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Heart of the Artist Interview

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Brad Corrigan

Writer: Rick Bundschuh
Category: Heart of the Artist Interview

Have you ever gotten to know someone you’ve “known” for a long time? We officially met Brad Corrigan through Steve Bursky (Owl City’s manager) as we began to work closely in connecting Adam Young (Owl City) with youth ministries around the country. And then we realized that we had known Brad for many years. He was the musical director on many of the Walking On Water surf movies that we have included in Youth Leaders Only. With this new Missions/Service-themed YLO we have taken that relationship to a new level by including Brad’s own missions video, Dia De Luz, and his music album. No one better to connect with Brad than a fellow surfer/youth ministry/missions guy: Rick Bundschuh. Here is an excerpt from their initial meeting.


Rick: I watched with interest the stuff you are doing in the trash dump at Managua. When I was a high schooler in San Diego I often went surfing in Mexico. I had my first introduction to trash dump ministries down there. The only difference between Mexico and Managua is the sea gulls in Tijuana. The only thing missing in your DVD is the smell. Without the smell you are missing half the effect of what the trash dump does to you.

Brad: A full download of every sense – what you see, smell, taste, and touch. It’s a full one. You don’t realize how overloaded your senses are in that place until you get back to your hotel room or to your place of comfort.

Rick: Over the years I have taken thousands of kids to the dump in Tijuana, dropped off food and water, and hung out with the people down there. The effect on teenagers is amazing. They come back to the United States and they don’t want to spend money; they have a whole life-changing experience. I imagine the same thing is going on with the people you are dealing with. No one really goes out looking for trash dumps when they go to Nicaragua. How did you stumble upon this?

Brad: My home church in Denver was connected to a youth rally in Nicaragua that needed a band – and a little church in Virginia Beach that is very Christian surfer oriented supported an orphanage in Managua. I had two connections and two invitations to go to Nicaragua. I knew that Nicaragua was north of Costa Rica and that was about it. I went there to play a concert and to raise money for the orphanage. On the last day of my trip, a Nicaraguan taxi driver named Bismarck – who at the time was just a taxi driver and now is my best friend and my co-partner in everything we do down there – asked if I had half an hour to go on a tour of Managua. I didn’t speak any Spanish at the time, so I just nodded. Through a translator I understood that I was going to get a little exposure from the wealthiest neighborhoods to the poorest. The last leg of our trip was a couple of lefts and a couple of rights down a hill into a field of smoke. I tapped Bismarck on the shoulder and said, “Why are we driving toward a war-zone? Shouldn’t we turn around?” He said, “You will see. You will see.” We drove into the smoke and before I knew it kids were on the right and left of the car, a shantytown community was coming out of the shadows, and I realized that people lived inside that smoky field. I would have been more comfortable on the moon! I had no idea where we were or why we were there.

Seeing that situation gave me a taste of righteous anger and a deep profound grief. I had both tears and anger – I felt that God’s tears were breaking and flowing through my eyes and God’s fiery anger was on my heart. Those two things mixed in that environment were nothing shy of life changing. It all started there in spring 2005.

Rick: You are describing your emotions extremely well. What did you decide you could do about it?

Brad: I dried a couple of tears, said a handful of prayers, and took some photographs. I left with two pictures of two girls – one of them was waving at me and the other was washing her clothes. Those photographs haunted me in the weeks to come. I wanted to go back so badly because I enjoyed my time at the orphanage so immensely, so I went ten times that year. Bismarck drove for me every time. I would ask him to take me back to the trash dump. I would go in and pray, take pictures, get angry, and leave. I was asking God, “Why did you bring me here? What can I possibly do?” 

Rick: How did He answer? 

Brad: I’m not sure that I have the answer. I think the answer is the journey looking for the answer. In 2006, a 13-year-old girl on a bike named Ileana came up laughing and smiling and knocking on the taxi window. I rolled the window down, she pointed at a cardboard-and-tin shack behind her and she said, “Come, see. Come, see.” She grabbed my hand – this little girl took me out of the cab and made the place safe. God used her as a doorway for me to enter that community to find that no one there wanted to kill me or jump me and steal my wallet. Even though I did not speak much Spanish, I could communicate with my heart, eyes, hands, hugs, and high-fives. I probably spent an hour and a half with Ileana that day meeting her family, seven siblings, and a couple of neighbors. From that point on she was my lifeline. Each trip I would find Ileana and hold her hand as we walked through the community, meeting people until it became safe.

Rick: There are a lot of people who don’t know why people are living in the dump. I know why because I spent a lot of time in the Tijuana dump. It’s economics, right? They live there because they can make a living finding recyclable trash. Is that true in Nicaragua?

Brad: It’s economics – and the ability to squat. People without enough money to have a place to live can find space within a trash dump where the government isn’t going to throw them out. Managua has 60-70% unemployment. The people who live inside the trash dump are in a scavenger economy. There are easily another one thousand daily commuters who live in Managua that come to the dump to work whenever they need money. At the end of every day they sell what they have gathered. They are middlemen that are supplying recycled materials to manufacturing. 

Rick: What are you hoping that the movie will do? It’s made so well that, short of the odors, you can really get a sense of what’s going on down there. I bring a high school kid, like my 14-year-old son, and we watch this DVD; what are you looking to happen? 

Brad: I hope that God tweaks people’s hearts with an immense sense of gratefulness for what they have. Too many stories of social justice and poverty create guilt and shame. People think they shouldn’t have what they have. They feel guilty that they grew up here and other people grew up there. There are some truths in those responses. I think the Lord intends for us to be profoundly grateful in the way that we respond to Him. If we are at the deepest level of gratefulness, then we don’t have a sense of ownership. When we don’t have a sense of ownership we have the ability to deploy our personal gifts, financial resources, and relational capital into needs. Some people feel guilty, manipulated, or shameful after watching a film like Dia De Luz. What they don’t realize is that half of the story is the smile after the tears. Half of the story is the laughter after the sickness. We go through that in our million-dollar homes and they go though it living in their cardboard-and-tin shantytown.

When you watch this film you have to figure out what it means. You have to ask, “Is my physical presence enough of a ministry? Is celebrating life in a place of darkness worth it? Is it lasting or is it just fireworks that come and go?” The next generation needs to respond at a heart level, not just at a wallet level. We need to be willing to see those people as family.

Rick: So my kid watches the movie, then turns to me and says, “Dad, I want to go there.” Is there a way for him to do that?

Brad: Absolutely. Make sure you watch the special features section of the DVD. The film is a sixty-minute documentary that creates more questions than answers. The special features are ninety minutes in length. There’s a five-minute film on the School of Hope, a five-minute film on the boy’s home, then the girl’s home, then a medical clinic, and then the Across the Nations sports ministry. We want to connect people’s hearts, resources, and desires directly to the organizations on the ground that can receive them or interface with them – whether it’s someone doing a shoe drive in the United States or a group of twenty kids in a youth group that want to go work in the school.
God has given me such a cool and simple vision for a specific call to action that a high school student or youth group can organize. We are calling it the “Less-Is-More Garage Sale.” People take a look at what they have and say, “Out of our ‘more’ we want to minister to families who have ‘less.’ Let’s go through our house and look for extras – shoes, clothes, furniture, ANYTHING – and give our ‘more’ to support the people who survive by scavenging through what has been discarded.” I think this is an awesome way for people to be active here state side, to convert their “more” into money donated to Love Light and Melody or any other organizations. That way we connect people in the United States with the people in Nicaragua.
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