Ottosen, CCM Magazine
of Selah on his family’s experiences in Africa.
Did your grandparents
grandma was raised in the church and was a Christian early on.
My grandpa wasn’t. He was from New York and went to the
University of Michigan and graduated from their dental school.
Then he had two successful practices.
His wife died of a brain tumor, and he was devastated. It was during that
time that my great aunt (She wasn’t related to him at the time)
came into his dentist office and shared the gospel with him. She
ran a chapel in downtown Detroit, and she said, ‘You should come
down and be with us.’ He was intrigued that she was a woman
leading a chapel service. He said, “Well, I’ll come down at some
I’m not sure if it was the first time he visited or the second, but he
accepted the Lord pretty quickly after that. He was in his mid
to late 30s, and it really transformed him. He would share with
anyone. When people would come sit in his dentist chair, he
would share the gospel with them. He just really got on fire;
and, at that point, my great aunt wrote to my grandma, who was a
singer (She lived in Pennsylvania). She said, “Would you come up
and help me worship? We’re really starting to grow here, and we
need someone to help lead worship. And also, there’s a young
doctor here, and he’s available.” My grandma said, “You can keep
him. I’ll come up, but he’s all yours.”
She came up, and she sang. And the first time she sang, he fell for her.
About a month later, they were engaged; and another month later,
they were married.
There were a lot of missionaries going to the Congo specifically.
Was it called the Congo at
Todd: It was
the Belgian Congo. King Leopold had controlled it early
on, and then the Belgian government bought it from him (He was
the king of Belgium.).
My grandpa really felt called to go, and my grandpa just told him,
“You’re just excited. You’re a new Christian. You don’t really
know what you’re talking about yet, but pray about it.” A couple
months later, he felt the same. So, she knew it was from the
Lord. They had to get accepted by a mission board. She sent the
letter and said, “OK, God, I’ve done my part; now You do yours.
Make sure this never gets there.” She did not want to go.
But a couple months later, they were accepted. Shortly after, they were
on a boat. They were self-supported. Back in those days, there
weren’t a lot of churches sponsoring missionaries. They went out
in 1938. My Uncle Jack and my dad were born out there. And
later, my Uncle.
My grandpa’s big goal was that, before he died, 10,000 people were going
to come to know the Lord. Another dream was to build a Bible
college so that he could train the nationals. He saw it as them
being far more effective. They speak an average of five
languages, and it’s their people; so when one of their own is
saying to them, “You need to accept Jesus Christ and here’s
why,” it’s the not the big missionaries who’ve got the trucks
and has got this… it’s one of their own.
My grandpa, because he was a dentist and came from a wealthy background,
he was a big dreamer. So he didn’t do things like typical
missionaries did. They might have lived in a hut for a while,
but then he built a huge brick home. He would build hospitals,
and he started three mission stations. The first was Kajeshe,
but that’s where my dad was raised. There were no missionaries
at the time, but he built a church that sat 5,000 people.
Missionaries thought they were crazy and said, “This place is
never going to be filled.”
It was interesting because my dad and I went back when I was 9-years-old,
and the church was so dark because it was so full. People were
sitting in the windows, and you could barely see light coming
through. It’s packed out every day.
They were there for several years, and then they felt called to start
another mission station. It was a desert time. They were there
for about five years, and I don’t think one person accepted the
Was this still in the Congo?
Todd: Yes, it
was called Iweungu. Cannibalism was heavily practiced at this
time. There was a man who’d heard my grandpa at another town,
but he was from another tribe. He had accepted the Lord and come
over to Iweungu. Let me give you an example of what a tribe
would be like: A tribe would be like Williamson County, and
Davidson County would be a completely different country and a
different people. If you were to marry, it would be like an
interracial marriage. You’d be ostracized. Tribalism is still
This man said, “My people need to hear about Jesus. Will you please come
and share with them?” Finally, my grandpa went. He visited the
largest village of the Bayangi tribe.
It’s very interesting when you look at world cultures, and you study
their animist beliefs, there’s usually always a human sacrifice
that has to happen to appease the gods. In their case, it’s to
appease the ancestors. It’s interesting that there’s something
naturally in us that knows there has to be a sacrifice to pay
for our sins. They would give their firstborn daughters to the
witch doctor. The witch doctors would take them down into this
village, which was later where we grew up.
But, at the time, it was a major war area because of the water and the
location. It was also where a lot of witchcraft was practiced.
They would climb up into a larger tree where they could put hot
coals and ashes and lay the child down on them. The idea was
that the child would scream, and that would bring the ancestors
so that they’d see that the family had given this child. At that
point, the witch doctors would cut the babies up and eat them.
