Joanna: The inspiring ministry of a musical mum

Saturday 1st April 2000

It's not all the Tribe and dance music emanating from Manchester. Trevor Kirk went there to check out the flourishing musical ministry of JOANNA.


In one of the leafier suburbs of Manchester, in a house you might expect to be more involved in jam making than music making, you'll find Barratt Ministries. Husband and wife team Maurice and Joanna Barratt have been reaching people with the Gospel with their very own media centre. Through this unlikely conduit of Barratt Ministries comes a steady flow of books, videos and teaching tapes as well as the soothing inspirational music of Joanna. Sitting in the living room of their house (once owned by the Pankhurst family of suffragette fame) I begin by asking the mum-cum-musical-minister how she discovered her musical talent.

Joanna replied, "I trace the moment I discovered I was musical right back to school. It was the teachers who always pushed me forward. I was very fat as a child and I used to hate standing in public, and the teachers used to force me to sing for the school which helped me to overcome a lot of self-consciousness."

How then, I asked, did she connect with the Church?
"I've always been a churchgoer as far back as I can remember. It was the Brethren that got hold of us at first. They came round the school with leaflets for children's meetings and I'd go along there on a Tuesday evening. It was when I was nine years old that somebody spoke to my parents about the Lord and they took them to the church. At that particular time my mum was incurable. She'd had terrible problems while I was being born, and she'd ended up with a septic pelvis, fibroids and a prolapse. Lots of operations, which didn't do anything for her at the time and over a period of nine years she was still having periodic operations. They just had to list her on the hospital records as being incurable, but somebody witnessed to her about Jesus, took her to the church and she was miraculously healed. You can talk about miracles and healings and often it's just hearsay, but I witnessed it. So that's how it started, going to church. I wasn't a reluctant churchgoer. I loved it. Church to me was the only place I could find peace. I was always seeing lots of fights at home. Often as a youngster I'd be running to the phone box to call for the police to come to stop the fights. Fortunately, our minister was a real man of God. He knew the problems I was going through so he used to include me into his home life. In fact when I was 15 he promised that if I would learn to type, he would make me the Church Secretary. That was too much for me to resist, so I lied my way into night school (wonderful Christian that I was), and true to his word, a year later he made me the Church Secretary so at 16 my name was on the letter heading of the church."

But then you met Maurice and joined his band. "Maurice was the Minister's son and he was forming a group, and he asked if I would join as a singer. The group was terrible at first. We used to write our own songs. We were very young, and trying to write songs from our own experience, but we hadn't really lived! It took us five or six years as a band to become reasonable. We started making records before we were ready but that gave us experience, because we had to listen to the mistakes that we had made over and over again, which really does improve you. I'm glad we did what we did. The group changed formats quite radically. People left and got married. After a while it just ended up with Maurice and myself, and by then we were married, and we travelled all over the world together."

But then Joanna demonstrated (as if I didn't already know) that the life of a touring 'musician is not all a bed of roses. "It was back in 1991 when I was pregnant with my first child, Nathan, that we were on holiday and a thief came in the house and stole all the musical equipment. He took only the musical equipment apart from two of Maurice's leather jackets. They took our equipment and they took his image. Just prior to this, when I was first pregnant, we had ministered down south somewhere in a Baptist church and while I was being sick upstairs, the Minister came to Maurice with a jacket and asked him to try it on and it fitted him. He then went upstairs and brought down eight suits. Apparently, somebody in his church who was a Bank Manager had passed away and left all these quality garments, and they fitted. Maurice isn't very tall, but the only alterations I had to do was to let the trousers down. When the thieves came in and stole the equipment and Maurice's leather jackets God had already said to him, That's no problem son, you're going to preach now and I've already equipped you with the right garments. You're going to become respectable.' It radically changed from there on because we didn't have the instruments to sit behind. I'd wanted to use backing tapes for ages, because it takes an awful long time setting up equipment and pulling it down again afterwards and having sound checks. When you've got a backing tape you can just press the button and you don't even have to think of your chords, or anything like that, just concentrate on the song, which is wonderful."

Maurice had already given me a guided tour of his facility: desk top publishing, video suite, recording studios, tape duplicating and a meeting room on the ground floor for his teaching seminars, all state-of-the art.

