Abundant Life Ministry helps the hip-hop generation

WHEN GOSPEL rapper Ashlei Williams danced on to the "Apollo on Tour" stage (at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall) Jan. 31, singing "You Can't Stop Me," those audience members poised to boo quickly sat down when they realized that the young woman was singing about God.

This was just the latest gig since her rap debut last summer at her pastor Zenzile R. Scott's birthday party last year. The actress and visual artist has been in demand quite a bit, especially after she started the Revolutionary Artistic or Anointed Poets or RAP Ministry at Abundant Life church last month. It meets at 7 p.m. Feb. 18 and every third Tuesday. There, participants ages 14 to 40 write poetry, practice freestyling and discuss topics. Guests are welcome.

Although Abundant Life Ministry is only four years old, it has already moved three times to keep up with an expanding congregation, whose members are 19 to 29 years old. Presently housed at 3134 San Pablo Ave., the church uses rap to minister to its congregation.

Minster Norman Huntsman, whose Big MOE (Marketing Outreach Evangelism) hosts outdoor events, calls it "dazzling them."

"If the church is the huddle, then perhaps the failure of the church to reach 'urban kids' is because it hasn't been running the play in such a way that reaches the unchurched," Huntsman says.

"We believe that although the message of Jesus Christ is the same, we have to use different methods to reach the people of the 21st century and rap is just one way that we do it," Scott adds.

So the church hosts events that engage youth. One such event will be held Feb. 14 -- Cafe Charisma -- in which the sanctuary will be transformed into a cafe with tables and candles.

"Cafe Charisma gives people an opportunity both in the ministry and friends of the ministry to share gifts you can't really share on a Sunday morning -- singing, dance, rap. It doesn't have to be sacred music but it has to be appropriate. One year, a young lady shared her ability to quilt. We've also had someone do a karate demonstration," Scott said.

"A lot of churches have rap ministries, especially churches that are trying to attract young people. What makes our church stand out is that we do have such a large population of that age in our congregation already."

Williams was attracted to Abundant Life three years ago. "I didn't feel like I had to act or dress a way, because (the non-denominational church) is come as you are. No one looked at me crazy. I felt at home and at peace. I felt that I fit.

"What I teach the members is that we're all called to be ministers, which means to administer to the needs of the people, but we're not all called to be preachers. There's a difference, but once we accept Jesus and walk in his way and according to his word, we're all called to do some kind of ministry .... Our motto at Abundant Life Ministry is that 'lives are changing, minds are blowing and worlds are rocking.' That is not just a catch phrase. People come and they get there lives changed for the better."

At Abundant Life, rap and hip hop culture are not antithetical to Christ, the pastor says, as she connects the rap to the musical traditions that proceeded it: gospel, jazz and rhythm and blues. "The roots of hip hop stem all the way back to our ancestors in Africa to the drum, so it can't be a contradiction because (hip so much a part of who we are as African Americans," she says.

"I can't say that I know a lot of hip hop artists personally but a lot of their messages are spiritual. Most of them are not churched because church has turned them off, but they have a deep sense of God and a love for their spirituality, higher power, God head, whatever they choose to call it. Probably most of them were raised in the church and moved away when the church didn't evolve. That's what we're bringing back. We have a generation of hip hoppers in our congregation to reach this population many of our churches don't reach."

The theme for Cafe Charisma this year is "Your Time to Shine." A $5 donation is requested to defray costs, however, no one will be turned away. Call 510-597-1800 for information about the event, or other church activities.

This Sunday, gospel rapper Agerman, formally with 3X Krazy, will be a special guest. Services are at 10:30 a.m. Williams, who has just become a part of the collective "The Flock" out of the Gospel Village recording studios, says the opportunity to finally meet Agerman, and work with him in The Flock, is a dream come true.

This article appeared in Feb 9th edition of the Oakland Tribune http://www.oaklandtribune.com/Stories/0,1413,82%257E1726%257E1168848,00.html?search=filter

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