In the Margins: Young Girl's Bible Notes Become Worldwide Charity
When it comes to views on worship, most would agree it's much more than just singing on a Sunday morning. Worship band Eleven22 is so dedicated to that view that they have committed to donating 100 percent of the proceeds from their latest album, The Reason, to building orphanages in Uganda. Eleven22 band member and songwriter Ben Williams says that the origin of this generosity is rooted in the band's history.
Originally formed as a worship team for their church in Jacksonville, Fla., the members were bound together by the desire to create authentic and relevant worship music. They soon realized the music they were creating was a soundtrack to what God was doing in their community. One of those stories, 15-year-old McKenzie's, would leave an indelible mark on Eleven22’s mission.
McKenzie began attending services in July of 2010 and soon made a decision to give her life the Christ. A few weeks later, she was admitted to the hospital due to a rare condition that causes brain swelling. Tragically, just five days later, she was pronounced dead.
Ben Williams remembers McKenzie with fondness.
“As a 15-year-old girl, she had this bright future. She was from an affluent family and it just seemed like she had it all together.”
While planning the funeral, Ben realized that a compelling picture of McKenzie and her newly formed faith was beginning to emerge. He recalls “I was over at her dad’s house and I’m reading through her Bible and inside this Bible are all these notes.”
The notes written in the margins said things like “I found a love,” “nothing can compare” and “I belong to you but I’m afraid to lose my friends.”
After reading McKenzie’s notes, the band was inspired to capture the innocence and authenticity of her faith. They began writing new songs based on the statements she had written. These songs would prove to be an agent of healing for the grieving community and McKenzie’s family.
“The title track ‘The Reason’ was written out of this pain that felt like worship to us,” Williams explains. “In our community there was a lot of pain and we needed a way to relieve that tension and to give words to people to express to God that this thing hurt, but to know that God’s love is going to cover it all.”
McKenzie left behind more than inspirational phrases scribbled in a Bible. An infectious generosity lives on through her friends, so influential that they began to organize “McKenzie Days” reserved for selfless acts of kindness, donating their time to charities and the underprivileged.
“I remember someone telling us that McKenzie asked everyone attending her birthday party to bring money instead of gifts – then she turned around and donated all of the money to an orphanage,” Williams adds. “Her reason for being here was to be a voice for those who have no voice, and that’s our reason, too.”
That grassroots effort by young people to honor their friend has evolved into a worldwide foundation. The McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation continues to impact the city of Jacksonville, and has now stretched as far as Uganda, where a boys' home and a girls' home have been built. Construction has now begun on an orphanage for abandoned babies.
For Eleven22, building and supporting the Ugandan orphanages are a natural extension of the call to be worshipers.
“I don’t think the only way to worship God is through song,” says Williams. “I think every action that we do is worship. Especially when you look at the scripture and it says ‘When you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me.’ That just seems like worship to me.”
As the band prepared to record their latest album, they decided not to focus on recovering production costs, but instead on donating 100 percent of the album proceeds to the Ugandan orphanages. According to Williams, the opportunity was “a no-brainer.”
Eleven22 speaks of serving and giving voice to the voiceless with the same passion the put into creating authentic worship music. When asked what the next step is, Williams quickly replies, “We’re just going to build [orphanages] until we can’t build them anymore. I’ll do whatever I have to do to rescue as many kids as possible.”
For more information visit eleven22worship.com or caregivegrow.org.
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