Brandon Heath: missions-minded musician

HOUSTON — For singer/songwriter Brandon Heath, "Don't Get Comfortable" is more than just the title of his newest CD — it's also his life motto.

And as Heath — named New Artist of the Year at the 2008 Dove Award— continues to step out of his comfort zone, he is using these unique opportunities to lead others to Jesus.

It all began a few years ago, when Heath and fellow musicians left the comforts of their suburban neighborhood in Nashville, Tenn., and moved into a low-income area — to better minister to others living in this community.

"My roommates and I asked each other what our purpose was," Heath said. "Did we want to coexist — I pay rent, you pay rent, we all do our own thing — or should we really be intentional with each other and seek each other out and lift each other up? So the three of us as roommates decided to be brothers, to be like Jesus and the disciples and to really pour out our lives and our hearts. It has really made a big difference in our lives.

"There weren't many people like us in the area — not the same race, not the same demographic, not the same age and it was very uncomfortable for me for the first couple of months that I lived there, but it's changed me. I've learned to live with people who don't have much. I've learned a lot from listening to their stories and finding out who I am in contrast to who they are."

One memorable moment occurred during a Christmas Eve dinner. While Heath was having dinner with his family and friends, he spotted a woman looking for food around the front of his house. "I opened the door and asked if she was hungry. She replied, 'If you've got any food, yeah, I'd love that.' My family was there so I invited her to come and join us for Christmas Eve dinner."

As Heath's family and friends befriended the woman, they began to share the love of Christ with her. This experience also inspired Heath to write a song entitled, "Red Sky."

"I took it from the sailor's myth, a red sky at night signifies that the next day would be smooth sailing for a ship, but a red sky in the morning signaled a day of stormy seas," Heath said. "I thought it could also be a metaphor for the Christian faith. What a cool way to say, 'God, show me that tomorrow's going to be a better day because this one is scary. If You'll give me a red sky, at least I'll know that tomorrow's going to be a better day.'"

Last year, Heath continued stepping out of his comfort zone by taking a mission trip to Kenya and Uganda with Blood:Water Mission, a nonprofit organization started by the Christian band Jars of Clay. The efforts of Blood:Water Mission include building clean water wells, supporting medical facilities and tangibly reducing the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic while addressing the underlying issues of poverty, injustice and oppression.

"From these experiences, it's definitely taught me to completely rely on Christ," Heath said. "I have to completely trust that Christ is with me in what I'm doing — living in a high crime area, going to Africa and things like that. I'm definitely not comfortable, but I like life better this way."

Heath's message and his music are being well received. While garnering New Artist of the Year honors at the 2008 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in Nashville, the accolades are unlikely to change Heath, who now resides in Houston. He's grounded on a firm foundation and continues helping others.

Earlier this year, he assembled Nashville's Christian music community for a free concert benefiting their neighbors in Macon County, Tenn., hit hard by a tornado in February. The event raised $18,690 and committed 85 volunteers to join in the cleanup and rebuilding efforts for the storm-torn area.

The concert was pulled together by Heath in less than 10 days after he visited the ravished county to help in the cleanup. The devastating storms left 17 people dead and 150 homes and businesses destroyed. All the funds collected went directly to the Macon County disaster relief fund administered by the Bledsoe Baptist Association.

"I am blown away by the response of the community," Heath said. "It was great to have my friends there on stage with me, as well as in the audience. To see people wanting to reach out to their neighbors, not only responding financially, but wanting to give of themselves physically by signing up to go into the destruction and help rebuild was amazing."

At Heath's concerts, he shares the valuable lessons he's learned in hopes of inspiring others to step out of their own comfort zone.

"What I am learning, what I am finding and what I am observing — those are the things I am putting into songs," Heath said. "And if I can lead people into the spirit of the Lord and maybe reveal some things in their life that God wants to be a part of as well, that's the ultimate goal."