That was supposed to bring blessings on their crops and
families. The tradition of honoring the ancestors, to this day,
is very strong. There are a lot of good traditions, but there
are a lot of things that destroy them
If a kid gets snakebite, they’ll have to go to a witch doctor and do this
and that. Finally, when there’s nothing that’s curing the kid,
they’ll bring them to you; and, by that time, it’s usually too
late. It’s really hard to change.
But anyway, they were sacrificing their firstborn children. But there was
a lot of cannibalistic stuff in the sense of, if one village was
having a feast, they’d send messages to another village. And one
of their best men (and it would be an honor for this man) would
go over, and he’d be killed and sacrificed and eaten for this
major feast or celebration.
My grandpa came in and shared the gospel. And he said, “God sacrificed
His Son so you don’t have to.” It made perfect sense to them. By
the thousands, they started coming to know the Lord. It started
with the chief; he accepted the Lord, and people followed after
My grandpa felt called to stay in that area, and he bought the main area
where the lake was and where the sacrifices were. That’s called
Nkara-ewa—that’s our mission station is. That’s where the
hospital is, where the mission station is. My grandpa moved in
there and built two homes.
So many people were coming to know the Lord that the Belgian government
thought this was ridiculous. I think they were more bothered by
the baptisms; they thought that had more power than salvation.
So, they outlawed baptism for two years. My grandpa continued to
share and disciple with my grandma. Two years later to the day,
they were going to have their baptismal service. On our
recording there’s a song called “By and By,” (On
"Greatest Hymns Vols. 1 & 2) and it’s literally my grandpa
talking at that and my grandma singing. There were over 1,000
people waiting to be baptized.
All of that to say, my dad found my grandpa’s diary and, at one point, he
was just thanking God because he had seen 10,000 people come to
know the Lord. Very shortly after that, he was building the home
we eventually lived in. He fell through a board, and it broke;
and he went headfirst into the cement floor and broke his neck.
My uncle, who was 11 or 13 at the time, was the only other
person who knew how to drive. He drove about half the way, and
another missionary drove the other half. It was only 60 miles,
but it took like eight hours to get there because the roads were
so bad. He died in Kikwa.
When he died, my dad was about 11; and my uncle was 13. So my grandma
moved them back. My dad went to different schools, and my uncle
was killed in a rock fall when my dad was about 16. They moved
up to Michigan, and my dad went to Bible school after graduating
and met my mom. She very early on knew that because he was a
missionary kid, he might have to go back. So, she was scared to
death of that. She was a city girl and wanted nothing to do with
Fast forward to 1978. My dad was a singer and was just getting to the
point where he was able to support the family. He was out in
California doing that. Before that, he worked as a music pastor
for 13 years in a church in the Detroit area. He was in
California; we were back at home.
We were watching a TV show and smelled something burning. My mom thought
it was an iron and later after the show, my mom ran into the
furnace room and saw that it had basically exploded. We had a
wooden home; it was a kerosene furnace. Everything to burn the
home that could’ve happened, happened. We were so far out in
prairie land that the two fire stations argued for 15 minutes as
to who was going to have to come out. Once they got there, they
ran out of water, so they had to use our little fishing pond.
So, we ate trout the next morning.
I was 5 at the time, Nicol was 8, and Shawn was 10. We just watched it
burn up, and my mom was really upset. About three days later, my
dad found out what happened. My mom is bawling and saying, “What
are we going to do” He said, “I really think God’s calling us to
go to Africa.” He really felt like God was saying, “What about
the work your dad started? What about the Bible college?” My mom
said, “Give me a week and let me pray about it.” After that, she
I was really blown away by that. I’ve got twin girls, who are 20 months.
When you’re a kid, you think your parents are Superman and
Superwoman, and they know what’s going to happen next. If we
lost everything and said, “OK, we’re going to take you and risk
your lives to go to Africa,” I don’t know how I’d
react—especially if I didn’t want to go.
But she said she felt like we would be less safe if we stayed in the
States—that God’s hand would not be on us if we stayed here
against His will. And, too, she said, “When I die, what was I
going to say? That I got to more shopping malls and hang out
with my friends? It wouldn’t measure up.”
That was in 1977. In 1978 we went. That was and has always been the main
focus of my parents’ ministry: the Bible college. It’s called
Laban Bible College, and they have three of them all under the
umbrella of Laban Ministries.
~ from todayschristianmusic.com ~
Two-thirds of the CCM vocal trio
grew up in Africa, and that influence made itself felt immediately
on the group's distinctive 1999 debut album,
"Be Still My Soul."
Formed by siblings
Todd and Nicol Smith
the group's musical style was specialized thanks to the Smiths'
childhood as missionary children in Africa. Signed to Curb Records,
"Be Still My Soul"
earned critical praise as well as a Dove Award for Inspirational
Album of the Year.
