A Conversation with Michael W. Smith

By   •   November 7, 2010

During the interview, Smitty talked about his love for Latvia, his new record, and he even took time to wish Billy Graham “Happy Birthday.”

Q:/ You have visited Latvia before this weekend. What’s one thing you’ve noticed or appreciated about Latvia and the people here?

A:/ I was in Latvia in May 2009, right before the Festival in Estonia. I’ve always wanted to go to the Eastern Bloc countries and a year and a half ago was the first time; we also went to Budapest. Honestly, it just took my breath away. There was just something about the expectations that they had—you felt like they expected the greatest thing to ever hit the planet. I think the reason for that sort of enthusiasm is obviously because they don’t get this sort of thing very much. They’ve only been free for 22 years.

We, as Americans, I don’t think have a clue as to what their psyche is and what they’re feeling. That night a year and a half ago in Latvia was just electrifying to the point where you felt like we were all going to combust! I watched people have so much joy and then, 15 minutes later, people were weeping as, by the goodness of God, they experienced the concert. This is all brand new for these people and so refreshing, to say the least.

Q:/ How does it make you feel to see that your music transcends so many cultural boundaries and you’ve been able to minister around the world?

A:/ It’s hard to put into words. I think, “Why me? Why did I get picked?” It could very well have been somebody else, so it blows my mind. I pinch myself. I think the good thing is that I can honestly tell you that I really know where all this comes from. It’s not about me. This is somehow in God’s masterful plan that He’d take this little kid from West Virginia and have his music heard around the world. It’s a gift and it’s my assignment. We all have an assignment and one assignment is not really more important than the other.

When you go to Latvia, or you go to Zambia, or you go to these countries you’ve never been to and very few people speak English but they sing every word in English to all of your songs, that takes your breath away, actually.

Q:/ You’ve traveled with Franklin Graham for quite a few years. What is special about ministering at a Franklin Graham Festival for you?

A:/ My approach to what I do at a Festival is much different than if I was just doing my thing because it’s a Smitty concert. Then there would be a specific place where I would talk about the Father heart of God. Do I do that in crusades? To a certain extent, but I know that Franklin will really reach people with the Gospel. My job is to set the stage for Franklin. I guess really I would say that my main goal is to prepare people’s hearts to hear the message, and it’s an honor.

Q:/ You recently came out with a new album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind it, and your thoughts about putting Wonder together?

A:/ All of my records have always been written out of life, just living life with my friends and living life with people that are close to me. It wasn’t any different with Wonder. I think the special thing about Wonder, it’s also a pop record so I reinvented myself again. And like Worship was a record for that time—it came out on 9/11 which I had no idea would be the most horrific day in our country—I feel like Wonder is for our time now.

I talk about my friend who can’t make the car payment and they’re going come repossess his car. In that same song, which is “Wait for You,” I talk about people losing their jobs. Life is hard. We’re living in really tough times. I’d say that might be my favorite song on the record, just from what it says, and I would think it would resonate with so many people’s hearts.

Then another song is about abuse, which is not a real popular topic. One out of three people have been abused in some way, which still blows my mind to even say that because it’s almost, “How can that be?” but it’s true. I had a good friend break his silence that he was sexually abused in the church 20 years ago. I just believe there are a lot of people out there who are believers that have been abused, but they’re ashamed or they’re threatened and they’re carrying that burden. I don’t think that’s what God intended. Why did that happen? Gosh, I have more questions than answers, but my faith has never been higher. I do believe there’s a place to invite God into the pain and I believe…I know that you can come to a place where you cannot only forgive yourself but you can forgive the one who abused you.

Q:/ Today is Billy Graham’s 92nd birthday. Do you remember the first time you ever sang at a crusade and met Billy?

A:/ The first time I sang at a crusade was with Amy Grant and I believe it was Oklahoma City, if I’m not mistaken. I was just in awe. Little did I know that I would become a dear friend of his—which makes my life so much richer. I’ll never forget it…Amy and I were just in heaven. We didn’t have a band. It was just the two of us.

I remember I played “How Majestic is Your Name” and I would stomp my foot because that’s how I keep time…I’ll never forget him making a comment, “Boy, you really get into it, don’t you, stomping that foot there?” Those were his first words to me! Then, obviously, I got invited back to do several more.

The real history, to me, the real big event for me with Billy was the first youth crusade, youth night, in Cleveland, Ohio, in the Fall of 1994. I can’t talk about it because I’ll start crying. Well, maybe I can talk about it for a second. Billy had a heart to reach the next generation and knew that if he didn’t make some sort of change, to designate one night to try to relate musically to youth, that he felt like he would lose them. It was a big risk but I’m sure glad he did it. Thousands of kids came forward that night.

Q:/ And now here you are in Latvia, 16 years later, with his son. What is your prayer for tonight? Tell us about the worship set.

A:/ Well, I’m here in Riga, and one thing I know for sure is that these people are hungry and the arena is going to fill up again. I have this sense in my spirit that something pretty amazing is going to happen tonight. We’re going to lead them in worship. I hope when I go into “Agnus Dei” or “Above All” that they’ll all know the songs.

It’s really interesting. In Latvia last year, we had several people come to know Christ and actually get healed during the worship, before I even spoke. Music is powerful, and especially when you… I mean, we don’t really have to invite Him to be here, He’s already here. But we pray that His Presence will be really thick, I believe that it happens. I hope tonight will be a night that many of these people will never forget for the rest of their lives, and I’m glad I get to share in it.

And I would just like to say, “Happy Birthday, Billy. I love you. My life is richer because of you!”

Check out Michael W. Smith’s new release, Wonder, at michaelwsmith.com »