Grammy and Dove Award nominated recording artist and author Rebecca St. James took the time to call me on a cellular phone en route to a concert in New Orleans for this interview. A delightful young woman who is ministry oriented and down-to-earth, St. James's deepest passion is her Lord, Jesus Christ.
I was impressed when Rebecca asked if we could pray prior to starting the interview. She led. "Lord Jesus, we thank You for this time that Trish and I have. We just ask that You would lead and guide and just let Your Spirit show us what You would have us to say, God, and just ask that You will impact people through this interview. We just give this time to You, and we love You. In Jesus' Name, Amen." The last thing she said to me before hanging up the phone was, "Pray..." My prayer is that your reading of this interview will do just that--move you toward a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
Tollbooth: How did you get started in music?
St. James: I got started in music at my school in Australia. I was in an outreach rock band. We made a demo. Carman heard the tape and asked me to be a support act on one of his tours in Australia. That was around 1993, when I was 16. My family moved to the States later on that year. A few years later, I was singing at my church, and a couple of guys from a record company heard me sing and asked me to be part of ForeFront. So, God put the right people together at the right time.
Tollbooth: It is well known that your family is a big support to you and vice versa. Has that relationship changed at all since you have become so successful?
St. James: I think the experiences we go through together as a family have deepened our relationship. My entire family still travels out on the road with me--all seven kids and my parents. We feel this is a family ministry, that we're all in it together, that it's not any one person, but it's all of us. So that really helps us kind of share the load.
Tollbooth: How do you think your success as a performer and writer has affected you personally?
St. James: I don't really see myself as successful. I don't really concentrate on what I've accomplished. I just take one day at a time and focus on what God's called me to do that day. I think if you take what you do all too seriously, it can really mess you up. It's important to not let it go to your head, so I don't really think about it all too much. I think real success is being faithful to loving and serving God with everything you've got, so that's what I hope to do.
Tollbooth: Who would you say has influenced your life and ministry?
St. James: Mother Teresa and Billy Graham are definitely two of my heroes. Mother Teresa was such a servant, and Billy has such integrity. Also, I really respect my parents. I talk to them a lot about everything. Then I have authors that I really like. Francine Rivers is my favorite right now. She's certainly influenced my life through her books. I really like Larry Crabb, too. Right now I'm reading a book by him, and will soon begin another one called Inside Out.
Tollbooth: You've written a couple of books: 40 Days with God and You're the Voice: 40 More Days with God. Tell me about the writing process, including where you draw your inspiration.
St. James: I draw my inspiration from the Bible, prayer, and experiences that I've had. As far as the writing process goes, I've worked with a really wonderful editor named Dale Reeves on the last two books. We get together and talk about the different things that God's been speaking to me about, and he writes notes in his computer. Anytime God teaches me something that I feel is fresh or new, I write it in my diaries. So, a lot of what I use in my books is drawn from my diaries. The devotional books have a lot of different verses that you can look up to dig deeper into the Bible. Questions are included to help the reader challenge their faith. We really hope the books will encourage people to seek God. The feedback we've received indicates that is happening.
Tollbooth: Do you do any other writing?
St. James: Yes, a lot of lyric writing for my albums. I've also done a lot of columns for magazines--I've just done six in Campus Life. I also write forewords for books. I did a foreword for a book of Joshua Harris's called I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a while back.
Tollbooth: I understand this tour is promoting your new album that is about to be released. Tell me about that.
St. James: On October 20th, my new album called Pray will be released. We've been working on it for about the last ten months and just finished it about a month ago. We're really excited about that finally being out. It has a theme of brokeness and humility before God and encourages people to pray. One of the songs is called "Come Quickly, Lord," and it's about being ready for Jesus' return. There's another song called "OK," which is about finding hope in God. So many people today are looking for hope and a reason to live.
Tollbooth: You released a Christmas album last year, and it's being re-released next month. Tell me about that.
St. James: Well, three quarters
of the songs are songs most people have heard before. They are traditional
favorites like "Come, O Come Emanuel," "O Come All Ye Faithful," and "What
Child is This?"--songs people love, but we've done them very differently.
We made them more like pop rock, sometimes alternative, but still kept
that real worshipful focus. I'm real pleased
with how it turned out.
Tollbooth: What does Christmas mean to you personally?
St. James: I feel like it's
a time to focus on Jesus and worship Him because
He came to die for us because He loved us. It's such a delight and an honor
to be able to know and worship Him.