They repeated the feat with 2001's
and released the Christmas album
"Rose of Bethlehem"
Nicol, married and having pursued a concurrent solo career since
2000, left the group soon after; she was replaced first by
then permanently by
(The baton was passed back and forth in 2006, when both Crittenden
and Perry appeared on separate tracks of a Selah duets album,
"Bless the Broken Road,"
which also won the Dove Award for Inspirational Album of the Year.)
The trio of Todd Smith, Allan Hall, and Amy Perry solidified their
presence on the CCM landscape with 2009's
"You Deliver Me"
"Hope of the Broken World."
Their ninth album for Curb, the critically acclaimed
"You Amaze Us,"
was released in 2014. In 2016 the group issued a new EP,
"O the Blood,"
as well as a second volume of
Now, in 2017 comes a 2 CD collector's set with uplifting renditions
of "Be Thou My Vision"; "Holy, Holy, Holy"; "How Great Thou Art";
"Be Still, My Soul"; "In the Garden"; "Just As I Am"; "O Sacred
Head, Now Wounded"; "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"; "Amazing Grace";
"Victory in Jesus"; and more.
Selah Releases "Greatest Hymns Volumes 1 & 2" Box Set
Renowned for their signature arrangements of hymns and inspirational
classics, multi Dove Award-winning Curb recording artist Selah
returns to their roots with "Greatest Hymns, Vol. 1 & 2." The
long-awaited follow-up to 2005's "Greatest Hymns," was released last fall and
"Greatest Hymns Vol. 2" quickly rose to the top of the Inspirational charts.
Now, fans can get both in one box set with an amazing total of 33 tracks.
Selah is known for its tight harmonies and
for putting new spins on traditional favorites. For example, the
group has recorded a bluesy version of “Amazing Grace” and
gave a distinct pop sound to a “Standing on the Promises”
“Hymns really resonate with people,” said founding Selah member Todd
Smith in a phone interview from his home in Nashville. “There’s
such a depth to these songs when you think about the theology. You
have the Scriptures, and the closest thing to Scriptures are hymns.
They are melodically, beautifully written, and the theology is
The group got its start two decades ago by
performing hymns during church worship services. At the time, each
member had dreams of being a solo artist — one in rock, another in
pop and the other in country music. God had other plans, Smith said.
“Our very first concert was at a church in Nashville. I came and led
worship and pastor asked me to do a concert. I didn’t want to sing
alone so the three of us got together and performed songs we grew up
singing. We made our first album primarily of hymns, and every album
we’ve done there’s been a base of hymns.”
The new releases is highlighted by brand
new recordings of fan favorites "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Wayfaring
Stranger," "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" and "Amazing Grace." The
18-track "Greatest Hymns, Vol. 2" also includes a special
radio version of "O The Blood" (produced by Ed Cash),
from the trio's acclaimed 2014 release, "You Amaze Us."
The project features an additional 13
hymns from Selah's storied discography. Selections including
"Just As I Am"; "How Deep The Father's Love For Us"; "'Tis So Sweet
To Trust in Jesus"; and "In The Garden," are among the
group's most popular hymn arrangements of the past decade.
"Over the years, many people have shared
how the hymns we've recorded bring them back to their childhood,"
says Selah's Todd Smith. "Usually it's a song that a parent
or grandparent sang to them. As a kid, I loved singing 'In the
Garden' with my family. I hope our version of this song, which
we recorded on our 2014 album, "You Amaze Us," will remind
listeners of beautiful memories of their loved ones."
Comprised of Todd Smith, Allan Hall and Amy Perry, Selah is
one of Christian music's most beloved groups. For nearly 20 years,
the trio's music has brought hope and healing while helping
introduce iconic songs of the faith to a new generation. With a
career boasting total sales surpassing 4 million album and single
units combined, Selah has garnered eight Gospel Music Association
Dove Awards--including five Inspirational Album of the Year
trophies--and eight #1 singles. Their signature hits include "You
Raise Me Up," "Press On" and "You Amaze Us," among
“For us to get to share and sing about our
faith, for me that’s a very beautiful way for us to share the great
commission about Jesus,” he said. “I like recording, but concerts
are my favorite. You can sense the presence of God and you can see
people hurting. There are a lot of people who are suffering or going
through something — depression, divorce, cancer, anxiety. The music
we sing tends to resonate with people.”
In 2014, Selah released "You Amaze Us."
The title track debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Christian Soft AC
chart, becoming the first song in the history of the chart to do so.
"You Amaze Us” spent a concurrent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the
Christian Soft AC chart.
That same year, Amy Perry and Alan Hall also released solo
albums – "Glory All Around" (Perry) and "Work of Love"
And, last year, Todd Smith released his solo CD, "There's A
And you can Selah in concert on February
24th at Due West United Methodist Church in Marietta. Click on the ad above for
details and tickets.
(portions from an article in The