Kim Walker-Smith: Let God’s Love Rewrite Your Story
As a young child Kim learned firsthand about heartache. At two years old her dad was in a motorcycle accident and had a severe brain injury. Although he learned to walk and talk again he was never the same. Two years later her parents divorced and her mom remarried. Her stepdad, Peter, always acted angry toward Kim. The marriage lasted for about a year and then she went to live with her grandparents who were strong Christians. They always took her and her siblings to church even though church was more of a ritual at this point in her life and not necessarily something personal. Toward the end of Kim’s first grade year, her mom remarried. His name was Greg and he turned out to be very angry and violent. She walked around on eggshells unsure when he would blow up or what might set him off. For years she endured his physical abuse. One night, after threatening to kill her mom, Greg left and eventually stopped coming home. After the divorce, her mom struggled to pay the bills and buy food, but Kim was relieved that Greg was gone.
When she was eleven Kim went to church camp. There she sang in the talent show and won an award for Camp Queen. While singing, the pain and hurt from her childhood seemed to fade away. When she returned home she was dancing and singing before God one evening when a lady in the church put her hands on her shoulders and led her over to a chair to sit down. Immediately, she felt shame and embarrassment. When Kim asked her mom later that night why that lady had sat her down her mom said, “Kim sometimes you have to know when to stop.” Anger built up inside of Kim and once again she felt rejected and betrayed.
A year later Kim’s mom met a man, George, who was a strong Christian. When he married her mom, Kim became convinced that George would be like her other stepfathers and hurt and leave them. Kim felt she was supposed to be her mother and siblings’ protector after suffering years of trauma. Her unresolved anger and pain caused her relationship with her mom and George to become increasingly strained. During this time, her biological dad was in yet another motorcycle crash. He had to regain the ability to walk and talk again. She also learned that her mother had breast cancer and had to have surgery and chemotherapy treatment. Kim began to wrestle with God about her faith during this difficult season in her life. “He was the only one I could turn to in terrifying circumstances, yet He was also the one who had let these things happen throughout my life,” shares Kim. She began leading a double life. At home she took care of everyone, at school she was the overachiever, and attended church. At the same time, she was sneaking out with friends at night partying and drinking, trying to numb her pain. Eventually, the lies, pain, and rage intensified and death seemed like the only way out. She took some pills and blacked out during her senior year of high school. A couple hours later she awoke with no sickness, headache, or stomachache. “There must be a God, and He must really love me,” shares Kim. In that moment she knew she was loved and had a purpose. Right there on the floor she committed her life to Him and vowed to spend her life pursuing Him.
One day while praying God told Kim to go to Redding, California. She had previously planned to attend Oral Roberts University on a music scholarship. Instead, she went to Simpson University in Redding, but did not know why the Lord had brought her there. She struggled academically and did not even make the chapel worship team. One night while driving home from church she was overcome with frustration. She noticed a building on a hill and inside she could see people dancing, hands lifted, and people praying. The name of the sign on the building read “Bethel Church.” The next weekend she decided to check it out. Over time she made Bethel her church and the next year she decided to attend the ministry school at Bethel. “All I knew was that something was pulling me strongly in this direction, and I was desperate to discover what might satisfy the hunger inside me,” recalls Kim. Oddly enough when worship team auditions came around Kim felt the Lord say, “I don’t want you to sing, I don’t want you to tell anyone you sing. I will bring this back in My time. Right now, in this season, I want you to learn to hear My voice.” She chose to obey and did not sign up for auditions. At the ministry school they would have worship each day, but when she would open her mouth to sing nothing would come out. Singing was the one thing she had done her whole life and knew she could do well. In fact, much of her identify was wrapped up in her ability to sing. It was during this time that God began to show her who she was in Him. She began inner healing with a counselor from her church. The effects of her childhood showed up in her responses to things like stress, new environments, and confrontation. “I began to recognize I was pretty messed up inside,” shares Kim. The healing process took time, but eventually the deep pain she had lived with for so long was finally healed and left her with wholeness and freedom. God gave her new eyes to see her past through His eyes.
Her second year in ministry school she felt God tell her He was going to bring singing back into her life. A few months later she was standing in one of the classrooms when the worship pastor walked by. He stopped and asked, “Do you want to sing?” Kim knew this had to be from God. The next time the worship leader lead the music Kim sang with him. She also started singing backup on Sunday mornings, singing with the worship bands for the school of ministry and youth group. After finishing ministry school, she lived with her parents for a few months, then headed to Kansas City to the International House of Prayer and then to Charlotte, North Carolina at MorningStar Fellowship Church. She had been gone from Redding for about a year when she felt it was time to go back. The youth pastor asked Kim if she would help lead the worship at one of the Jesus Culture conferences. “A wild and untamed passion came surging out of me while leading.” The more she stepped out in worship, boldly making declarations about what she felt God was doing the more her confidence and faith grew. The journey and authority in worship culminated with the recording of their first two albums and the video of How He Loves that went viral and changed everything for Jesus Culture. Invitations to lead worship at other churches and events began to pour in.
After marrying Skyler in 2009 the schedule for Jesus Culture kept them very busy. They were also being sent out from Bethel to do a church plant in Sacramento. A few days later Kim found out she was pregnant. After Wyatt was born their traveling schedule had not slowed down a bit. By the time he was one, he had been in thirteen different countries and nineteen states. When Wyatt was six months old, Kim found out she was pregnant again. After a friend lost her baby due to anencephaly Kim began to struggle with the fear that something was wrong with her baby too. She also struggled with post-partum depression. She only found peace when she turned her fears and anxiety over to God. “As God stirred up His love inside me, it began to push fear out, enabling me once again to surrender my need for control to the One who holds my life and future,” shares Kim. She gave birth to her son, Bear in 2014 and two years later her daughter, Maisie was born. She says, “Every time I face and defeat fear, it is smaller and easier to dismiss when it comes back.”
Bethel Church’s youth group in Redding, California launched the first Jesus Culture Conference in 1999. God showed up in a powerful way so they continued to host gatherings each year and the conferences continued to grow. At these conferences, Kim Walker-Smith, Chris Quilala and Melissa How, who were the worship leaders in the youth group, would lead. By 2005, the worship was so strong in these conferences they decided to try and capture what was taking place so they produced their first album, Everything. In 2006, they added more conferences and the following year, they filmed a DVD. Kim Walker-Smith had just come home from a year in Charlotte, at Morning Star Church, and introduced them to John Mark McMillan’s song, How He Loves. They recorded this on their album We Cry Out (2007). Kim didn’t want them to use the extended speaking section of the song, but they loved it so much they did. It has ministered to so many. The video actually went viral and today has been seen more than 19 million times. Jesus Culture has released 9 annual live albums and over 20 solo artist albums. They have had events in many nations all around the world. In 2012, Jesus Culture was sent out from Bethel to Sacramento with the purpose to plant a local expression of Jesus Culture as well as relocate the ministry. They all moved to Sacramento, California and in 2014 Jesus Culture Sacramento began. Jesus Culture leads worship both at their local church in Sacramento and abroad through conference events and worldwide tours. Jesus Culture is focused on equipping a generation to transform society by bringing people into an encounter with God’s love through worship and discipleship. The songs they release capture the heart of the movement.