Ministries don't come more international than that of Swedish-born, Hawaii-based VIOLA who in April sees a truly anointed second album released. Tony Cummings reports.
Few who have experienced the extraordinary, unhyped, open hearted and intimate worship over the last two years of Cross Rhythms festivals will have any doubt that Viola is a very, very special servant of God. For the Sweden-born, Hawaii-based worship leader, singer, guitarist and songwriter has not only a breathtaking voice - a warm, bitter-sweet, soulful purr of poignancy -not only a superlative second album scheduled for April release by Kingsway, not only a growing international ministry (I spoke to her days after she returned from a ministry trip to Pennsylvania), Viola has found rest in the profound truth of her absolute uniqueness. And this revelation is a cornerstone of her ministry. "I suppose my calling is to reveal to as many people as I can how unique, how infinitely valuable they are."
Viola's own uniqueness is about to be given expression with the release of her second album 'Simply Yours'. Recorded in Sacramento, California it features some of America's top CCM musicians, including stunning duets with Matthew Ward who long-in-tooth readers will know is one of the finest voices in Christendom and since the break-up of Jesus music pioneers 2nd Chapter Of Acts has played many concerts with the men's ministry Promise Keepers. Said Viola about working with a CCM legend, "It was a blast to be singing with Matthew. He has a wonderful, wonderful voice and a heart overflowing with worship."
How, I asked, did he come to take such an active part in Viola's album? 'Tom Brock (the prophet/Bible teacher with whom Viola and husband Torbjorn Grafstrom work in Hawaii) knew Matthew from way back. Tom simply called him up and the next thing I knew he was in the studio singing with me."
The album, produced, arranged and engineered by the multi-talented Ralph Stover, is of such 10 square review, Grade A quality that it makes its predecessor the tiny-budget 'None Like You' sound like a demo. Particularly thrilling are the three songs by bright new composer Phil Sillas with the soulful opener "Be The Friend", an achingly honest song of vulnerability ("Strengthen me/When I'm feeling weak/Hear your child/When I'm on my knees/Lord I fall, Lord I break/And what I give, ain't as much as I take"). Equally magnificent is the wistfully poignant "Simply Me", composed by Viola where confession of weakness leads to the realisation that finally there is nothing save for a simple walk of faith. ("When my prayers feel they're not heard/Like if the wind keeps all my words/My life compared with yours/Reveals myself and nothing more/When my pride seems to rule/In my fears I seek for you/'Cause when it's all said and done, it's simply me, simply you.") This lyrical journey, from stark declaration of our human frailty to simple focus on the author and finisher of our faith is a continual lyrical theme running through Viola's album. Said Viola, "If we're to find intimacy with our Lord we must begin by being real." One of the particular emphases of Viola's burgeoning ministry is to break down the unhelpful compartmentalisation between performance' and 'worship'. Happy to play at a festival, a worship time in a church, a concert or a schools mission, Viola said, "I consider myself as a worshipper. I try as much as possible not to divide things, to say, 'That is performing,' and 'That is worship.' In all my songs I strive to keep my heart and mind focussed on our Lord whether the song is about our Lord or addressed to him. By God's grace, because I worship God in whatever setting I find myself singing, people are touched by our Lord's Spirit and are ministered to. I have a calling to minister through the vehicle of music. I don't go in for pigeonholing. Let's just say again, I consider myself a worshipper."
I asked Viola the HARD question. Why are there so few women in worship ministry? "I thing there's a lack of theological understanding of how I Corinthians 14:34 ("Women should remain silent in the church. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission.") should be interpreted. I think there is sadly still prejudice in some churches. And I think that many women still lack confidence in moving in ministry. That is beginning to change now of course. Interestingly enough, it's as a musician rather than as a woman that I've personally experienced the most prejudice. There's still sadly a mentality in some churches of, 'You can perform two songs...', a perception of music ministry as something to fill out the programme rather than a dimension of ministry which can touch people and change people."
In February, Viola and Torbjorn, together with Tom and Susie Brock, begin teaching at a leadership training school being organised by Wave of Life Ministries in Hawaii. Did she have any final words for worship leaders or any other kind of leader seeking to get to grips with worship? "Remember that above everything else, worship comes down to the heart. Today there is a tendency to put worship in a box, to say, 'This is how you worship.' In fact God is saying, 'Stay simple.' That way you'll be more able to receive what worship is. There are no clear 'answers' or pat methods. Worship comes from the inside."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.