September 24, 2001

TRUTH shown performing in 1979. That year, the group included Kim Noblitt, Melodie Tunney and Dave Hart. In 1977, Truth included Bob Vander Maten, Steve Green, Art Ortiz, Joleen Vander Maten, Marijean Green and Carolyn Herzer. Among the group in 1989 were four friends who later formed the group 4HIM--Mark Harris, Andy Chrisman, Marty Magehee and Kirk Sullivan--as well as Alicia Williamson. Truth in 1995 featured Brad Parsley, Michelle Swift, Jason Breland, Jody McBrayer and Jana Potter (now both of Avalon), and Natalie Grant.

Groundbreaking group to disband
___By John Hillman
___Special to the Baptist Standard
___A final destination for Truth looms on the horizon, but the essence of the contemporary Christian musical group lies in its long journey.
___In May, Roger Breland, Truth's founder, announced the ensemble would conclude its 30th year with a Farewell Tour culminating in a final concert in Nashville, Tenn., June 16, 2002.
___"For the past year, my family and I have been praying about our future," Breland said. "We believe this final chapter will complete the vision God launched 30 years ago."
___Over the past three decades, the 21-member cast of musicians and technicians has
EARLY TRUTH, circa 1973.
performed almost 10,000 concerts, recorded 50 albums, traveled to more than two dozen countries and been heard in live concerts by more than 10 million people.
___However, Truth began its gigantic music ministry under very modest circumstances.
___In August 1967, Breland became minister of music at Spring Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. Inspired by the Ralph Carmichael musical "Good News," the former high school teacher introduced a contemporary sound into his youth choir.
___"I started off slowly, bringing in a little guitar and some percussion on Sunday nights," Breland said. "The kids loved it, and the parents encouraged their participation."
___The cutting edge Christian music attracted high school students by the score. Spring Hill's youth choir swelled from seven to 140 members in two years under Breland's direction.
___Eager to learn more about the burgeoning contemporary Christian music scene, Breland visited his home church, First Baptist Church of Chickasaw, Ala., for a concert by the Spurrlows. The eight-member group's combination of harmony and presentation convinced Breland of his calling to lead a similar ensemble.
___Fueled by this vision, the Troy State University graduate laid the groundwork for a touring troupe of young performers to spread the gospel. Seeking a name with a distinctive identity without sounding preachy or worldly, Breland's wife, Linda, suggested Truth. After some discussion, the couple conceived the following acronym to convey the group's
The 1995 version of TRUTH.
message: Trust, Receive Unchangeable True Happiness in Jesus.
___Several Texans played vital roles in the ensemble's early days. Dallas native Fern Strait Knabel left Hardin-Simmons University after her first semester to tour with Truth in the spring of 1972.
___"Roger Breland told Dicky Dunn, my minister of youth at Richardson Heights Baptist Church, he desperately needed a new alto because his current one had developed throat problems," Knabel said. "Dicky recommended me, I auditioned for the spot, and Roger gave it to me.
___"Several days later, he called me back, however, and said he had decided to go with a more experienced singer," she continued. "I was crushed, but that girl later came down with bleeding tonsils, and at age 19 I wound up in Truth."
___At that time, the group traveled in three station wagons and hauled its equipment in a truck. On many occasions, Truth performed three concerts a day while the members received $15 a week for their services.
___But despite the hard work and grueling schedule, the experience was a defining and crystallizing moment of her ministerial career, said Knabel, now minister of evangelism at her home
TRUTH founder Roger Breland.
congregation, now called The Heights Baptist Church. Between her service in Truth and now, she also served as an International Mission Board missionary to Chile.
___"We were always very visible," she said. "We stayed in homes and had lots of opportunities to speak and share our message.
___"It was a great experience on how to work with people," she continued. "We honed our skills quickly, and I saw God presented in a mighty and clear way, and I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing ministry."
___Mark Hardy, an original member of Truth, joined the group as its drummer following an unorthodox past. Raised in a Christian environment, the Paris native had served in the United States Army and drifted into the '60s counterculture before rediscovering his religious roots.
___"The absolute best part of my tour in Truth was the opportunities to conduct high school assemblies all over the Southeast," said Hardy, now choral director at Stone Middle School in Paris. "In most instances, we didn't alter our program by giving a secular program to lure kids to the church at night. I loved this particular aspect of Truth's ministry because I always got to share my personal testimony."
___The ensemble's combination of upbeat sound and deep spiritual commitment, mixed with the nation's hunger for revival and healing, struck a resounding chord whenever the group performed. As a result, thousands of the younger generation flocked to the church and acknowledged Christ in their lives.
___Through the years, Truth has performed in hundreds of Texas Baptist churches. Many median-aged adults in Baptist churches today got their first taste of contemporary Christian music from a Truth concert at their church.
___Despite Truth's success, pockets of resistance occasionally arose. Hardy, who currently serves as music minister at Maxey Baptist Church, recalls one incident in the deep South involving a church and two young African-American girls.
___"We had sung at a school and announced that we would be at a revival service on Sunday morning," he recalled. "Two young black girls had dressed up and come to church. About 15 minutes before the worship service, the pastor informed Roger Breland that either he would have to tell the black girls to leave the church or that some of the leaders would do it."
___"I cried my eyes out as they left," he said. "I still think we should have packed it up and left. I will never, ever forget that particular dose of racism and hypocrisy."
___Kim Noblitt, minister of music at First Baptist Church of Euless, joined Truth in July 1978 and stayed with the group eight and a half years, the longest tenure of any vocalist. Breland learned of the Colorado native through his singing with the Christian ensemble Renaissance.
___"Roger likes to say he discovered me driving a bread truck and switched me to riding the Truth bus," Noblitt said. "At that time, we did about 320 concerts each year and rode the bus a lot. We always liked touring in Texas because we could perform for over a month without having to travel very far."
___By the late 1970s, Truth had established a strong following and fan base, but Noblitt believed the group had drifted from its original sound and roots. About six months after he joined the musical troupe, Noblitt was quizzed by Breland about the group's direction.
___"I told Roger the experience was not what I thought it should be," he said. "I thought the group had moved away from what made it great, and the more secular sound was not being accepted by the church. Roger credits this conversation with getting Truth turned around and refocused."
___Noblitt's Euless church will host Truth twice before the group performs its final concert. The ensemble will present a Christmas concert Nov. 25 and will return on June 9, 2002, just prior to its last appearance in Nashville June 16.
___"Roger had a huge impact on me, and his mentoring facilitated any success that I've enjoyed," Noblitt said.
___"But I'm not the only one. There are countless music ministers and missionaries who received valuable experience from Truth. I'm forever indebted to God for using Roger to lead and show the way."

Get printer-friendly version of this story

Send this story to a friend

News of religion, faith, missions, Bible study and Christian ministry among Texas Baptist churches, in the BGCT, the Southern Baptist Convention ( SBC ) and around the world.

Contents/ Masthead / Why We're Here / Links / Archive / E-mail us/ SUBSCRIBE!/ Signup for FirstLook