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David Smallbone - Silent Professional for God

I want to write something about Mr. David Smallbone, the father of Rebecca Smallbone (Rebecca St James by her artistic name). We don't hear that much about him.Photo July 2008, Orlando (pre-launch of her new book PURE) But that is typical for many professionals, particularly organizers.

I am not going to tell you something new about Mr. Smallbone: I am depending entirely on the materials I could collect from articles on the Internet, some things from video fragments, some things from Rebecca's books. And Luis Palau's book: It's a God Thing. And some of my own thoughts on this man.

Mr. Smallbone made a living as a Christian concert promoter in Australia, which was not such an abundantly Christian country at that time (only 5 percent of the people believed in Christ, according to Palau).

Jon Hanna writes in an article, The Real Deal (see sources at the end of this article) that in the mid to late 70s, when Christians around the world were discovering that it was okay to praise God with contemporary music, David Smallbone was introducing he music ministries of Petra and Amy Grant to his Australian countrymen, and also Larry Norman - known as the prime instigator of today’s Christian music. The first concert he ever promoted was in fact a Larry Norman concert.  David Smallbone recalled that his daughter Rebecca was "only six months old at the time", says Jon. I don't know what's wrong with the timing, but Larry appears to have had a concert in September of 1977 - Rebecca would have been 2 months old then (she was born at the end of July). There was probably also a concert at the end of December 1977. (PS. I don't know if Pascal Muet can be trusted with his information on Rebecca, but he suggests that Rebecca's first performance was at the age of six months, when "she cried through a whole Larry Norman concert her father organized"; crying through a complete concert at the age of 6 months on the other hand seems a bit strange to me, but then, I have no clue about kids, and anyway, Rebecca has a strong voice so maybe she was really dong some early exercise).

On a more serious note, however, years later, Mr. Smallbone run into a financial debacle due to his passion for Christian music as a mission. Too few fans filled seats in a national tour he had been promoting. When ticket sales fall short, artists still must receive their guaranteed money - and Mr. Smallbone "took a $250,000 bath in red ink". The creditors repossessed his house. He was a father of six then (Helen, his wife, was expecting the seventh one - Libby) and David had to look for work elsewhere.

At that time, a top artist offered him a job in Nashville, Tennessee. With children ranging in age from 1 to 14, it was unthinkable to move to the U.S. alone. Knowing the better opportunities for Rebecca in America may have played a role in their decision too. In the fall of 1991 the Smallbones decided to sell furniture, and purchased tickets to America.

Having arrived at destination, they made a living in two motel rooms, eating fast-food until an unfurnished rental house was found. Helen, now seven months pregnant, slept on a mattress, the others slept on the floor. After a couple of months, David was told his position was no longer available. For several days, he was feeling sick about these developments. But the family got on their knees together and asked God to help them. They also took on some odd jobs. Rebecca, the oldest, and two brothers raked leaves and mowed lawns. Rebecca also baby-sat and helped her mom clean houses. But also, "interesting things began to happen", so reports Mr. Palau at this point. Bags of groceries were left at the front door. Sunday school classes donated furniture. A Nashville songwriter, Jon Mohr, gave the Smallbones - no strings attached - a three-month-old Toyota Previa van.

Then, a major surprise: Forefront Records heard a demo tape of Rebecca singing, and they offered the 15-year-old a recording contract. She recorded her first album when she was 16, using an old family name, St. James. The family started to make plans for a concert tour - things were rapidly changing now. Mr. Jon Mohr came up with another 'miracle' of charity: he traded the Previa for a Chevy 15-passenger van. Awestruck by his generosity, David offered Jon 50 percent of the money they earned from Rebecca's emerging musical career. Today, David promotes his own daughter's sold-out concerts, but it started with a lot of problems and ... a lot of prayer, and with faith.

Working Together

Only recently, a very nice video called working together was posted in the official rsjchannel on YouTube. In it, Helen Smallbone - David's wife - speaks about how they learned  to cooperate as a family during these hard times. Nowadays the Rebecca St James happening is a real family activity, but that did not just happen overnight. Helen: "I don' think it was something that we started, I think it was definitely God's idea. And it happened when we first came to America, and David lost his job". Rebecca declares, later on in the video: "We are so close as a family I think because of the fire that we've been through. And no one asks for fire (...) but I've seen God use that in my family and in my life, to shape me into who I am, and to shape our relationships into what they are."

The same video, part two, tells about the 'No Secrets' policy in this family. (In fact, it appears that they were actually often wearing a T-shirt on the road that says 'No Secrets' on it). Helen tells about the kids, how "they learned, very young, that everybody was needed to make this thing [their trying to make a living as a family] happen. I think [when] we look back, that was the start of what we are doing. We've [learned] so much to do it together, that when we did this, to be separated was just so hard. And so that's when we started to think: well, let's go together".

