If you happened to experience Rock the River in Quad Cities last summer, you heard one of the best new bands to hit the charts in years.
The Afters got its start at a Starbucks in Mesquite, Texas, where lead vocalist Josh Havens and vocalist/guitarist Matt Fuqua served up coffee and plotted their entrance onto the music scene. They recruited Marc Dodd and Brad Wigg and began performing under the name Blisse, earning a reputation as a potent live act with an arsenal of catchy pop/rock anthems.
The Texas-based band was propelled into the national spotlight with their INO/Sony Music Label Group debut I Wish We All Could Win. The project spawned the hit “Beautiful Love,” the theme track for MTV’s “8th and Ocean,” and the most downloaded track of 2006 on the iTunes Inspirational charts.
When their debut disc started to create a buzz, their partnership with Columbia Records helped propel their career to the next level, setting the stage for Never Going Back To OK. The single by the same name was the most played song on R&R magazine’s Christians CHR chart for 2008, while the album brought home a Dove in 2009 for Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year.
I caught up with Josh Havens, lead singer for The Afters, as the band got ready to head into the studio to work on its next release. During our interview, Havens talked about his recent trip to Haiti and his participation in the Healing4Haiti project.
Q: First, can you tell us how The Afters got connected with Healing4Haiti?
Havens: Sure. After the earthquake, we were looking for a way to get involved and help the people of Haiti. We wanted to find a way that the average person could also help out. A lot of the people that I would talk to wanted to help, but they didn’t know what to do. They wanted to make sure that their money was going some place where it would be effective.
We’ve done work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), specifically some events called Rock the River and got to know a lot of the people involved with the BGEA through that. So when we got the call to do the benefit CD, it seemed like the perfect way to reach out and raise support.
People can purchase the CD, tell their friends about it – and it’s a way to contribute but know that your money is going directly to where it needs to go. It’s going to help the people who actually need it.
I had the opportunity to actually go down to Haiti and spend some time there. So I experienced firsthand the projects they are working on. I was really impressed with how organized they were and you could see the relief going to the people that need it most.
Q: During your visit to Haiti, what was the hardest thing you witnessed?
Havens: I spoke to dads who lost all their children and I could really relate to that because I’m a dad. I have three children. It seemed like a story that I heard over and over again from different people: “I had three daughters” or “I had six children and they all died in the earthquake.” That was just heartbreaking for me to hear from these dads who wanted to care for their family, and they are missing them so much now.
I talked to a professor who was on his way to class when the earthquake hit. He taught English at the university there and had just left his four children with his wife at home. They all died. He was in the street when it happened and the school collapsed and many of his students died. For a Haitian, he was somebody who was doing quite well and had an apartment for his family. Now, he had nothing. He was living in an old tent village alongside everyone else.
The earthquake leveled the playing field in that it didn’t matter if you had riches at one point or not. Everyone was living side by side. I remember him saying that it was the most painful thing to lose everything that he held dear, but he was learning “we are all family now.”
It was hard to hear those stories and hear that pain, but they always ended with something hopeful. In walking away from the conversations, it wasn’t like “I am in despair or giving up.” It seemed like every person I talked to, they always ended with something hopeful.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the hope you saw in people or other positive experiences?
Havens: Everybody I spoke to said, “It is the hardest thing to be going through this. I miss my family and I want nothing more than to have my family back, but I know that we are going to survive and have a better Haiti.” They were so thankful for all the people reaching out and helping.
In fact, the person showing us around who was our translator, he’s a pastor there and he started a church plant years ago. He said that for the longest time, he wasn’t sure why God had him there. He’s in Cité Soleil, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the western Hemisphere. There are murders every day. For the longest time, his church – there weren’t a lot of people going – it was a very small congregation. He wondered if he was making a difference.
When the earthquake hit, he lost his whole family. Even his mother died in the earthquake. But after it happened, there was an outpouring of people just crying out to God. He had one service a week before; now he’s up to four services a day. Every single service is packed. We would pass by churches and they were just overflowing with people worshiping. It was exciting to see that — people crying out to God in a country dominated by voodoo for so long. Now the Christian churches are packed.
I think it says a lot that the people who are in Haiti making the greatest impact are Christian organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and the BGEA. People see Christians bringing food, bringing medical care and bringing love. That has made a big difference.
Q: Did you get to meet any of our Rapid Response Team chaplains?
Havens: No, the way our time worked out, we didn’t get to meet them but I heard a lot about them. I know they go into the tent villages and pray with people and just meet them right where they’re at, which is so cool.
But we did have the opportunity to visit one of the food distribution places – we helped with the rice bags for a while. You would see thousands of women lined up and coming to get their rice. These people are going to be able to feed their families now.
One of the biggest things – the port has been shut down – and that’s how everything came into the country. But Samaritan’s Purse has been bringing in food and partner with the 82nd Airborne, which is so smart. They are very organized and they know the right people are getting the food.
Q: Why did you select the song “Falling into Place” as your contribution to Healing4Haiti?
Havens: “Falling into Place” seemed like a natural fit because the song is about how God can take us in our brokenness. He can take us when we are desperate and hurting; He can take ashes and make something beautiful out of it. God never gives up on anyone; He loves us even when we are in pain and He is with us even when we are broken. It seemed like the perfect song.
That’s another thing I experienced in Haiti – I spoke to so many people who told me they felt like Job in the Bible. They felt like they lost everything that mattered most to them, but I heard over and over again, “God has a plan for the rest of my life” and “My life is just starting now.”
Hearing that kind of hope – it made me look at my life and think, “If my life was thrown into chaos like that and I lost everything, would I have the same faith and the same hope?”
“Falling into Place” – it’s a song that definitely ties into that and knowing that even the bad things that happen in life, God is with us through them and can ultimately make something beautiful.