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'I had no family, I had no hope': Kirk Franklin inspires kids in poverty to overcome

Kirk Franklin/The Compassion Youth Choir
Kirk Franklin/The Compassion Youth Choir

We are so honored that Grammy-winning music artist Kirk Franklin recently teamed up with Compassion International to re-release his single, “Lean on Me,” featuring the voices of youth living in poverty around the world.

For the past several months, Kirk has been working with more than 120 musically gifted Compassion youth who range in age from 11-19 and live throughout the 25 countries where our ministry partners with the local church to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Through virtual auditions and rehearsals, this Compassion Youth Choir partnered with Kirk to record this incredibly powerful song, which was originally released in 1998.

Kirk’s vision for this project was birthed in early 2020, when he visited Compassion’s work in the Dominican Republic, a trip that had “eternal implications” for him. It was his first trip outside of America where he didn’t perform. Wired to entertain, Kirk often describes himself as a human “doing.” But on that trip, he was able to step back and just be, as he connected with the children — hearing their dreams, hurts, and stories.

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Kirk returned home feeling changed and called by God to use his platform and personal story of childhood poverty, abandonment, and rejection to inspire youth in our program to trust God, have hope and pursue their dreams.

After several conversations with Kirk, in late 2020, we sent out an invitation for Compassion youth to audition for a virtual choir. They were told the choir would hold rehearsals and later record a song for Compassion Summit, an annual event for our global staff. But it was a wonderful surprise when they later learned that they would ultimately record a song with Kirk, and that he would act as their choir director.

Before the audition tapes began rolling in, Kirk had planned to select a winner or two from each country. But after reviewing video submissions, he was so moved by the talent and passion of these young people that he decided everyone who auditioned should join the choir.

During their live Zoom sessions, which were translated into multiple languages, Kirk provided vocal coaching, answered questions about his life and musical career, and even taught the kids some dance moves.

In their very first call, Kirk shared an inspirational message with the kids about God’s love and plan for them, how faith and music brought him through hopelessness, and how proud he was of them. It wasn’t a scripted moment — it was straight from his heart. And when I heard it, I knew I had to share it with you. I hope you’ll take a minute to watch this video clip or read the transcript below:

I want you to know that you are here for a purpose. You are here for a great purpose in life. That when God made you, He took His time with you. You are special to Him. That there are no mistakes, no coincidences. No matter how difficult life may be, no matter how difficult times may get, I want you to know that God has a bigger plan than what you can see. Like, it’s so big. You see how big it is? (Stretches his arms wide and spins in his chair.) It’s so big like this, see how it turns around? It’s so big — it is huge! Because that’s how much God loves you. That’s how much God cares for you. And that’s how much God has planned for you. He has big things planned for you.

When I was your age, my life was very, very hard. I was adopted. I was an orphan. My mother and father didn’t want me. And I was adopted by a lady who had no money. She was older — she was an older lady. She had no money. She had no job. And she took care of me when I had nothing. And so this lady brought me in, and she would sell clothes and do different things just to put food in my mouth. And what she did is, she had some people help me learn how to play the piano. And so I had no family, I had no hope. I was hopeless. But I had a very close relationship with God when I was a little boy.

So when I was a little boy, I would have this relationship with God that He would become my friend. As a young boy. And so he and I became very, very, very close friends. And I would play songs to Him. I would play music for Him. I would write songs to Him. And when people would laugh at me, people would talk about me — nobody ever told me that I was good, nobody ever showed me that I was special. And so what would happen is, is that I couldn’t dream. I had a hard time dreaming because I didn’t believe that I was worthy of dreaming. And so I see now that God had a bigger, bigger plan for my life. And guess what? If He did that for me, He can do that for you.

And so no matter what you see right now, I want you to believe that music that God has given you, the song that God has given you, the voice that God has given you — what it does is that it helps you get above all of the problems in life. It’s almost like a helicopter, or basically like a plane. When you are on a plane or when you see a plane, a plane can fly above the clouds. And guess what’s above the clouds? No matter how dark it is, when you get above the clouds, guess what you get to see? You get to see the sun. The sun is always shining, no matter how dark it is. And so, I want you to let the music take you above the clouds, above the dark stuff, above all the pain and problems that you may go through and rise you above all of that so that you can get close to the sun. Because “the sun” is always shining for you. Never forget that. The sun is always shining for you. It’s always there to let you know that you can make it and that you are loved.

So, I want to talk to you. I want to hear your dreams. I want you to ask me some questions. I am so excited about the Compassion Summit! I’m so excited about hearing you sing! I’m so excited about all of the things I know that we’re going to get to do together. I am so proud of you. You sounded beautiful. And there are going to be ups and downs in your career. Never stop dreaming. Never stop believing. Never stop believing that God has put a fire in you. And no matter how you may feel, not ever good enough, you are good enough. Because God says, “You’re good enough.” So never forget that.

At Compassion, we’re passionate about youth development. As Sidney Muisyo, my friend and our Senior Vice President of Global Program, says, “Our goal is that every youth has the appropriate development opportunities to become a thriving and transformed individual, using their potential and giftedness to positively influence their communities and impact their world.” This choir is just one beautiful example of what that might look like in action. And Kirk’s uplifting words to these young people are exactly what children living in poverty need to hear. Supportive relationships with caring adults are critical to the long-term wellbeing of children.

And in the same way, I don’t think any of us ever outgrow the need to hear a life-affirming message like this. So let me leave you with these words: You have a purpose. You are special. You are loved. You belong. You are enough.

Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado is the president and CEO of Compassion International.

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