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Raising Their Voices

Suffering in Sudan has prompted Christian musicians to join forces on an album benefiting the victims.

February 19, 2001|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to raise awareness and money for persecuted Christians in Sudan, an award-winning gospel musician from Costa Mesa has produced a benefit album featuring an all-star cast of worship leaders.

"This isn't a religious conflict," said Ken Tamplin of Sudan's 17-year civil war. "This is government-induced genocide. It's about time we started doing something about it."

The proceeds from "Make Me Your Voice" will go to Christian organizations that work in Sudan.

The international focus is a first for Christian multiartist projects, said Deborah Evans-Price, Billboard magazine's country/Christian music editor.

"They're drawing attention to an international tragedy," Evans-Price said. "I love music that entertains. But when it also serves as a call for human action, that's something special."

The State Department, United Nations and humanitarian groups have condemned the Islamic-backed Sudanese government for human-rights abuses in numerous reports. The violations, the reports conclude, have led to an estimated 2 million deaths, famine, slavery and displacement of more than 4 million people in animist and Christian southern Sudan.

Tamplin, 37, is an accomplished Christian musician--he has won three Dove Awards, the Christian version of the Grammy. But when he started to raise a family a decade ago, he jumped full-time into the better-paying secular world.

The pony-tailed songwriter and father of two now works in the film and television industry, having written music for "The Perfect Storm," "Joan of Arc," and "The X Files."

A little over a year ago, Tamplin and his wife went to a Newport Beach benefit dinner for Christians in Sudan.

"We'll go, write a check and be home in time to tuck the kids in bed," Tamplin told his wife.

But the photo images from Sudan's civil war--projected on a giant screen--haunted him.

"It was really a sickening feeling," Tamplin said. "I just thought, 'Oh my God, what can I do?' "

The first thing that came to mind was a benefit album, and a quick check with some of the larger churches in the country revealed plenty of interest.

Several Southern California worship leaders appear on the record, including Rick Muchow of Saddleback Church in Mission Viejo; Davion Farris and Jackie Gouche Farris of Bible Life Enrichment Fellowship in Inglewood; Bobette Harrison of South Bay Church of God in Torrance; Stacey and Rocky Robbins from Newport Mesa Christian Center in Newport Beach; and Earl Buffington of Zoe Church in Encino.

And then Tamplin approached Andrae Crouch, the legendary gospel singer from New Christ Memorial Church in Pacoima.

"Even before I came down to meet him," Tamplin said, "Andrae said God had already told him he wanted him to be involved."

Tamplin spent the next four months producing the CD and raising money to cover costs, which amounted to about $100,000.

"I wanted to make sure the money would go to Sudan from the first CD sold," Tamplin said.

The revenues--about 25% of each record sold--will go to three nonprofit groups providing relief to the Sudanese: Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse, Safe Harbor and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Hussam Ayloush, a Muslim leader in Southern California, said that as long as the aid is going to humanitarian efforts, "I wish them all the luck."

But Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Sudan's civil war has been wrongly portrayed as a Muslim-Christian conflict. Atrocities have been committed by both government forces and rebels, regardless of religion, Ayloush said.

"No one group is innocent," Ayloush said. "There's no doubt a lot needs to be done in Sudan. But this [conflict] has been mischaracterized to incite hatred against Islam."

Tamplin and his record label, Spring Hill Music Group, Inc., hope to sell at least 100,000 copies. Scott Chancey, president of Spring Hill, said his company is putting an undisclosed but "substantial" promotion budget behind the record.

"When I listened to the project, we loved what we heard," Chancey said. "And then when we heard its tie with those in Sudan, we thought we needed to get behind this in a big way."

The sales from "Make Me Your Voice" have been "respectable, but not great" during the CD's first weeks on the shelf, Chancey said. The first official sales figures won't be available until the end of the month.

*

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a leading congressional critic of Sudan, last month made his fourth visit to Africa. He said he believes Americans may be beginning to pay attention to the civil war in Sudan, and hopes that with international pressure, the battle-torn country could be at peace by the end of the year.

"More people have died in Sudan since the fighting began in 1983 than in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia combined," Wolf said. "There is a new feeling that [the apathy toward Sudan] is changing rapidly. And this CD is one of the indications."

A six-minute video, along with the CDs, was sent to churches and Christian book and music stores to help spread the message about what's going on in Sudan.

Pastor Habib Bardowell, who wrote the album's title track, will show the video this weekend at his church, Shoreline Community, in Monterey, Calif.

"I was very much blown away by what I saw," Bardowell said. "I felt incredibly led to be a part of it. As the project finished, it was clear that we were singing as one voice for one purpose."

*

'More people have died in Sudan since the fighting began in 1983 than in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia combined. There is a new feeling that [the apathy toward Sudan] is changing rapidly. And this CD is one of the indications.'

REP. FRANK R. WOLF (R-Va.)

A leading congressional critic of Sudan's policies

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