Consider their recent string of accomplishments: On Sunday night, they snagged their third consecutive GRAMMY for "Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album." They've recently added four Dove nominations to their list of 22-career Gospel Music Association nods. And their latest release, Furthermore - From The Studio: From The Stage, is shooting up the charts.

 

But for the members of Jars of Clay - Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Matt Odmark and Stephen Mason - such accolades pale in comparison to their work with humanitarian causes, particularly the African AIDS pandemic.

 

"The more we have kids and watch our families grow," says Charlie Lowell, "the more we're interested in being part of a bigger Kingdom than just Jars of Clay - and in more than album sales or our perspective on art and music."

 

Lowell recalls that as he, Haseltine, Mason and Odmark began to travel around the world, they witnessed incredible amounts of suffering and injustice. Such experiences generated a deepening responsibility to help the rest of the Church - "especially as Believers with a platform and some sort of influence."

 

He admits AIDS is "not comfortable to talk about. It's not convenient and it's really messy. But as Christians, we have a mandate to reach out to orphans and widows - two groups whose numbers are swelling because of AIDS."

 

One of the organizations Jars has partnered with is DATA, which aims to raise awareness about the multiple crises swamping Africa - unpayable debts, the uncontrolled spread of AIDS and trade rules that keep Africans poor.

 

"We're mainly involved on the AIDS side of it," Lowell explains. "What we hope to do with DATA on our current tour is set up symposiums where we bring together experts and college students to talk about this problem and what we can do to help. We're focusing on children in the womb and those just being born. They hardly even have a chance. Often their mothers don't even know they have this disease or that it gets passed on to their kids.

 

"That's why we want to raise awareness about the AIDS emergency in Africa. And DATA is a good partnership to help do that," Lowell adds. "Although they get pretty political, we won't. That's not our interest." 

 

Out of Africa

 

Lead vocalist Dan Haseltine raised his own level of awareness to a new level when he visited southern Africa, Capetown, Zimbabwe and Malawi in December with World Vision and African Leadership.

 

Haseltine says he made the trip because he needed to put a human face on the statistics. "I had been talking about AIDS during our concerts, and read through all the statistics and heard a million stories. I found that I was kind of swimming in all that and didn't really have any sort of personal connection. I think that's probably the plight of every American who hears about a cause and doesn't have a way to connect it from their mind to their heart."