About to embark on not one but three tours and with two new albums out, NIA has a hectic few months coming up. She spoke to Tony Cummings.
With albums numbers 14 and 15 just released and three major tours pending, Nia clearly needed her recent three month sabbatical. I spoke to Wales' most popular gospel singer just before she launched into the first concert of the annual Operation Christmas Child tour. "It's been really good to have some time. Sometimes the wheels start running and it's as though a lorry is running down hill, and when it starts going it's impossible to hold it back. That's how it got after 12 years in music ministry because I could always be very, very busy. I'm a Martha. If there's a choice between Mary and Martha I'm always busy. So I thought about a year ago that it really would be good for me to take some time out, just to make sure I'm doing this for all the right reasons and not just because there's plenty of work to be done, to be sure that it's for the glory of God and that my heart is in the right place. It's been a really good time, I feel really refreshed."
If you're not familiar with the Operation Christmas Child ministry it may seem slightly odd to commence a "Christmas tour" in September. But there's a vital ministry behind the tour. "I go into the schools during the day and then do evening concerts to promote the Shoe Box Appeal. We ask people to make up boxes of small gifts which can be distributed to children in Eastern Europe who won't be getting Christmas presents. We do the tour in September and October so people have the time to make their boxes. Then between November and December Operation Christmas Child actually sends the boxes out. This is the third year - it's really grown. The first year we thought we'd just see how it would go. It was a big success. The second year the momentum really grew, the tour was twice the size. Three years into it my heart is part of what they do as a charity. I actually go with them at Christmas time to give out the shoeboxes in different places like Armenia, Romania, and last year even Serbia and Kosovo. We'll be going back there in December this year."
Nia was profoundly affected by what she found in Kosovo. "We were able to go into schools and give the children, who were Albanian and Serbian, the shoe boxes. How powerful it was, giving them a box as a gift. It just has a few things in it but we're also saying to them, We are giving you this because we know of the greatest gift in the world which is Jesus Christ' Ifs an amazing thing to be able to do that in Kosovo. They say there were about 20 evangelical Christians in Kosovo before the war broke out. It's a powerful tool that God is using, these little shoe boxes."
Nia has just released two albums. "This is the second time we have released two. A couple of years ago I released a contemporary album called 'Rain Will Come' along with the praise album 'Calvary's Lamb'. It wasn't supposed to be an album as such. I'd been singing quite a few praise and worship songs in my concerts and people were coming up to the album stand asking, 'Where's that song she sang while sitting at the piano?' So there was a demand for it, so we put an album of praise and worship together and that became 'Calvary's Lamb'. What we found then was, people were buying both albums. When you've got a plan that works you try it again, so 'Artist Heart' is the new contemporary album which is kind of my heart, and then there's 'Amazing Grace' which is a collection of hymns and choruses which I have enjoyed over the past few years."
A song on the 'Artist Heart' album which has already got a big response in concert is "Martha". "As you can imagine, it is about Mary and Martha and is kind of a funny little song. It's funnier in America than it is over here because in America there is a lady called Martha Stewart, which won't mean a lot to British people, but she's kind of like the Delia Smith of everything. The Martha song is always a fun song to do in concert. Probably more importantly, it's me having the microscope open and showing a bit of me to people who listen to my songs, because I'm a Martha. I constantly struggle with sitting at the Lord's feet and spending time like Mary. I'm sure if Jesus was sitting in my lounge I'd be in the kitchen making sure the quiche is alright. It's just so me. I want to learn how to be a Mary."
Another standout song of 'Artist Heart' is "I'd Do Anything". "During 1998 when I was writing these songs quite a few of my friends were going through some difficult times. All different things - one couple lost a little boy to cancer and another couple, the wife had a stroke; another couple, the husband had had a heart attack. Close friends whose homes I've stayed in and people in my family all going through difficult times. There would often be days when I'd just pray to God to let me have some of what they were going through, 1 know they can't carry it, give some of it to me.' So the song 'I'd Do Anything (to take away your pain)' was born. It's about carrying each other's burdens. We are really good at partying with those who party, but not so good with weeping with those who are weeping or grieving with those who mourn. If my brother is tasting salt I should taste salt too. I think that now with Kosovo and things like that that we see on TV, it doesn't even move us. We have to ask "why?" Hopefully a song like I'd Do Anything' challenges our indifference to others' pain."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.