Steven Curtis Chapman: Musician, Adoption Advocate

In the May/June 2010 issue of Outreach magazine, Christian music artist and adoption advocate Steven Curtis Chapman (the Chapmans have adopted three daughters from China) talked candidly about the joy and challenges of adoption—what he calls “the ultimate thing a Christian can do”—and the loss and grief of the past two years over the death of the Chapman’s youngest adopted daughter, Maria Sue. In May 2008, 5-year-old Maria was killed when her 17-year-old brother, Will Franklin, accidentally struck her with his car.

Today, Steven Curtis Chapman is nowhere near the same man he was just two short years ago. He doesn’t write or speak or sing or love or live the same way. And he probably never will. He spoke to Outreach about the very personal ministry that has reshaped his perspective as a father, a husband, an artist and man who now shares the hope of Christ with new understanding and resolve.

More from our interview with Steven Curtis Chapman:

Talking about Maria’s death. “That’s [talking about Maria] been one of the hardest things about doing any [media interviews]. There’s a kind of callousing over that happens when you tell a story over and over and over again. It’s one thing when that happens with songs like ‘I Will Be Here’ or ‘Cinderella,’ sweet stories about being a dad. I can tell them to the point where I have no emotion attached to it, but it’s OK because it’s still accomplishing an important thing. But [with Maria’s story] I have to guard against that happening, even if it means I just don’t talk about it. The fear is that it would get too easy to talk about.”

A Big Big House. “With Maria’s Big House of Hope, a 128-bed foster home we built in China to honor Maria, we can see that special needs orphans get the care they need. We don’t have it full yet—we’re only 70 to 80 percent capacity—but the future impact is immeasurable.

“One of the first desires I had after adopting Shaoey (Chapman’s first adopted daughter) was to come back to China and sing and play and share through music the message of the Gospel with the people of China. At the same time, Mary Beth wanted to come back and build a foster home or some place we could help orphans. And we thought, Those are two wild and crazy dreams, how could that happen?

“We saw both dreams come to fruition several years later. I was with Luis Palau at a show at the Hard Rock Café in Beijing where I stood up there, sang my songs and talked about the hope of the Gospel. I couldn’t believe it was happening. On that trip, I met Maria, a special needs orphan in a foster home run by a Christian family, Robin and Joyce Hill. Joyce is a doctor, and Robin is in the tool manufacturing business. They had started a little work, helping a few orphans, and it grew into this place called Hope Foster Home. On a return trip, we visted there, and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen: the least of the least, the broken of the broken. In fact, most of the children that ended up there had been found in orphanage ‘dying rooms.’ Joyce would go in and say, ‘Can I have that one? I think I can do something for him.’

“At one point we asked them: What if we did something together? They told us that the government had given them property to build a place in Luoyang if they had the money. So we went there as a family and stood on that property and said, ‘Lord willing, we’re going to have a Show Hope foster home here.’ We’ll build something to the glory of God.

“That was before we had Maria. We were in the process of building when the accident happened that took Maria to heaven. When people started hearing about it, there was this huge outpouring of love, encouragement and support for us as a family. So instead of flowers, we just said, ‘If you want to give something, give to this.’ More than $800,000 was donated [in the wake of Maria’s death], so we used some of that to finish the project.

“We decided to change the name to Maria’s Big House of Hope. Maria had been learning the Audio Adrenaline song, ‘Big House,’ a few months before she went to heaven. On Feb. 20, we’d prayed with her, and she asked God to come live in her heart and to let her come live in His big, big house. So as we’d prayed about how we could honor her memory, she [being] a special needs orphan from China, we changed the name.

“As part of our ongoing healing journey, this summer (2009), we got to go back to China, and I did a concert in an earthquake zone—their earthquake happened about a week before our earthquake—so we felt very connected to the people of China in their grief. We shared out of our brokenness and grief into theirs. It was the beauty coming out of our ashes.”

The individuality of grief: “Losing Maria and walking through that grief, there is a reason why the vast majority of marriages—I’ve heard numbers like 70 to 90 percent—don’t survive the traumatic loss of a child. And I get that. There are days we say, ‘We don’t know how we’re going to survive this; we’re just trusting you, God, to help us love each other through it, to understand each other.’

“Grief is such an individual thing, the way it affects you. You take this journey and you feel alone on it, and you try to come together and experience it together, but you don’t really understand where the other person is in it. It’s an incredible breeding ground for bitterness that the enemy uses to rip marriages apart.

“So I’m just saying, if pastors are reading this, ‘Pray for the Chapmans. We still need it.’”

True worship. “When I did Beauty Will Rise [Chapman’s latest release], I thought it was going to be half of a record, so heavy and so much of a lament. My plan had been to do it very organically. I thought the other half needed to be a worship record, but as these songs began to come together, I had to give myself permission to let it be what it would be. I felt like I had to be honest to the pain, real in the moment. As I did that, the worship happened in the midst of what’s there. Worship only becomes true worship when we’ve started from a desperate place, where our response to Him is different.

“I have a desire to sing these songs in concert, to just forget that I’m singing to anyone but God. There are several worship songs in my live concert set already, and there are different ways of doing it, but that’s definitely where it’s heading. I think [churches] will be a natural place to take the music, but for now, I just need to go wherever people are, wherever we can get people together to listen and worship.”

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Gail Allyn Short
Gail Allyn Short

Gail Allyn Short is freelance writer in Birmingham, Alabama. She leads a nursing home ministry and teaches a Bible study class for new believers at Integrity Bible Church.