In Gettin' Serious, the early newsletter of Rebecca St. James, she wrote: "We try to keep everything out in the open and be honest with each other. As a young person, this has helped me so much. I have always known there is nothing that I can't share with my family."

The Australian Spirit - or is it Christian Family life?

Australia has a rich tradition in Christian music. I'll cover something about that in a separate article. [Update: see The Australian Spirit]. It is no surprise that this early Australian industry veteran founded Smallbone Management in the U.S. after their migration, once the initial difficulties had been overcome. As the president of this successful Christian artist management company, he could soon enjoy the outcome of their challenging decision, as Rebecca's concerts were soon becoming sold out. In 1999, daughter Rebecca became the first Australian woman to win a Grammy. But under the skin of the manager there is the heart of a missionary. In his own words: "Ever since we have arrived in the US from Australia we had a dream of encouraging people to worship God with a contemporary and youthful emphasis".

In fact, it is a simple lesson we are seeing here. Rebecca is widely respected for her authentic Christian lifestyle, her being 'radical' in the most meaningful way of the word: radically living for this God of life, love, peace (key words in Rebecca's songs). But this attitude did not suddenly turn up from nowhere. Christianism is, just like Judaism, not about magic, but about reality. In the Old Testament, emphasis on 'faith education' is prevalent. For Christianism as well, such simple, almost 'ordinary' thing like family life really do matter, and make the difference in many cases. Rebecca St James is a 'phenomenon' that started in the hearts of faithful parents.

Good things can so often be traced back to grandparents, parents, family life. The mission thing has clearly also been caught on well with Rebecca - but these kind of things usually work by example. Christianism is quite down to earth in such things. Sure, there is the 'magic' of how faith grows in an individual person. There is the 'magic' that Rebecca did things none of her parents could probably do. Even there, the mix of down to earth things (like being talented) and 'magic' things (like the secret and power of real faith) is prevalent. The 'magic' thing is that one can see Gods work here, but there is also the simple fact of two parents who knew what true education means. If they would not have been authentic and faithful, Rebecca might not have been either.

I can only conclude that having a great dad and mom, having a great family, means a lot of things for he human beings we are, and hence, of course, for our Christian lives too. You or I could sometimes feel a bit jealous about these things if we see them happen in the lives of others, not in our own family, but that of course is not the best way of receiving something from God. Being allowed to have a look into things as God obviously wants them to see, that too means receiving something from God. And, you know, we often look at some of those great 'lives' (think the life of Hudson Taylor for instance), without fully realizing what kind of life they really lived: their firm devotion to Gods will even in extremely difficult situations. Are we ready to push that button? To take those risks?

When I consider the life of someone like Mr. Smallbone, it also strikes me that this man, this family, could have decided to make much more money with the kind of talents of their oldest daughter - provided that they would all have agreed on doing that. They could have walked a much more 'mainstream' road, they could have decided that just showing a little more 'flesh on the screen' could immediately double or triple the amount of attention for Rebecca's performance. It is not even about taking extreme positions, just doing a little bit more what 98% of all female mainstream artists seem to do these days. Speaking from a human viewpoint, and given the fact that Rebecca knows something about acting, they would have succeeded. Rebecca would have been popular for a much wider audience - but a totally different audience. Tens of thousands of Christians would not have been much aware of her existence, she would not have been one of the very influential Christian leaders for all those (young) people who were already considered by many Christians a 'lost generation'.

I See Smallbones

In stead of a lost generation however, a 'purity generation' was rising up (not solely due to the efforts of the Smallbones of course, but heir being faithful to a mission made a difference - it always makes a difference. In stead of seeing a lost generation, they saw a purity generation. It reminds of Floyd McClung's recent book You See Bones - I See an Army (2007, the title refers to Ezekiel 37, the valley full of bones, that is: unless faith gives us another vision). An interesting view on Christian life by the way. I would suggest - with a wink - that God might probably have thought, when those hard years for Mr. David and family occurred (1990, 1991): you see Bones - I see Smallbones.

But fill in your own name if you want. The world saw just dry and dead bones - but God saw Evie Tornquist, or he saw Amy Grant - and they reached millions with their songs of devotion. And not just artists of course - remember: this is a mission thing.

Christians basically see - or ought to see - 'success' and things like that in an fundamentally different light. Reality is something that happens within the orbit of Gods will - not outside of it. The World is real, but not reality in all its fullness. Nothing can be more real than the One who created reality - all things seen and unseen. He also created our talents.

You decide how you use it: for real or for unreal. Contribute to the ways of the History Maker, or to the ways of the masquerade makers of this world.

Some sources

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