Interviewing Lena Andersson Hubbard has been different from doing my usual interviews. I’ve not been able to meet with her, so we have emailed back and forth, but because we went to school together, that feels like less of a problem. I know what she was like; she was the fun girl who didn’t object to spending time with the quiet, boring girl down the road.
For Swedes there has been plenty in the press about Lena, so I have been more interested in finding out about her life now. We knew she found Jesus, and more recently that she married Tobe and moved to the US where he is a pastor. Currently they live in Phoenix, and Lena sings in their church. I think that was the thing that concerned me most, that she shouldn’t lose her singing.
‘You always seemed to be singing when we were children. Do you still?’
‘Music has been a red thread through my life, and still is. I had a music career in my teenage years as you know, and I think that a lot of people think that I don’t sing anymore. But since I got saved 26 years ago, God has used me in many powerful ways.
I sang last night here at my church in Phoenix for example. A powerful song from Jesus Culture called Break Every Chain. And it was on. Very powerful and blessed. I’m amazed at the fact that here I am, a woman 57 years old, and I’m still being used in a powerful and very contemporary way, together with musicians, some of them in their twenties and I bring it on. I love it! I’m hoping I can inspire them to just go for it.’
‘You say that you are being “used in a powerful and contemporary way.” Do churches like yours use the conventional hymns we grew up with at all? And what exactly is your church?’
‘The church we are at now is the fourth since we got married. They have all been free denominational churches but with different character. We came from one that had one traditional service every Sunday, and one contemporary.
I would say the current one is more on and rocky, and we do only contemporary songs. Though a lot of the newly written songs have somewhat hymn-inspired melodies and old style wording. I think it’s OK to mix. Every song that is born of the spirit has eternal value and speaks to us.’
‘Is your role at church official, or are you a “happy coincidence” in that you sing and can take on a more public role alongside Tobe?’
‘My role is official in that I’m a pastor’s wife, but also because I sing. And we were embraced as a couple with both our gifting when we came here. In the church everybody that is born again and belongs to Jesus, is a member in the body of Christ and has a special gift and purpose.’
‘When you talk about being saved 26 years ago; what exactly do you mean?’
‘I was saved after several years of seeking, and it was a metamorphosis if you like. My life was totally transformed. God took me from where I was and led me into a completely different life. I was changed, but my circumstances changed as well.
There was a world to explore that I didn’t even know existed. It was exhilarating. I wanted to dance on the subway! I was so delivered and happy! And I still am. I have a contentment and peace inside that only Jesus can give. It doesn’t mean that life can’t be tough sometimes, but there’s always a way out and help through every hardship. I don’t worry much. I trust in the Lord.’
‘Do you feel that your old life was a mistake? Do you regret your success as a singer at such an early age?’
‘I don’t regret my singing career. I let God use that experience where I am today.’
‘What has been the hardest thing to get used to in America?’
‘It’s hard for me to get really close to people. Especially women. My Mary Kay business has helped me some, to relate to women and have a reason to talk to them. I talk to people at church but I don’t arrange with anyone to go do something.
As a couple we go out with other couples, but I don’t see anybody by myself. And I think it’s because of the language. I’m not sure that I will hold up by myself. When I go out with somebody Swedish we just talk and talk and talk. I don’t feel like I have the stamina to do that in English. When Tobe is there I can lean on him and just talk as much as I feel comfortable with.
My English is good and I hardly have an accent, but this is how I feel and I don’t think that will ever change. It’s part of the price you pay to live abroad I think. I’ve had American friends, though, where I didn’t feel any inhibition in communication. I had one Mary Kay friend in California for example. We commuted together to MK meetings every week and I had no problem talking to her about anything. But I think that was thanks to her being open to talking to me.
You know in Europe we often say that Americans are shallow. After ten years here I still don’t know if that is true or not. Americans talk a lot and say a lot of things, but do they mean it? For example, it’s very easy to say “I love you” here. But, does it have any deeper meaning? Those are some cultural differences.’
