The Sonflowerz are sisters Elissa and Becca Leander. The group, based in Colorado Springs, began writing music in 1999, and their fourth album, By Faith, releases today.
Elissa and Becca have a long history of partnering. Recently Paul Haddix, Artist Relations Manager, sat down with them and discussed their new album and their involvement with Compassion.
- For our readers who aren’t aware of The Sonflowerz, can you give us a brief introduction and background of the band?
- As a band you have been in partnership with Compassion since 2008. You were also Compassion sponsors before then. Tell us how you became sponsors and what effect your partnership with Compassion has had with regard to your ministry as a band.
- In September of 2009 you had the chance to visit El Salvador and see our work first hand. Tell us what that trip was like and how it affected your understanding of our ministry.
- The song “The Face of Jesus” was inspired by that visit to El Salvador. Tell us what inspired the song and a little bit of what the process was to translate the memories and experience into song.
- Can you tell us a little more about By Faith? What song, other than “The Face of Jesus,” are you most excited about?
Elissa: Sure! We began playing music in junior high school. Becca, who was 13 at the time, learned to play bass and I learned the acoustic guitar. Our family was very musical; our dad played guitar and music was really a part of our family culture.
As we learned our instruments we also began writing a few songs. At one point, our youth pastor learned we were writing songs and asked me to share one with our youth group.
At first, I was really resistant but I asked God to lead me. I ended up sharing with a group of 20 kids and it was nerve wracking!
After that first experience we continued to write music and play for our home church. We then began to get requests from all over and started to play for other youth groups and in coffee houses around the state.
Following high school we prayed and felt led to pursue music full time. It’s been a journey, and it’s amazing to see how God has moved in our lives.
Just this past month we had the opportunity to lead worship for over 13,000 people in Singapore, and I wasn’t even nervous. It really has been an awesome experience!
Becca: Elissa really captures it. You know, starting off very young and growing to where we are today has definitely been a process. Over the years we have really seen God direct and give purpose to our music.
A lot of bands and other musicians ask how to get the “big break,” but for us success has been about taking the small steps, listening to God’s direction, and being obedient.
For us, playing music and leading worship has created an incredible opportunities to live out our faith and be examples for others.
We are truly thankful for the opportunities we have had to stand for truth and be an example to others, especially to other young people — particularly young women.
Becca: For as long as I can remember our parents have sponsored a child through Compassion — for as long or longer than I have been alive. I remember sitting around our kitchen table, talking about our sponsored child and praying for her.
Our parents’ commitment to that sponsorship was really inspiring. Even when there were hard times financially they were faithful, which really was an example for us.
It was so natural once we began to pursue a music ministry full time to partner with Compassion. It felt like we had always been in partnership with Compassion.
Elissa: Our trip to El Salvador is something I will never forget. I remember different things about the trip — specific things like how hot it was and my first impression of walking into the homes of children. The depth of the poverty and the reality of just how uncomfortable the living conditions were remain vivid for me.
The trip changed my perspective of sponsorship. As Becca was saying, from the time we were children our family has sponsored a child, so my understanding of Compassion was through the lens of a sponsor.
But through our trip to El Salvador, Compassion took on a whole new level — it became more than reaching my specific sponsored child, but reaching her entire community.
As we visited local churches and the child development centers we had the opportunity to meet pastors and center staff and see their passion and heart for their communities. It was incredible!
At one center we met a farmer whom Compassion had assisted through the Complementary Interventions program. With the ministry’s help he had been able to continue farming at a truly difficult time. We listened to him and watched as he wept, thankful for the help he received.
Another community we visited had a significant problem with gang violence. While we were visiting a home we asked our staff guide if we were safe.
We were told that the gangs would not approach us because they recognize and respect the work Compassion was doing in their community.
Seeing that Compassion was not only affecting the lives of individual children but entire communities was amazing.
Becca: I agree with Elissa. Here in America we try to imagine what living in poverty is like. We have a picture on a child packet, of a little boy or little girl, but we don’t see the depth of impact this one sponsorship has. We don’t have a chance to see all the other people Compassion is helping through sponsorship.
When you go into your child’s world you have the chance to see the impact. It is like all of a sudden you are seeing things in 3D.
Elissa: I began trying to write the song from the moment we returned from El Salvador. There were so many experiences that I found it really hard to write.
What began to stand out in my mind out was a young girl, Lisa, whom I had met, and the effect Compassion was having in her life, which went far beyond sponsorship.
I met her at a center where Compassion has a Child Survival Program. Lisa was young, only 15, and she was pregnant. It was impossible for me to imagine how I would have felt in that situation, but as I looked at Lisa surrounded by staff from the center her face radiated peace.
She knew that she, and the baby she was carrying, would be cared for. In that moment I knew the hands and feet of Jesus were reaching out to her through the center staff.
I began writing the song with Lisa in mind and the first verse is about that experience.
Her face made such an impact on me. She had been touched by the hands and feet of Jesus, and she was shining.
I realized I could also be the hands and feet of Jesus, to touch others in need around the world. The song, then, became a labor of love. There was so much I could have said. And I had to wade through a lot of thoughts and memories and work to come to the focus of what I wanted to say.
I really feel the song says everything I wanted to convey — it conveys a sense of urgency, that we can’t simply sit on our hands and wait for other people. Jesus has called us to be active in our faith and have compassion for other people.
Elissa: We worked on this album for over eight months and are so excited to share it with our fans. It’s exciting to have something new!
This album represents a much deeper focus on worship, which has really grown out of our involvement with our own church and our service there.
Being on the road full time can sometimes be isolating. Our response to this has been to intentionally deepen our commitment to the local church.
I am looking forward to see how the new CD affects those who hear it. So far the response to the single “The Face of Jesus” we released has been great!
With regards to individual songs, “The Face of Jesus” is also one of the songs I am most excited about. Beyond that, I really love the song “Made to Shine.”
That song was written out of the experience of meeting a girl at one of our concerts who had experienced a lot of bullying and had lost a lot of her self-worth. The song captures what I wish I could have spoken to her heart in that moment.
As we have played “Made to Shine” at festivals this summer, we have had people say to us “that song was written for my friend” or “that was exactly what I needed to hear.”
We are also excited about “By Faith,” which was the final song written and is the title track and first single to be released from the album. It brings together all of the different themes on the album.