and on! We even lost $3,000 in residual income. God saw us through that season. He will see us through this season and He will see us through the next. God is with us. He never fails!
You are loved for who you are, and not merely what you can do. – Koo Chung
Koo Chung has a long list of titles: recording artist, touring artist, musician, worship leader, songwriter, producer, photographer, husband, friend, and creative partner. He’s gone on to produce five solo albums and tour around the country, collaborating with artists like Derek Webb, Andrew Peterson, and Jars of Clay. Koo’s resume and list of achievements are too numerous to outline here. But, it is his humanity that provides an inside look of how to grieve well, hope in the midst of struggle and remain a dreamer surrounded by despair. In the first REFlections interview, it is my great honor to present Koo Chung!
RF: As a music artist, you have explored various creative directions. What would you consider your most creative moment? Why?
Koo: It’s hard to pinpoint one creative moment, but I would have to say that the most creative moments have always happened in the context of collaborating with other musicians/artists. I love teaming up with people who enjoy thinking outside the box and aren’t afraid to spend some time to achieve excellence by exploring different ideas. Most recently, the most rewarding collaborative process was song-writing with my friend Mike Schmid who helped in co-producing my latest album “Brick by Brick”. It definitely sounds different from my previous work, and I can easily say that it’s my favorite out of all the albums I’ve worked on.
RF: Koo, you’ve been very transparent about your seven-year hiatus from music, detailing it as a period of “life happened”. What were some lessons that you’ve learned during that season?
Koo: The biggest lesson I learned was that you need to know yourself well. Simple as that. The better you know yourself, your boundaries, limits, weaknesses, strengths, and what makes you feel alive – the better you can take care of yourself and be better equipped to maintain meaningful relationships in your life. When all of these are in tact, you’re so much better set up to go out and do what you’re created to do. Not sure why it took 7 years for this to happen for me, but it did.
The other half of this is that yes, “life happens”, and things won’t go our way often, and we’ll experience loss & tragedy. To say you need to roll with the punches is more for small inconveniences. When you face life changing scenarios like losing everything you have, or the death of loved ones – the only thing you can do is to try to grieve well. Look the pain right in the eyes, then when the dust settles a bit – process. Thankfully, one of the ways I was able to process was by writing songs.
RF: How did you incorporate those lessons in your new music featured on “Brick By Brick”?
Koo: I’ve been very candid about my personal life, namely my marriage, in this album. The one thing that might have suffered the most due to not knowing myself well enough, not setting good boundaries, having a stifled music career, & the experiences of loss (loved ones as well as material possessions) was my marriage. The one good thing I can say about loss is that it makes you realize how finite life is, and simply put, I experienced an urgent wake up call to appreciate who and what I have, and to love well with the remaining time I have left on this earth.
Many of us experience similar things, but feel incredibly alone because we think we’re the only ones. When this happens, we isolate ourselves and oftentimes, things get even worse because of it. Part of writing “Brick by Brick” was simply because it was one of the best ways I knew how to be introspective about everything I experienced, and because I loved the idea of creating these thoughts in music form – keepsakes, if you will. But the reason I went ahead with recording and releasing this album to the public is because I wanted to encourage people to remove their masks, and risk being vulnerable so we can love and accept each other better when it comes to the dark and gray areas of our lives. The only way I felt I can initiate this was to remove my own mask first.
RF:How has your faith in God developed you to the man you are today?
Koo: Faith has been the greatest gift, especially in the darkest seasons of my life. When I say gift, I mean it almost literally. It’s not that I have always had a great amount of faith, but it’s that I was able to notice frequently how faithful God has been, and how He has never let go. Therefore, if my life choices, and everyday actions could speak they would probably say, “This is for you God, because I can clearly see Your love and faithfulness in my life. At times it’s as tangible as Your protection and provision, and at others it’s an abstract idea. I want others to experience this, and if I can help reach others with this amazing love, then I’m happy to be Your instrument”.
RF: If money or resources were not an issue, what would you endeavor to do right now?
Koo: I can honestly say that it wouldn’t look incredibly different from what I’ve done in the past, and what I’m doing now. The only difference would be that some of it would be done on a larger scale. I’ve had recording studios in the past and currently own some recording gear, but with unlimited resources, I’d build an amazing recording / rehearsal studio and offer it as a resource to other artists I believe in (of course I’d use it myself as well, to go in and record whenever I need to). This studio would come with an amazing engineer I have hired full time, because I am not a fan of learning programs like ProTools, and understanding outboard gear. If I’m at all knowledgable about technology and equipment now, it’s only because it was a means to an end in the past.
I’d put together a band and would continue touring with my wife, Jinny Kim. The specific purpose or message for the season might change from time to time, but I love the idea of being able to communicate and connect w/ friends and audiences throughout the world especially in the form of music.
When I’m not doing this, I’d be back home trying to get better at my craft, practicing, reading, writing, and of course I would always stay involved w/ my local church’s worship ministry.
So yeah, not entirely different from what I’ve been doing.
RF: What do you consider your greatest success? Why?
Koo: Every once in a while when I meet a younger Asian artist/musician for the first time, I am surprised and incredibly honored when they say to me that they have heard of me, and that I have “paved the way” for artists like themselves. When I was in my teens and twenties, there were still not too many of us putting ourselves out there in the music world (here in the US, that is). A large part of why Asians never pursued their dreams of becoming an artist was because they didn’t feel like they could succeed in the US, or that they didn’t have the blessings of their parents who immigrated here and worked hard so that we can have a good education and be “successful”. We are not all wired however, to have the same kind of academic or corporate success. There are many incredibly gifted Asian artists who can impact the world in great ways. I’m relieved to see how things have changed in the past two decades, and thankful to have played some small role in it.
RF: There are those who are reading this blog that are at a crossroads. They may be conflicted about how they should proceed on a dream or a goal for the new year. What words of encouragement would you offer them?
Koo: Recently I spoke with a friend who said that she intentionally chose not to do something she loved full time because if she did so, it would begin to feel like work and that she wanted to always enjoy what she did. Another friend told me about his experience with an artist he knew that had no backup plan whatsoever, because not doing music was a foreign concept, and not an option. This artist ended up having a hit single on national radio, and continues to do music now. In both examples, their motivations were purely based on how they experienced doing what they loved. Their actions were not determined by a desire for fame or for financial success – and I would say that these two things often hinder our approach to achieving our dreams and goals.
Bottom line is, if you love and believe in something – pursue it. Put in your time, practice, make mistakes, put yourself out there – especially if you believe in the message of what it is that you’re sharing. If you’re not at a place where you can do what you love full time, then work – earn money – but don’t be discouraged or think yourself a victim for having to do so. Learn what you can from your current job. If you’re paying attention, there’s always something valuable to learn. I didn’t want to work at Starbucks forever, but when I did, I learned many aspects of management and cultivated important people skills.
Continue to prioritize and carve out time to do what you love, and if one day it becomes your livelihood, be thankful and set appropriate boundaries in your life so you continue enjoying what you do. Never forget to prioritize important relationships in your life. Love well, and have fun along the way – life is too short. You are loved for who you are, and not merely what you can do.