It’s no small feat for a self-proclaimed control freak to take her hands off the wheel, detour without a map down a completely foreign road and end up having the time of her life. But singer-songwriter Sara Groves did just that, and it’s all captured in a reality movie titled “Sara Groves: Just Showed Up For My Own Life.”

What began as a behind-the-scenes DVD eventually turned into a documentary that chronicles Groves’ journeys to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Rwanda, Africa. Groves admits when the whole project began, she had already been feeling dressed up with no place to go, spiritually speaking. With every resource from the American church at her disposal, she felt like she had been grooming and grooming her spiritual walk until she was ready to explode.

Then she recorded her 2005 CD, Add To The Beauty, setting out to write an album about how the kingdom of God intersects humanity. When it was finished, she realized she herself needed to answer the question: What does it mean to add to the beauty?

“I like ideas, I like world view conversations,” Grove says. “But sometimes I’m way up here in this world of ideas. I’m not traditionally a doer, you know?” That desire to “pay the professional,” as she calls it, had left her in a place of fear. Rather than getting her hands dirty, she hugged the wall, sent guilt checks (“Because I want to do something good and I feel guilty about those kids in Africa,” she says.) and simply tried to get through life with as few scars as possible.

Meanwhile, producers for a documentary film company called Nomad approached Groves with the idea for a behind-the-scenes DVD. They began filming without really knowing what story would emerge. When they began capturing a more intimate picture of Groves during a unique season of life, they soon decided to expand the project to an hour-long reality documentary, convincing both Groves and her record label to take a chance with the project.

“We were interested in following Sara because her music and actions reveal a thought-provoking side of life,” says Nomad director Chip Johnson.

Groves’ stirring started when she read the book, “Terrify No More,” by Gary Haugen, president of the International Justice Mission (IJM). The book documents IJM’s rescue raids in the Cambodian village of Svay Pak, notorious for its sex-trafficking of underage girls.

IJM believes in the value of the individual made in the image of Christ, Groves says, an idea that changed how she viewed everything from race issues in America to her work with the local food pantry. When you get right down to it, she adds, those concerns are all about the value of one single life.

Then, after watching the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Groves went to her church and suggested filling her tour bus with baby supplies to deliver to Louisiana. Tearfully, she admits when she posed the idea, she was afraid no one would respond. Three days later, with the help of a local radio station and her home church, the tour bus and an additional trailer were packed to the rafters with diapers, wipes and baby formula. Groves, her husband, father-in-law, a neighbor and a Minneapolis emergency room doctor made the 1,200-mile trek to Slidell, La., an eastern suburb of New Orleans.

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That might be enough for anybody normally afraid to step into the unknown, but God wasn’t finished. Next, she received an invitation from Pastor Rick Warren and a group from Saddleback Community Church in Southern California to travel to Rwanda, Africa to learn about the challenges of reconciliation and economic development 11 years after mass genocide.

Her first response? “Over my dead body, because I have enough to think about. I don’t want to go to Rwanda and take on a Rwanda-sized burden!” But for reasons she can’t fully explain, she boarded a plane to Africa with Warren, Haugen, a group of business and community leaders and her husband, Troy. What happened there shook her to the core.

“The first thing that was exposed in my heart was the self-congratulatory attitude about how I’m helping Africa,” she says, speaking of her promotion of AIDS education and support of DATA (U2 lead singer Bono’s organization to help cancel Africa’s debt and bring fair trade and financial assistance to the continent). Then came the realization that rather than feeling the need to take on the weight of the world, witnessing the effects of mass genocide and meeting it survivors revealed to Groves the fullness of life.

“Oh Lord, I cannot believe I didn’t want to do this,” she says. “I just saw something that changed me and I’m not dashed on the rocks. I am lifted up.”

And no longer afraid.

“There are people who got this a long time ago,” she concludes, with a laugh. “I have been living under a rock.”

Follow her journey in “Sara Groves: Just Showed Up For My Own Life,” available from Nomad at Future Nomad projects include “Slow Burn,” which follows a successful entrepreneur who forms a partnership with poor coffee farmers; and “Team Ghana,” which follow nine travelers as they journey in West Africa.

Copyright © 2006 Christian Music Planet, used with permission.

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