Roger Breland has several roles at the University of Mobile: executive director of the Roger Breland Center for Performing Arts, dean emeritus of the Alabama School of the Arts, executive director of the Voices of Mobile and special assistant to the president. But when asked about his work, he replies only that he was the “founder and director of Truth for 31 years.”
Young people today might not immediately recognize what that means, but Christians growing up in the 1970s and ’80s knew the word “Truth” didn’t just mean something factual. It was the name of a popular vocal and musical group that lasted 31 years, had more than 400 members, completed 61 recordings, toured in 27 countries and presented at least 10,000 concerts for well over 1 million people. Its history and Breland’s are almost one and the same.
“In my young twenties, I was a music minister at Spring Hill Baptist Church [in Mobile] when the Jesus Movement moved east and contemporary Christian music was introduced to the deep South,” Breland recalled. “I was a young guy, and that music really, really excited me. And I saw what it did for young people in my church.”
During the late ’60s and ’70s, Breland led a group from Spring Hill Baptist called The Varsity which eventually became a full-time ministry.
Then in the summer of 1971, Breland left his family and went on the road with the group soon to be known as Truth, an acronym for “Trust, Receive Unchangeable True Happiness.”
In the early 1970s, Truth introduced new songs by Bill Gaither and Andrae’ Crouch. The group was invited to sing at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas. The response to their music, especially the song “Church Triumphant,” led to more bookings and lots of travel.
Breaking new ground
Those early days weren’t easy. With only three station wagons and a truck, the group staged as many as 350 concerts a year, some in places that didn’t have indoor plumbing and had never seen drums and guitars in church.
Truth was supported by love offerings, selling a $5 records and the generosity of church friends who allowed the group to stay in their homes.
Breland doesn’t credit being on the road for decades to his leadership or even talented musicians. Instead, he credits his wife, Linda.
“My wife is an intercessory prayer warrior, and she prayed us through,” Breland said. “Linda’s responsible, I believe, as much as anybody for any success.”
Those prayers led to some amazing moments, one of which started with a phone call.
“He said, ‘My name is David. I haven’t seen Truth in 12 years, but my dad sends me the tapes.’ Mind you, ‘the tapes,’ ” Breland recalled. “‘I was saved in a Truth concert when I was in the 12th grade. I was a juvenile delinquent. When I got saved, God changed my life, and I went to Bible College. I’m a pastor now, and I would like Truth to come and sing in my church.’”
“I was moved by that story, and I said to him, ‘Tell me about your church.’ He said, ‘Well, we’re finishing up our building and it seats 10,000.’”
Back then few churches were so large, and David wasn’t the pastor of any that Breland knew. When asked where he was located, David replied, “Manila, Philippines.”
“When God opened the door for us to travel to the Philippines, we presented three or four concerts a day for 10 days sponsored by The Cathedral of Praise,” Breland said.
Some 20,000 people filled out cards professing a first-time decision for Christ during that tour. Members of The Cathedral of Praise followed up with them.
“Some might say this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is the actual account according to Pastor David Sumrall and his staff. The congregation presently has a church membership of 40,000,” Breland said.
As a child growing up in South Alabama, Breland’s dream was to go to college, marry the “most beautiful girl in the world” and lead music in a big church.
“It’s shown me how small I am, and how big God is — how He’s in the stretching business,” Breland said. “David was a shepherd boy. He killed Goliath, and God made him a king. Nobody would have picked David.”
“To be honest with you, I don’t think anybody would have ever picked me. I don’t think I would have picked me to be able to do what I’ve been able to do.”
His list of accomplishments includes interviewing the minister of religion in Russia at the Kremlin and sitting in the Egyptian Embassy in Washington with a group of men from the Middle East talking about how to get Bibles into their restricted countries. Breland looks back in amazement at the things he saw and did.
“But God stretches all of us and makes us go further when we place our lives in His hands,” Breland said. “I’m a result of God’s blessings — certainly not a result of being that talented.
“I’m thankful for the opportunities that God has allowed me to be a part of through the years … I’ve seen God do the unimaginable in my life, and I am thankful.”
Breland and his wife will be honored at Truth’s 50th Reunion in Mobile June 17. For more information visit Eventbrite.com.
Read more about the reunion here.