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At a recent Casting Crowns’ performance, East didn’t just meet West. North Korean Communists met American Christian singers — and they apparently liked what they saw.

The Grammy-winning rock band traveled to Pyongyang to perform at North Korea’s 25th Annual April Spring Friendship Art Festival on April 11 to 13.

Casting Crowns’ front man Mark Hall said the event drew hundreds of singers, dancers and other performers from numerous countries.

“We were the only American group there so it was quite an honor,” Hall said.

So how did a Christian band end up in the capital of a nation the U.S. State Department cited in 2006 for having an “extremely poor level of respect for religious freedom”?

The band’s participation was suggested by Global Resource Services, a nongovernmental humanitarian group that tries to build relationships with North Korea through aid programs in areas such as agriculture.

“We were just amazed that we were there … being that we are known as a Christian band and that we are believers,” Hall said. “We obviously didn’t walk through the streets sharing our faith. The purpose of our trip was to build relationships with the people there, hoping for something deeper in the future, sort of preparing the ground.”

Preparations began “over a year before we went, a long process of just sending music over and making sure that they were cool with our music and what we were singing and knew our backgrounds well,” Hall said. “… I believe it might be the Grammy award that interested them, just to know that we were known around America.”

Casting Crowns performed three times during the festival, before about 1,600 people on each occasion.

“It was always interesting because you’re behind a curtain, and when the curtain opens, they see you for the first time and you could always hear the whispering, like: ‘Those are Americans,’ that kind of a thing,” Hall said. “We looked visibly different. I mean in our group we have an Italian, a Hispanic, a redneck — that’d be me — you know we have every side of the spectrum here.”

The band played some of its own music but also performed “Amazing Grace” and two Korean songs.

“Every time [the master of ceremonies] would introduce a Korean song, it really excited the crowd that we had learned one, so they would clap their hands and sing with us,” said Hall, who sang in Korean along with Megan Garrett.

One of the Korean songs — “White Dove Fly High” — will appear on the band’s upcoming CD. “It’s just a call for our side, here in America, to be praying for them,” Hall said. “My whole life they’ve just been North Korea. They’ve never been anything else. But now, they’re actual people with faces and you hurt for them and you pray for them.”

Just a few days after returning from North Korea, Casting Crowns was in Nashville to pick up Dove awards from the Gospel Music Association for Group of the Year and Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year, for “Praise You In This Storm.”

The band’s schedule won’t ease up much this summer.

In June, they will tour Europe, with concerts in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Ingliston, near Edinburgh, Scotland; London; and Denmark.

In August, Casting Crowns will release the album “The Altar and the Door.”

Hall said fans can expect the band’s trademark mix of sometimes-joyous, sometimes-comforting, sometimes-convicting messages to continue in the new CD.

“It’s the same thing we’ve always been doing, just telling stories about the things that we’re seeing around us, the things we’re going through, just the struggles we have as believers,” he said.

Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry.

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