I asked Joanna how the concept of Barratt Ministries had come about.
"We started this ministry because we realised how green we were. We realised the problems that new groups had, most of which were down to lack of experience, so we had our little studio here with the intention that we could help other people on the way, and do it as a ministry. The problem was that the money took over because we had equipment to buy, and rather than seeing people as prospects, we saw them as finance. We said that everybody could record with us. We could make them better than they were with the techniques that we knew, very limited then, but we could help them and I could put backing vocals on. We could really make a marketable thing out of what they'd done but it ended up as a business rather than a ministry. God told us to stop, and he's given us a second chance. He told us that he had to change our attitude before we handled anything like this again. He has done. We've been through an awful lot of trials and ordeals but I think God's done what he wanted to do with us, and he has a lot more to do with us. He's not finished yet but he's given us another chance and we are working at this as a ministry, totally as a ministry. We don't charge anybody for anything. All the products that we have, the books, the cassettes, the CDs, whatever we publish from our premises are either free or at cost. We want to get the ministry out; it's not money any more. We live by faith, we really do."

So then I asked Joanna to tell me about her new album, 'My Chains Fell Off.
"I'd been having a thought for a long while. We lift Jesus up in the churches, and so we should, but I think in exalting Jesus we've forgotten God. I've learnt such a lot having children. It was a brand new experience, being a parent, but one day I was thinking about Good Friday and I suddenly saw it from a parent's perspective, what had happened on the cross. I thought how on earth could God allow his own son to be treated like that? To be beaten, have his beard pulled out, spat at, mocked and eventually crucified by his own creation. You know the part of scripture where Jesus says, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' and everywhere went dark, I imagined myself in that role of actually watching my own child being crucified and I thought, I don't think I'd have been able to bear it, just watching. It's no wonder that God had to turn away because he just couldn't bear the suffering his son was going through. We have emotions and we are made in God's image so how much emotion must he have felt at that particular time watching Jesus die. When I had my child I just felt all these emotions. When you give your life to God he could ask anything of you and that's always the thing I've been afraid of. I know it's costly if you're going to be a real Christian. I don't want the easy route. I don't serve God because he's my healer, my provider or because he's given me all these benefits. I've come a different track and I know God differently. I've read the Book of Job a few times. The way he loved God through all that mistreatment really is the way I want to love God whether he blesses me or curses me. I want to love God and serve God for who he is rather than what he can do for me. I know that the Christian life can be very, very costly and God can ask anything of you. The way he asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, his only child from the wife that he really loved. As I was holding my baby I thought, I don't think I could be obedient to a request like that unless God did a tremendous miracle in my heart. At that moment, looking at my child, I just thought, God don't ever ask this of me please because I don't want to refuse. Seeing what God had done, giving Jesus on the cross, the ultimate way. He had to give the ultimate to show us how much he loves us. That must have been the thing that cost God the most and that's why I wanted to sing the songs that I've recorded on the album because I think we forget God's part in all this. We emphasise Jesus and the Holy Ghost but we forget God, and he was the instigator."

I wondered what the plans were for the ministry team into the next century.
"Well, at the moment I'm looking after three lively children. Nathan's eight, Isaac's aged four and Tamar's aged nothing until next week, when she has her first birthday. Sadly my work's been reduced a lot as far as the music's concerned. God doesn't leave me off the hook for long though. As soon as I can pack the children off to school then it seems as though he gets us touring again and always provides somebody to look after the children. In the meantime I plan to do a lot of recording on our own premises because I've got lots of songs I would like to record, and I've been saving them up for a few years now. I'm also going out weekly in the open air and singing on the streets. One of our songs is 'Will The Real Christians Please Stand Up' and I'm afraid I've not really been standing up. It's easy to sing in a church or a concert hall when there's lots of people who've paid to come and see you or have been invited. It's relatively easy to go sing in a prison because there are warders to stop any trouble and you1 ve got a captive audience! But to sing in the street...the name of Jesus isn't hallowed in the street; in fact I don't think it's really even known in the street. I was singing once in Scotland and a 14-year-old girl came up to me and said, 'Who's Jesus Christ? Is it a pop star?' She wasn't pulling my leg either, she wasn't being cheeky. She was actually thinking he was a pop star because we've had Jesus And The Mary Chain, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Somebody else came and asked me which God I was talking about. Was it the Hindu or Muslim God? Because I was just talking about God. I'm singing the most blatant songs I can sing that mention the name of Jesus, and nobody misunderstands. It's not a compromise at all. People know that I'm singing about Jesus Christ and about the God in heaven who created this earth. They know I'm singing about him." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Trevor Kirk
Trevor "The Captain" Kirk is broadcast music co-ordinator for United Christian Broadcasters.


Reader Comments

Posted by John in Duffryn Newport South wales @ 16:11 on Dec 16 2016

Very good I read a book that one of thire former ministers wrote called Playing with fire they must be a very good couple who minister well i liked the article

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