‘What’s the best thing about America?’
‘I do feel more “comfortable in my skin” here. Maybe because I’m older, but I also think it’s because of the diversity. People are allowed to look different in so many ways. A lot are overweight, and they still feel beautiful and dress beautiful. People are not so reflecting here either. I think Swedes are so into measuring everything. Time, age, distance, you name it. Here people just live on. It’s easy that way.’
‘How come Tobe moves church regularly? Is it what pastors do?’
‘We’ve been ministering in four different churches since we got married. The first time we moved Tobe got an offer from an old friend and pastor, so we moved. The other two times he has lost his job for different reasons. The last church we were at had seven (!) pastors when we first came but due to the economic downfall in the US they had to cut down on staff.’
‘How do you choose your next church? Does Tobe pick a job, or is the pastor chosen by the new community?’
‘When we moved from southern to northern California Tobe got the job after putting his resume on a Christian job site. They had been searching for about two years and “we” got the job after visiting and interviewing.’
‘Does this type of work make finding new friends easier?’
‘I think it’s definitely easier to move and find new friends when you’re a Christian. You are accepted in a very immediate way. To find real, deep friends take time even for Christians.’
‘Do you have a favourite place where you have lived?’
‘I always love where I am, so right now Phoenix is my favorite place. I think that we will stay here and retire eventually. I love the climate, the laid-back atmosphere and the surroundings.’
‘Do you know where your singing talent comes from? I can’t remember if your parents are musical?’
‘My voice and my gift to sing comes from God first of all, but there was also always music surrounding me when I grew up. My mom and dad both have good voices and I remember how we would sing loudly in the car whenever we travelled. We would sing “He’s got the whole world in his hand” and “Oh when the saints go marching in” and have a lot of fun.
Dad loves jazz and has quite a collection. He also loved Josh White and Mahalia Jackson so I got to hear that kind of music, too. My mom and her sister would sing Christmas songs in harmony and my grandma could play accordion. So I think I got a lot of inspiration from my family.’
‘And where do your parents live nowadays? You moved around a bit in Sweden, so is there anywhere special you feel you belong?’
‘My parents sold their house a few years back and moved from the north of my hometown to the south of it. I have moved around a lot and the last two times I’ve gone home I have gone straight to mom and dad. I have visited Stockholm too, but I haven’t lived there since 1993 so it doesn’t feel that important. Last time which was 2010, I got to do a lot of things like singing in a church, doing a radio interview and sing live, plus two interviews for magazines.’
‘Do you have a favourite kind of music?’
‘I’m not so much a consumer of music. I sing every Sunday in our church and many times when I listen to music it is to find something I would like to sing. I was leading worship this weekend for example at a Retreat for the women at our church. It’s always contemporary Christian music for me if I listen to something. Jesus Culture is a great group right now that are making wonderful, passionate music about Jesus.’
‘And what about back in the 1960s, did you have a favourite pop group?’
‘In the 1960s I loved the Beatles, of course. I remember when they came to Sweden and we saw them on TV for the first time. Big sensation. “Look at their long hair!” I sang “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah” when I went with dad and he was a driver for a bread company. We, my girl friends and I, listened to and cried to the Bee Gees “To love somebody.” Every Saturday I heard all the new pop songs on the radio. It was always exciting and a special time. I got a guitar when I was twelve and my style of singing was very much inspired by Joan Baez and Judy Collins. I liked the folk songs and the so-called protest songs at that time.’
When Lena’s debut album was released it had a variety of great songs, ballads and political and popular. They influenced me in the best possible way, and whereas Lena and I have gone in different directions, we have the past, and Lena’s beautiful singing.
It seems as if Lena has found a good place to be. She still sings in front of an audience, giving pleasure. She has Tobe, and she has Jesus and her lovely churches. And perhaps I can catch her singing one summer, if we both “go home” at the same time. As long as there is no rope skipping involved!
(All photos are Lena’s own.)