- Isaac Hurst
C&L! Artist Interview: Steve Schallert
C&L! Aritst Steve Schallert is an international speaker, activist, musician and avid disciple of Jesus. Check out the recent interview, I had with him, in which he shares more about his ministry in South Africa and around the world.
Tell me a bit about the ministry work you do. How did all of it start?
My wife Diane and I provide leadership for a ministry called “A Life Together”. We started it five years ago, and it’s rooted in Capetown, South Africa, but we function in a handful of nations around the world. Its focus is reconciliation, discipleship and community, and in South Africa, we focus particularly on economic and racial reconciliation. Our biggest programs right now are six-month, intensive Discipleship Training Schools. We spend three months in Capetown, in this melting pot community, living together and talking about the story of Jesus, while investing in the wider community. We specifically spend time in and amongst the urban poor, trying to figure out what it looks like to follow Jesus in that mess. We then go out for three months among the nations of the world, trying to put everything we learned and gleaned into practice, partnering with ministries that are working in the field of peacemaking. Besides that, I travel a lot around the world, working with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) and teaching within their network. I then do all this music stuff too, and I’m always trying to figure out how it all fits together.
What does the music side of your ministry look like?
Well, I come from a musical background. I played music full-time for about five or six years, doing about 300 shows per year, and then I quit cold turkey when I got married. My wife and I lived in a number of different parts of the world for about three and a half years and eventually started having babies. After a while, following all these experiences we’d had as a family, I felt a heart push to pick up the music game again. We’d been in and out of Afghanistan and a bunch of other countries, working in a lot of war-torn regions. A kind of ache started welling up inside of me, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so music became the most natural thing to grasp onto again. It was a way to try and express all of this internal turmoil; these questions about what it all means, you know?
When we moved to South Africa about four years ago, we joined a community that was planted alongside YWAM in Muizenberg. Music became the natural gathering place for us, whether that was for worship or just singing songs together as a community. A lot of the music that I’ve been writing and doing recently has come out of those places of struggle, of tension and anxiety, and of trying to find an outlet for pain.
Do you mainly play music for your community, or do you also perform in other venues?
I do both. I speak a lot around the world, so I often use those travel opportunities to do some concerts in coffee shops or shows here and there. But most of it is definitely within our community network or with A Life Together.
What would you say is something that God has been teaching you recently?
Our family has been in this beautiful season of flux. We were living in South Africa full-time for about three years and then we found ourselves with three babies, three years old and under! South Africa is this beautiful, incredible mess of a place. I’ve never been in a nation more full of joy, celebration, possibility and hope, and at the same time, turmoil, destruction, anxiety and fear. So, after having three kids, we decided to take a little break and come back to Hawaii for a season to assess things. We had another baby in the wake of that, and now we’ve been in this kind of anxious, bubbling season for the last six months, as we prepare to move back to South Africa. In the midst of it, we find ourselves in a “liminal space”: this reality of living between the dreaming and the coming true; this in-between time, an overlapping time zone, where your heart is in one place and your body’s in another. I think it’s been really appropriate for us, even as we’ve wandered through this past Christmas season. Christmas to me is like the ultimate liminal space, the ultimate time of yearning and aching for God to come dwell among us. So, I would say that what my wife and I are learning is that these seasons of tension that we wander through are actually so deeply valuable and beautiful, if you allow God to do what he wants to do through them. There’s a certain freedom in your spirit, if you open up and don’t get too ahead of yourselves. What we’ve been learning is to just desire to see God with us in the present. I don’t really think God is a God of the past or the future but He’s the I AM, the God right now today, in the midst of whatever we’re wandering through.
You talked about trying to play at coffee shops or other venues when you’re in a city for a speaking event. Do you have any stories or testimonies from those concerts?
I was in Norway just a couple weeks ago, speaking in some schools. While there, we spent an evening doing this beautiful little coffee shop night. There’s little else that can express or give a voice to that inner ache like music can. While language seems to fall short on its own, the minute you put melody to it, that kind of transcends it. There’s just something that can crack open and break out. Like I said, most of the songs on my newest record were written while doing life in South Africa, Afghanistan and other places of tremendous conflict, violence and pain. They came out of trying to figure out who God is in the midst of all that and where God is in a world of suffering. We all experience suffering in various ways, you know? It’s a human experience that cuts through all social barriers. Suffering isn’t just violence and death; it’s also our inner violence and our inner death.
Often people connect with these melodies and songs that have been written out of that place. So, we had this beautiful breakthrough moment while in Norway, as we were singing these songs about hope in the midst of suffering. It feels awkward at first, but then there’s always this moment where we’re humming a melody together, despite the fact that we come from drastically different backgrounds or vastly different economic spaces. They are moments of tremendous unity that just kind of pop up out of nowhere, when melody and suffering and joy all flow together. Something just happens and it cuts through our differences. There are so many things that try to keep us separate from one another, and then music becomes the thing once again that draws us to the table together and we become one. I find that that’s so consistent.
What’s your vision for the future? Where do you feel God’s leading you and your ministry?
As I said, we work at this intersection between reconciliation and discipleship and our heartbeat is around peacemaking - something that the world is more in need of now than ever before. We have some beautiful new partnerships coming together, working with different peacemaking movements in South Africa and other parts of the world. We return there in February, and the next A Life Together DTS starts in Capetown in July. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come and invest their hearts and lives into the narrative of Jesus - into a movement that is seeking to bring peace into situations of conflict. I think for us, more and more, we’re exploring the gospel of peace and thinking of how we can become practitioners of peace, train practitioners of peace, and embolden ourselves to live within situations of suffering and conflict, believing fully that Jesus can and will reconcile all things to Himself.
How can we as a community be praying for you?
Oh man, in about a hundred ways! There’s practical stuff, you know. Me and my family are about to launch halfway around the world with our kids again, so your prayers would be welcome: prayers to leave and end well, and to do that well with all of our kids. Then on a practical note, with all of our seminars and stuff that we’re running in the realm of peacemaking, just for grace and mercy, for longevity in relationships and that all those initiatives would go off well and just be free of violence.