MANILA - If you listen closely, Christian rock band 7eventh Time Down has a mini-sermon for you with the volume turned up to 11.
On Friday, September 25, members of 7eventh Time Down woke before dawn to visit one of the largest slum areas in Tondo, Manila.
The band wasn't there to play their music. Instead, the group helped distribute food to hungry kids at the Happyland housing project. Happyland is derived from the Bisaya word "Hapilan" which is loosely translated as "dump site."
For the members of the band, feeding impoverished children was a humbling experience.
7eventh Time Down singer Mikey Howard talks to some of the children in Happyland. Photo by Cathedral of Praise Manila
"Today I was blessed with the opportunity to walk amongst poverty unlike anything most of America will ever see. I handed out a day's meal to these precious little smiles and felt the presence of the Lord greater here than any church service I've ever attended. Sweat and tears became the same as my heart burned. I'm humbled, heartbroken, grateful and repentant," lead guitarist Eric Vanzant said in a Facebook post.
Added drummer Austin Miller added: "Such a humbling experience to be a part of."
Feeding slum kids may be something out of the norm for some rock bands but for 7eventh Time Down, it's just part of their reason for being.
7eventh Time Down - composed of Eric Vanzant (lead guitar), Austin Miller (drums), Mikey Howard (singer) and Cliff Williams (bass) - has been together since 2004 but has only enjoyed Christian radio airplay in the past four years.
Christian rock band 7eventh Time Down distributes food to slum kids in Tondo. Photo by Cathedral of Praise Manila
So it was a surprise that their group actually has its roots nearly 20 years ago, all the way from their hometown in Mount Vernon, Kentucky.
"We've actually been together for almost 20 years. Austin and I met in Little League while Eric was with us in middle school. Cliff came much later and we formed a cover band," lead singer Howard told ABS-CBNnews.com.
The band first earned their stripes playing Third Day, Supertones and Audio Adrenaline songs before writing their own music. After signing up with BEC Records, the band released their debut album, Alive in You, on September 13, 2011.
The band has since released a Christmas EP and two more albums including the latest one "God Is On The Move", which came out last month.
Some have described their music as having influences of Jeremy Camp, Daughtry, Johnny Cash and even old-school Newsboys.
Listening to their music, it is immediately apparent what this group stands for - a boldness in their lyrics to proclaim their faith in Christ.
Even their name has roots in a bible story - the story of King Naaman and how he was healed from leprosy after dipping in the Jordan River seven times. It's a story of obedience and humility - two words that could also be seen as the core values of the band.
Williams, the bass player of the group, is a preacher's kid from Kentucky. He said he used to play in a family band while his father led revival meetings all over Florida.
That experience isn't far removed from his own time in 7eventh Time Down with a key difference - preaching the gospel through music has given the group more opportunities to touch the lives of people all the way to the Philippines.
"We get called to many more places. In this band, every day is a different place. You go six hours this way and then you go across the country and you cross to other countries like what we're doing now so it's a big difference. The music ministry gets to travel to many more places than say a preacher in one state...It's still gospel, it's still Jesus and the goodness of God."
Williams said each song in their records is like a mini-sermon.
"For us, when it comes to writing a song, we think about if I was talking to this person. If it's a song like 'God Is On The Move,' it's very encouraging. It's very inspiring. If it's a song like that, then it's like if I was sitting down and trying to talk about that concept to somebody - what kind of words would I say? How would I say it to them? The lyrics are simple. It's very direct. It's boldness."
One of those "mini-sermons" even incorporates the band's own lives.
In the song 'The One I'm Running To', the first verse talks about a man who is losing sleep and is tempted to leave his family as the bills pile up.
He is staring at the bills and rubbing
Ain't adding up to nothing
But some hard times
He's feeling like a failure at life
Part of him is tempted just to
But deep inside he knows enough to
God I'm tired of fighting this fight
The chorus then turns the narrative back and focuses the person on his only hope in Jesus.
Tonight I'm gonna fix my eyes
On the only Hope who satisfies, my heart
You are the One I'm running to
Everything that's good and right and true
Jesus, I'm coming after who
Howard, lead singer of the band, said songs like this one actually help them show the faithfulness of God in their own lives.
"First off, God is faithful no matter how many bills and no matter how high the stack got, how I had no idea how we were going to pay them as the band was growing and the ministry was going. God IS faithful and He is going to take care of His people. I have seen that over and over and over again in my life," Howard said.
"Any man who is the head of a house or the head of a family who is pursuing Jesus and trying to do it with his whole heart but at the same time, you have a family you've got to provide for. You've got kids who have to eat. There is a tension walking that, like I want to go do ministry all the time but it's difficult because it may not be feeding the family. When we wrote that, I wanted to encourage people doing ministry. If God called you to do this, He is going to equip you. No matter how hard it is going to take, keep pursuing Him."
Another song of the band that they take to heart is "Religious and Famous." The song, with its driving rock sound, is an exercise in humility as it proclaims: "Never gonna put our name in lights."
Williams said it's important for the band to keep 1 Corinthians 10:31 to heart: to take everything they do as a group and do it for the glory of God.
Added Howard: "That song is a reminder to never use the gospel to increase my worth here on earth. It's a reminder to keep me in check - that every single thing you're doing, saying and singing is pointing people to the kingdom...As long as we are doing that, I hope we become the biggest band in the world just so we can increase that influence to tell people about Jesus."
7eventh Time Down lead guitarist Eric Vanzant distributes food to needy kids at Happyland in Tondo. Photo by Cathedral of Praise Manila
Austin Miller, the drummer of the group, said 7eventh Time Down isn't just interested in making music but seeking God and how He can move in people's lives.
In one instance, the band had to play an outside festival and it started raining on and off, forcing them to cover their gear several times before they could finally play. A man who had just gotten out of a bar heard their music from a few blocks away and attended the concert. In the end, the man repented and gave his life to Christ.
"God sometimes chooses to move in very specific, particular instances at different times and we are totally aware of what is going on. And sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own thing, He just: 'You're being faithful and you are doing what I told you to do. I'm going to bless it whether you know it or not,'" Williams said.
Howard said proclaiming the good news of Christ through music is the band's sole mission. He said 7eventh Time Down's hard rock sound reaches many people who wouldn't otherwise listen to a sermon or would even make fun of "church music."
Before coming to the Philippines, the band was able to play at the Night of Joy contemporary Christian music festival in Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. After the show, Howard said he received an e-mail from a girl who said she was at the Night of Joy concert to make fun of her friends for being Christians.
"I only came because I didn't have anything to do and I went with my friends," he recalled the girl saying in her e-mail. "But you sang a song that night called 'Lean On.' You talked about God being on the move in this world...I looked up and I said: 'Lord, I want to know more of Your love. I want what they have.' She gave her heart to the Lord that night and she just wanted to say 'thank you for getting me started on my journey with Jesus.'"
7eventh Time Down will be holding free concerts at the Cathedral of Praise, 350 Taft Avenue, Ermita, Manila on the following dates:
September 25 - 7 p.m.
September 26 - 6 p.m.
September 27 - 3 p.m.