In 2006 Belfast-based worship band Bluetree took part in a short-term missions trip to Pattaya, Thailand. Aaron Boyd of Bluetree talks about the trip, the impact, and a song that can’t sit still.
I was frightened. I mean, not just a little bit – but a whole lot. I blame our Mission Pastor; he’d done such a great job warning us about the dangers that we were up against in one of the world’s most infamous destinations for sex tourists that we spent the first day or so there wondering what we’d got ourselves into.
There was an intense darkness in the air that we just couldn’t miss. Since we were there to lead worship along with a bunch of other Christians, something seemed to be going on there – something beyond what we could see. That sense added to our fear, but we wanted opportunities to do what we were most passionate about; singing songs to God in the midst of darkness.
We got the chance to play in this venue called the Climax Bar. It’s in the city’s red light district. To get into it you have to walk past a flight of stairs leading up to another club – the sort that has a pole outside and girls hanging about or dancing trying to hook people in. We just put our heads down and kept on walking.
The Climax Bar isn’t a big place. There’s a small DJ booth on the left and a stage that’s wide and shallow on the right. We were setting up in the afternoon and it was all fun, but as the sun went down and we started to play, things began to change. After two hours, we’d played every worship song that we knew, but it wasn’t time to finish. Something was up.
Growing up in Belfast means that we’ve grown used to people crying in church, begging God to change our city. I don’t know whether you become numb to it all, but I do know that I had never really had those kinds of feelings for a particular place. All that changed that night in Pattaya. A sense of compassion took over and I started just to sing out what I knew was true about who God is to the people of the city. And that was when I felt like things started to happen.
I remember looking over to my left and seeing a group of English guys in the street. My guess is that they were just over to buy time with cheap Thai girls and do whatever they wanted with them. But you could see their surprise as they heard the truth deep in the words we were singing out; that God was a part of this place, that greater things were to come, that there is a light that eliminates the darkness.
Something was happening, but whether it was in us or beyond us we couldn’t tell. All we knew was that we’d been in the middle of something we’d not experienced before.
I can still remember those girls who were being sold on the street whenever I sing these words: “Where glory shines from hearts aloud with praise for you and love for you in this city.” Their lives are caught up in so much pain, but I’m convinced that they’ve got a better song to sing. I’m convinced that there’s glory and praise that can shine from their hearts and lives.
The first time we ever played that song – apart from in Pattaya – was at Manafest, a monthly Youth For Christ event where we were regulars. We did the song, and I think it took me about half an hour to tell the story because I was crying so much. A little later we were opening for Chris Tomlin at the Odyssey Arena. He heard it then and ended up adopting “God Of This City” as Passion’s anthem of the moment.
As a band, we just want to be obedient to whatever God’s put in front of us. God’s blessed us with a song that’s shouting across the world. Off the back of it all – the touring, the sales and royalties – we’re able to support plenty of different projects that help transform lives that would otherwise be trapped.
What I believe shouldn’t happen is this: “God Of This City” should not become just another evangelical anthem that we sing to make ourselves feel good. It must do more than just please our ears or give us goose bumps. It has to propel us out.
The truth is simple; we are God’s hands and feet. We are everyday Christians putting their faith into action and transforming their world, one person at a time.
Three years on and things have changed for Bluetree. The growth of the song has meant that “God Of This City” has now travelled far further than the band themselves. The song seems to have struck a chord with so many groups and churches and individuals who are not satisfied with living out a shortsighted faith. “Greater things are yet to come” has become one of those unique soundtracks – a declaration of the truth and an encouragement to all who hear it to believe it.