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Sara Groves
Artist Management:
Mantle Music
, MN,
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“I can't just fight when I think I'll win.”

Why is a soft-spoken, introspective, Minnesota mother of three talking about fighting? On her new album, Tell Me What You Know, acoustic pop artist Sara Groves explores what she has learned over the past two years, lessons on the value of long defeats, and the defiance of hope in the face of insurmountable odds. Since the 2005 release of her last project, Add to the Beauty, Groves has been questioning just how, exactly, she is called to do that.

Sara explains, “I believe God invites us to add to the beauty of his plan, letting us participate in his redemptive work. But I found myself asking, ‘How have I applied this idea?' I had groomed and groomed and groomed my personal faith, but to what end?”

Her answers came in a series of global conversations and experiences, from the flood-ravaged gulf of Louisiana, to the genocide memorials of Rwanda, to the testimonies of Southeast Asia sex trade survivors. These experiences showed the disparity between some of the American pursuits of comfort and wealth and the joy of joining the difficult work of social justice and engaging in the suffering of the afflicted.

“One of the main inspirations behind this album is a girl named Elisabeth,” Sara says. “I knew about human trafficking and modern day slavery at some sort of global level, but I didn’t truly understand the personal stories behind what was happening until I met Elisabeth in Washington, D.C.”

Elisabeth’s story is both heartbreaking and phenomenal. The oldest of seven children living in Southeast Asia, the teenager had just finished her sophomore year of high school and decided to take a job in a neighboring community to save money for Bible college. But, tragically, she was betrayed by a traveling companion, kidnapped and sold to a brothel owner. She found herself days later in a foreign country, unable to speak the language, forced into a life of prostitution.

Sara relates the rest of the story: “Elizabeth prayed every night for God to rescue her, even though the other girls in the brothel mocked her. After eight months, an International Justice Mission operative was able to secure her freedom. While retrieving her belongings, they saw Psalm 27 written on the wall above her mattress in her tiny room: The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?’

“The phrase ‘social justice’ can be loaded. To some people it is a political or a liberal conversation, but to me, it is a Kingdom conversation. There are people behind these stories and statistics, and God’s heart for justice burns on their behalf. I wanted to write songs that drew attention to the people like Elizabeth who know God deeply because of their suffering. There is a commonality in all of these friends, and that is the perseverance of hope.”

Much of what Groves has learned has come through her new friends at International Justice Mission, an organization that stands in the gap for victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and oppression when they are left without an advocate. Her interactions with IJM, as well as recent mission trips to Rwanda and New Orleans, have brought a fresh sense of purpose and excitement to Sara’s life-long Christian faith.

“Much of what I had done before along the lines of service was guilt induced. When I would hear a horrific story, I would want to respond quickly, write a check, and be done with it. But I have met many incredible people who are responding with their lives, and that has exposed something in me. I have been given a lot of joy in life, but I’ve also missed something. All of my life I have been grooming my faith, but have missed something about the purpose of that grooming. If I understand scripture at all, I have to know that to enter into the suffering of the poor and the oppressed is to know Christ and his suffering.”

When listening to the new songs on Tell Me What You Know, it’s clear just how much Sara Groves has been learning. Groves’ songs have always communicated profound insight via an organic yet eclectic musical palette. However, this time around Groves accomplishes something even more incredibly rare, 11 tracks detailing hardship and injustice while defiantly and exuberantly celebrating hope. “I want this album to be enjoyable, for people to be able to listen to it in their car and not be heavy hearted about all the ills in the world. I’ve tried to create music that represents the joy that comes in getting to enter into this work.”

Her joy is contagious, and is certain to extend to her growing family. Sara was writing and recording this album while pregnant with her third child, Ruby Cate, born mere days after the final songs were mixed. Now as Sara and husband Troy welcome their first daughter to a home filled with the sounds of two rambunctious big brothers (Toby, 4, and Kirby, 7), the Groves’ family look forward to learning more about how their lives will be useful in bringing hope to individuals like Elizabeth.

That night in Washington D.C., Elizabeth was asked to share the Psalm she had written on the wall as part of her testimony, but Elizabeth refused, stating that Psalm 27 was for the brothel. Instead, she said, she would read Psalm 34: I sought the Lord, and He heard my cry. “When I met Elizabeth, I felt like I was in the presence of royalty,” says Sara. “She is a college graduate now, and with tremendous courage, has used her story to inspire action. I couldn’t get her out of my mind as I was writing these songs. She knows something about God that I will never know. Those verses are real to her in a way that I have never experienced. After meeting her, genocide survivors, and others who have suffered great oppression, I was humbled by my lack of understanding of life, of love, of courage, and of Christ, and was filled with a hunger to know more.”