WEEK OF PRAYER: Music helps missionaries break barriers
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (BP) -- Good values weren't enough for Linda Hamfors of Stockholm, Sweden. Hamfors, who grew up in an atheist family, believed Jesus was "a really amazing guy" and learned values from her parents like forgiveness, acceptance and love.
But, good values couldn't sustain the singer/songwriter through the tumultuous years when her parents began drinking more and pursuing materialistic gain.
Feeling "left alone with my good values, I wasn't feeling good," Hamfors said.
Struggling with addiction, Hamfors searched for God. She found a church. She began singing in church, and the Gospel songs moved her to tears.
Then, she heard International Mission Board church planters Eric and Anissa Haney -- also musicians -- perform at an event in her city. They sang songs Anissa had written about life, hope and love.
"[I write songs] about the value of life," Anissa said. "All the songs I've written in the last few years [are] about the value of life, how valuable you are to God and that He has a purpose for your life."
The second time Hamfors heard the Haneys play during a street performance, the young woman "came over to me in tears," Anissa recalled.
"She had all these questions and she wanted to get together sometime."
Hamfors said, "My mind was going, 'Oh, this is too much about Jesus and God,' but my heart was saying, 'Yes!'"
The answer is 'Yes!'
"Yes!" is an answer the Haneys know all too well. Eric describes the initial calling to international service as "a hurricane in our souls" -- a deep stirring that drove them to pray. The young musician told his wife, "Whatever this is, the answer is 'yes' to God."
That "Yes!" eventually led the Haneys and their three children to Stockholm. As the first IMB church planters in Sweden, they help start churches within a culture steeped in secularism and post-modern thought. They are funded through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' provision for missions and ministry service.
Charles Kridiotis, a church planter with the Simple Church network who partners with the Haneys, estimates that 3.5 percent of Swedes attend church. Of that, he says approximately 1.5 percent could be considered evangelical Christians.
"We have seen a little bit of growth in some places," Kridiotis said, "but even that little growth is not equivalent to the birth rate in this nation, so in fact, the church is actually going backward."
Because Stockholm is a secular society and Swedes "just don't talk about God," Kridiotis and Eric agree that a small group approach to church planting is necessary.
"The resistance is not [toward] Jesus," Kridiotis said. "The resistance is what church is perceived to be in this nation."
As a result, the strategy is simple: listening that leads to relationships that lead to biblical community and authentic small group worship.
"We really care about their stories," Eric said. "So their story leads to our story, which is God's story."
Music is the key
For the Haneys, music is the key to sharing their story and hearing the stories of those they meet. By recording the songs of local musicians and interviewing them for a website designed to help singers and songwriters share their music, Eric has the opportunity to hear the stories of musicians and artists in Stockholm's creative community.
"I was at a party with one of the artists that we work with," Eric said. "I was sitting on the couch talking with [a guy who is a rapper] ... He asked me specifically, 'Will you tell me how you came to know Jesus and what He's meant to you?'" Eric responded, "Of course I can!"
Approaching conversations about God through music has the ability to "cut through walls," Anissa said, noting the countless times people have approached them after a song and shared a piece of their story because the music moved them.
"Music has a power ... to bring about healing ... and to bring purpose and hope," Anissa said. "We play a lot of music in pubs and during open mic [events] so a lot of times we are the only believers there, the only little piece of light in the darkness."
The message is hope
The message of hope in Anissa's music is what drew Hamfors to approach Anissa after a street performance.
"I felt like when you're really held by someone ... like a mother who holds you," Hamfors said about the songs Anissa performed. "This was the feeling I had when I was listening and I was just crying."
A few days after they talked and exchanged cell phone numbers, Hamfors invited Anissa for lunch. The two women became friends. A few months later, Hamfors became a follower of Jesus. She now attends a couple of home groups where she says she is learning to forgive.
"I was taught to be forgiving and to understand that [my parents] were doing their best," Hamfors said. "(They) didn't mean harm, but they were just in pain inside themselves."
After watching a movie in home group about letting go of past traumas, she learned "to heal that part of me that doesn't want to forgive," Hamfors said. "The home group is a safe place to talk about God."
Eric is also encouraging Hamfors to share her story and her beliefs. He recorded one of her songs and interviewed her for the website, offering her another place to share her newfound faith.
"The coolest change I've seen in Linda [is that] now she wants to share with others," Eric said. "She's saying, 'I have to tell my son about Jesus because no one else will.'"
For Hamfors, sharing her story can mean talking with her son about Jesus. It also can mean writing songs with Christian messages. Together, Hamfors and Anissa wrote a song they performed for Sweden's National Peace Day.
"The Peace Song is about relationships," Hamfors said. "It's about what it takes to trust and find peace."
Read more about the Haneys' songwriting here.
Watch the Haneys share how they use music to touch the lives of people in Stockholm here: