Dan Haseltine knows that music occupies a unique place in communicating tough messages. As the lead singer for Jars of Clay, he has experience in telling difficult, yet true stories to move audiences.
One of those stories involves his first visit to a South African village. His guide challenged him to spot someone who looked older than 15 years old.
“I thought, all right. I mean how hard can this be?” says Dan. “So we drove around this community for five or 10 minutes, and I didn’t see anybody. And he said, ‘Well, you won’t. Because they are all dead.”
Here, Dan pauses, his earnest eyes softening while recalling the experience.
“He said what you find is only the very old or the very young; that middle-aged demographic had been completely wiped out in this particular community,” he adds.
So Haseltine uses his platform with Jars of Clay to share the need for Christians to be involved with HIV/AIDS and Christian relief on behalf of the poor, including a December 2008 tour with Jars of Clay, Sara Groves, Sixpence None the Richer and Leeland.
“The role of an artist is to look at the world and describe it,” he told Cross International during the tour stop in Palm Beach, Fla.
Since starting Blood/Water/Mission in early 2002, Jars of Clay have partnered with others in bringing clean water and HIV/AIDS education to impoverished areas of sub-Saharan Africa. To date, more than 300 projects have been constructed, reaching more than 100,000 people.
The singer admits that images and stories of suffering overseas can be quite harsh and offensive to the sensibilities of those in the U.S. and the West.
“The first time I experienced it was in China when we were meeting with pastors in the Underground Church,” he says. “They were showing us pictures of the torture and the beatings and the effects of what the government was doing on these pastors.” Haseltine says the pictures overwhelmed the Westerners and inhibited communication.
“The choice was: You could print these on a Newspaper in America, and people could look at them, and they could shut down. They could flip the page. They really don’t want to see that. It’s too much. It’s not really building a bridge,” he says. “Our job as artists is to take those images and stories and distill them down to a place that allows everyone else to emotionally connect with it.”
When describing the process, Haseltine uses a missions-related term: “I think it’s translating – it’s putting [it] in a language that people can connect with.”
So how does music communicate?
Very strongly, believes Haseltine.
“Music, for whatever reason God has designed it, reconnects the mind with the heart – and there are few things that do that. So part of translating social justice issues and issues of humanity like that – it takes something that can connect them – it takes something that can connect the heart and the mind and translate it.”
The message goes beyond mere information, says Haseltine.
“At that point, it turns into action,” he says. “It turns into passion and compassion, and I think music is a big part of this. The artist community provides the underpinnings of so many movements.”
Like Haseltine and Jars of Clay, Cross International is trying to provide the underpinnings of a movement of serving the poorest of the poor. Partnering with local church music directors and worship leaders, Cross International provides materials and support to inform and motivate the U.S. church of the opportunity and responsibility of supporting the least of these Jesus spoke about.
Providing food, water, shelter, education and training, Cross International partners with pastors and missionaries in 25 countries to break the cycle of poverty and allow local churches to focus on winning souls for Christ.
For information on the Church Music Project, call Cross International at 954-657-9000 ext. 174, or visit their website at www.CrossInternational.org.