"Lately I've been watching Saturn and Jupiter and trying to track down a couple nebulas."

She makes the statement casually, as if everybody spends hours peering through a telescope trying to make sense out of the heavenly bodies like she does. But, of course, {{Jennifer Knapp}} is not "everybody." One glance at her 1998 debut album, ==Kansas== (Gotee Records) is proof of that. That CD spent 80 weeks in the top 25 on Billboard's Christian album charts, spawned over 200 concerts in a single year, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, won Dove and Billboard Awards, and landed the 26-year-old artist an elite place among mainstream music's hottest female acts on the Lilith Fair concert tour.

With that kind of success in such a short time, it's no wonder Jennifer Knapp is seeing stars. But, in spite of the whirlwind of fame around her, this roots-rock singer/songwriter seems intent on keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground.

"One of the things I struggle with the most [is] getting a lot more credit than I deserve," she remarks. "The truth is, you can walk out on the stage and take credit, and then get booed for doing the same thing that [other] people are cheering you for. And in the end, it doesn't really matter either way."

So what does matter to Jennifer Knapp? What keeps her coming back to Christian music, this time with her sophomore release titled, ==lay it down==?

To answer that question, we must first visit the artist back in August of 1992, as an eighteen-year-old freshman student at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. A self-proclaimed atheist, Jennifer was a trifle annoyed to find out the girl across the hall in the dormitory, Amy Carr, was not only a Christian, but had even decorated her room with "Jesus stuff." And what was worse, Amy insisted on telling Jennifer all about faith in God.

"It just sounds so bizarre to me right now, looking back, but that really was the truth," Jennifer says. "I kind of took Christianity as a complete jokeI read about other religions and things like that and none of them meant anything - they were just things I was reading on a page."

And so Amy Carr moved in across the hall, and before long Jennifer found herself hanging out with a group of people she thought were nuts. "I actually didn't want to hang out with [Amy]!" she laughs, "She was a Christian! But she expressed her faith not only through decoratingI also saw her live that in her lifestyle, along with several other people I went to college with."

Over the next few months, Jennifer studied Amy's lifestyle, inside and out. "I'd never met anyone like that before - [someone] who didn't just tell you about Jesus, but showed you."

October of 1992 found Jennifer explaining to Amy exactly why she would not become a Christian. And during that conversation, Jennifer unexpectedly felt the Holy Spirit touching her spirit, calling her to Jesus. Jennifer recalls sitting with her friend, denying her need for Christ, and then suddenly realizing how weak her arguments really were.

"I realized I had a decision to make," she says. "And just seeing the promises of God and seeing the joy that brought into [my friends'] lives, I knew I had no choice but to say yes."

Having reached that point in her life, this newfound faith poured out of Jennifer in the way that was most natural for her: in her music. Soon she was performing up to eighty shows a year, singing about her faith in Jesus on the weekends and trying to keep up on her studies during the week. When Gotee Records came calling in late 1994 and 1995, she knew it was time to put college on hold and move ahead in the direction God was leading her, into a full-time career as a Christian musician.

So why does she keep coming back to the tiring art of her chosen career? Because of this faith in Jesus she gained as a teenager; because of the Bible verse she claims as her "theme verse for life," Colossians 3:23-24, which says:

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (NIV)

"God asks me topursue what I do with excellence, period," she reflects. Then she adds, " 'Whatever you do,' His word saysWell, what I happen to do is be a musician. I happen to be an artist and I want to be as good at that as possible. The other thing added onto that is that its' an incredibly powerful tool to be able to express the heart, and God has expressly given us that to worship Him."

Colossians 3:23-24 drives more than just Jennifer's music career, though. For the last several years it's taken her far out of the spotlight, to out-of-the-way places like Estonia and the Dominican Republic where she's served alongside others in short-term missionary projects.

"One of the things I've basically purposed in my life is to be involved in some sort of short-term mission once a year," she explains, adding, "I've kind of dedicated my life to that."

Last year, in July of 1999, Jennifer and her fellow missionaries flew into the stupefying summer heat of the Dominican Republic. And what did the talented musician do with her precious, guitar-playing, award-winning fingers?

"We were involved in building a children's eye-care clinic," she reports. "It required digging twelve-foot holes into miry types of clay in the middle of the morning - and it was 100 degrees already!" And during her free time, Jennifer and a few friends chose to go into the residential areas to "try and start building some relationships with the people to be able to share our faith."

Hoping to continue what she started last year, Jennifer says she's going back again in 2000 - and this time she's inviting fans to come along with her. And if they can't come, she'd still like to have their prayers - not just for the mission trip, but for all of her life and ministry.

"I would definitely [ask people to pray for] God to continue to make our path clear and understood as to how we can use this platform that God's given us effectively for His glory," Jennifer requests.

And in the meantime, she promises to keep her eyes focused on the heavens - with or without a telescope.