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This article was published 6/2/2019 (285 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Everyone needs someone to believe in them — that’s the new message from Winnipeg-based musician and children’s entertainer Fred Penner.
Penner’s new single, Somebody Believes, was launched this week as part of International Development Week, Feb. 3-9, a time when the relief and development sector celebrates how Canadians help people around the world escape poverty.
Penner, 72, wrote the song three years ago after hearing the story of Edgar Rodriguez, who had been sponsored as a child by World Vision.
"Today he’s a very successful man," says Penner, who travelled to Zambia with World Vision 16 years ago.
"He became an accountant, married, is raising a family. And he attributes all of that to the World Vision experience."
During a speech, Rodriguez used the phrase "somebody believed in me," Penner says.
"I’m always on the lookout for a good phrase or line that could perhaps become a song," he says. "That just struck a chord with me, literally and figuratively."
Penner went back to his hotel room and, after an hour, wrote the song.
He played it occasionally at concerts, but "it never really had a life. It felt like it needed to go somewhere because the concept is so very important."
That "somewhere" was World Vision.
"I thought, because this song came from a World Vision experience, that’s where it needs to be rejuvenated," Penner says.
He contacted World Vision, and the new music video is the result.
Recorded in Winnipeg at Signpost Music, the song features local musicians such as the Bros. Landreth and Alexa Dirks (also known as Begonia).
The video features images of children helped by sponsorship through World Vision.
For Penner, "it’s a pretty powerful and timely perspective" in the world today, where so many people feel powerless and anxious.
"If we don’t give that kind of support to each other, and really act upon it, then what’s the point of this journey?" he says.
He hopes the song, which is for both children and adults, will inspire people to "pay it forward" to others.
"Do something, even if you’re small," he says, noting that for the price of a cup of coffee, people in Canada can help kids in a country like Zambia pay school fees so they can get an education.
"We have no real understanding of how much we really have, and how we can use our resources to make a difference in people’s lives."
As for Penner himself, the song is his own way to pay it forward.
"It’s a little overwhelming to me to know that I have been blessed with this kind of career, and such an enviable life," he says.
Music is also an extension of his spirituality, and his Mennonite background.
"The spirituality that I was raised with was very strong," he says of growing up and going to church in the Winkler area.
"I don’t know what I would have done if I had not had music and had that spirituality to hold me."
As for how his spirituality affects his life today, "I have a responsibility for other people in this world," he says. "I am my brother’s keeper."
Of his music, he says "much of what I’m doing is not coming from me. There is a higher power; I am a vessel. The inspiration comes, and I’m prepared to offer it to the world in as many ways as I possibly can."
His latest offering is his new song, Somebody Believes.
"Edgar was able to rise above poverty and injustice," he says. "All it took was for someone to care, for someone to believe in him."
When he ponders his legacy, he says he hopes he can look back and say he shared the message "we really can do better at being good people in this world, in understanding each other and accepting each other, and being more tolerant and giving to each other."
That, and the importance of believing in others, in Canada and around the world.
"Never underestimate your ability to make a difference in the life of another person," he says.
For more information about International Development Week, visit developmentweek.ca.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.