Behind the Lights: A Conversation with Helen Smallbone

What’s it like to lose everything, leave your home country, and step out in faith with no safety net? What about raising (and homeschooling!) seven creative children? How about being the middle of the contemporary Christian music movement and having three of your children be well-known artists? In her debut memoir, Helen Smallbone gives you the answers. But I had more questions and wanted to hear it directly in her voice. Listen in as Helen and I talk about the story of her life.

The Conversation | Helen Smallbone

This interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Josh Olds: Now, this is sort of your memoir, it’s your story from all the way back starting in with your younger years on Australia. Then moved to the States, and Behind the Lights takes us all the way up through your current ministry and work. But just to begin, if you can just sort of compress that into just a couple of minutes and let the listeners know what they can expect when they read this book.

Helen Smallbone: This book is really a little bit of a life story. We’ve been given a fairly dramatic life story. My husband and I left Australia in 1991 with six kids, 16 suitcases, and me pregnant with number seven. After a business reversal back in Australia, we actually lost a quarter million dollars on a tour that David was promoting. And we knew that life was never going to be quite the same. We came here he was 42 and knew that this was a new start, basically.

We had no nest egg to fall back on because we’d lost everything back in Australia, coming here to start afresh. And then he lost his job. So really, we had nowhere to turn, but to sort of bunker down with each other. And then to pray. And it was really through prayer that we saw God take us step by step and lead us into some new ways. David did pick up a job a couple of months after, and then we lived pretty hand-to-mouth for the ensuing couple of years. We learned to work together in those early days we learned to do all the jobs that people don’t really love to do—rake leaves, mow lawns, babysit, clean houses. And it was really the kids working , particularly Rebecca and Daniel working, that helped put food on the table.

The reason why I’ve written Behind the Lights is to encourage families and people and to know of God’s faithfulness and goodness. – Helen Smallbone

We saw God provide as well. We got given a car. We got help with paying some of the bills for our daughter to be born. We were given groceries by friends, people who knew us in the neighborhood. And so we just saw God really care for us. And then later from that, we ended up working together, or the kids end up working as Rebecca’s crew during her time as Rebecca St. James. And then from that the boys sort of emerged as her background vocalists. And then eventually, God gave them their own career. So it’s really following the gamut. Back in Australia, our normal life, then losing everything, dramatic life change. And then God’s slowly being faithful in giving us everything back.

Josh Olds: You co-founded a ministry for mothers called MUMlife. That’s what you’re doing now. What is your purpose in that ministry? And what led you to that?

I know mums are creating the world of tomorrow. – Helen Smallbone

Helen Smallbone: I’ve been a full-time mom, I call it active mothering, for 32 years. Between the time Rebecca was born to the time my youngest daughter graduated from high school. And so I did nothing else other than mother for those years. So I feel like my career is being a mum. And I know what being a mum sort of looks like. And so I just saw the opportunity—God actually opened the opportunities—for me to start mentoring younger mums. I was asked by some mums in a local church group if I would come in and mentor and I don’t do women’s groups. I’m not a real girly girl. I wouldn’t have done a ministry to women per se. But mums are my heart. Mums are what I know. Families. Kids. And so I thought, “You know what, this is probably a great place for me to serve in the church.”

And then about five years after that, then the opportunity came up to set up an actual ministry and that’s MUMlife community. We’ve now got a podcast on Access More, which is KLOVE’s podcast division. And so we’ve got these opportunities. In my heart I know the hand that rocks the cradle holds the world. I know mums are creating the world of tomorrow. And this is the foundation of our society, the health of the family, is the foundation of our society. And so I just want to encourage younger mums. The reason why I do the podcast is to encourage younger mums on their journey. The reason why I’ve written Behind the Lights is to encourage families and people and to know of God’s faithfulness and goodness.

The Book | Behind the Lights

Read our full review of the book here.

In this inspiring debut memoir, Helen Smallbone, mother of seven creative children—including Christian music artists for KING & COUNTRY and Rebecca St. James—chronicles the family’s journey of faith across the ocean to go where God was leading. Written from a mother’s perspective, Helen shares stories of peaks, valleys, and a family trusting God for provision.

Helen Smallbone’s heartfelt story illustrates what it means to really let God lead, which almost always means living outside the box of how the world says to live. How did an ordinary Australian family produce two Grammy Award–winning artists—Rebecca St. James and for KING & COUNTRY? What happened to bring the Smallbones through closed doors and to new beginnings in the United States? In Behind the Lights, Helen shares not only these stories of her family but of the life lessons they all learned along the way.

In 1991 Helen and her husband, David, packed up their family and sixteen suitcases to move from Australia to the United States. Completely isolated from the support of family and friends, they relied on God to provide them with hope and direction. Helen watched her children join forces as Rebecca St. James’ career grew, soon followed by blossoming careers for the others—as artists, entrepreneurs, filmmakers—and the rise of Joel and Luke’s for KING & COUNTRY on Christian music charts. Helen shares untold stories and insights into how her family worked and stuck together, constantly relying on their faith to guide the way.

The Author | Helen Smallbone

Helen Smallbone is the co-founder of MUMlife Community and a podcast host with AccessMore. Her passion is encouraging mothers and families with the God-breathed wisdom she has gleaned over thirty-two years of active mothering. Born and raised in Australia, she dedicated her life to Christ as a young teen at the Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney. Now a mother to seven―five boys, bookended with girls―and grandmother to thirteen, she currently lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, David, and a small menagerie of animals