Tollbooth: I read where you "stepped out of your comfort zone" and participated on the Surfonic project. That sounds like a lot of fun. Please tell me about it.
St. James: (laughter) Yeah! I did just one song on that album called "Gold Coast," which was actually written for me because it ties into Australia. "Gold Coast" refers to the beautiful, yellowish sand beaches of Australia. They're just gorgeous. I just really, really liked the song and enjoyed singing and recording it. I think the album's been out a couple of months now, but I'd never done a song like that. It's a "surfer" song.
Tollbooth: Speaking of Australia, do you ever go back to visit?
St. James: We usually go back there for about a month every year.
Tollbooth: What are the differences
between Australia and the United
St. James: One of the big differences is that in Australia there are very few Christians. Australia has a population of about 18,000,000 people, and only about five to seven percent of those people are Christians, or at least go to church. Then, I think there are little subtle differences. Like even the climate is different. Australia basically has reasonably warm weather most of the year, so you can swim at the beach in winter. Most Australians grow up around the coast, and therefore get to live near the beach. They don't have air conditioning, really, so they have their windows open and can hear the birds outside. It's a lovely culture. I really enjoyed growing up there.
Tollbooth: You have committed to remain a virgin until marriage. As the parent of a teenage daughter and as a Bible study teacher of teenage girls, I emphasize remaining sexually pure. Why do you think that is so important?
St. James: What I believe is so important is just being committed to living God's way. I believe we should say, "God, I want to live Your way above my own, and I want to be in the center of Your will." Standing for God by waiting is a big part of that. As young people, it's a huge way that we can show evidence of our faith, that we can say to people, "I'm serious about my love relationship to God, and one of the ways that I'm showing that is by waiting." In concert, I also encourage other young people to wait. I talk about my virginity, and also say that if they've made the mistake of having sex before marriage they can become a "recycled" virgin because in Christ we can find forgiveness. That's a big part of my message God's called me to share.
Tollbooth: You are part of Compassion International's music ministry team. There are so many good causes out there. Why Compassion?
St. James: I just really, really believe in their ministry. I've seen where it works. I sponsor a little girl over in Calcutta. I got to visit her and just see how her life is being impacted. I can honestly say to people, "This ministry changes people's lives." I've had people come up to me after sponsoring a child for a while and say, "Thank you for introducing me to this child because this little girl (or boy) is such a part of my life. It's such a huge way that I can minister and reach out with God's love."
Tollbooth: What advice would you give to families similar to yours wanting to break into the music business with a family member they believe is talented?
St. James: I would probably say something a little girl told me once. She said, "Bloom where God plants you." Wherever He's put you right now, be faithful. Whether that's at church or at school, just be faithful. I really believe if God wants to grow it, He will. He'll put you in touch with the right people and will allow it to happen. Another thing is we all just need to pray for God's will. Say, "God, whatever Your will is, I trust You. I want to be where You want me to be," and I really feel like He'll lead us.
Tollbooth: Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers?
St. James: One of the things I've felt on my heart lately is that God is calling us as Christians, as believers, to humble ourselves before Him, seek Him and pray. The focus of this tour has been humility and brokeness before God. Second Chronicles 7:14 has been one of my theme verses lately--"If we'll humble ourselves and pray and seek His face, then He will heal our land." There's a lot of hope in that promise from God. As I've traveled the last several months of this tour, I've had people come up to me and say, "Thank you for talking about humility because I feel that's something God has been talking to my church about as well." I've seen this consistent theme of God saying the same thing in different places, and that's so affirming to see that He's calling all of us to brokeness and humility before Him.
Interview's note: I later attended the Pray concert in New Orleans working as a volunteer for Compassion International. On several occasions during the concert, St. James spoke to the audience from her heart. She told the audience what it was like growing up in a family of nine with few resources and how God provided for their every need. She said, "We still don't know who paid the bill so my sister could be born in the hospital." St. James also testified how someone gave their family a van so they'd have transportation. I remember her giving God all the credit and saying, "I never want to forget from where I came."
After the concert was over,
I introduced myself to her. She immediately asked how many new sponsorships
we secured for Compassion (24 total!), another example of how she cares
for people and sees what she does as a ministry. Rebecca St. James mentioned
2 Chronicles 7:14 during her show, which is the main emphasis of her soon
to be released album and this tour. We both thought it was cool when I
told her that my verse-for-the-day calendar that day happened to feature
2 Chronicles 7:14. I brought the calendar to the concert so she could see
it for herself. She gave me a big hug before I departed to go home. It
was truly a blessed day.
2 Chronicles 7:14