When hip hop culture started gaining recognition outside the confines of the subculture from which it was birthed, many observers mistook it as a passing fad identifiable by baggy jeans and rap music. They could not have been more wrong. What began as a new form of self-expression soon became a worldwide phenomenon with millions of followers that cut across racial divides and social strata. It’s common, now, to see entire movements fueled by and based on hip hop.
Ruddy Daville, senior pastor of The Street Hip Hop Church (Elizabeth Urban Foursquare Church) in Elizabeth, N.J., envisions a movement, too. And though it may be based on hip hop, it’s fueled by something else—the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
“I grew up around the hip hop culture,” says Pastor Ruddy, founder of The Street Hip Hop Church alongside his wife, Faith. “I breathed it; I lived it. Once I got saved, I knew what my mission was and to whom it was for—the hip hop culture. My heart burns for them because I understand what they go through and what they need. They need a loving a God, who loves them for who they are, and brothers and sisters standing by their side, supporting them all the way through.”
That support is essential because, as Ruddy told Foursquare.org, many of those who now are members of his church were school dropouts, gang members or even drug dealers when the ministry first encountered them. Getting their lives on track was a step-by-step process requiring time and patience. But seeing someone’s life turn around is always worth the extra effort.
“Most of our members, with the support of the brothers and sisters in the church, have either gone back to school, left their gangs, or left the drug lifestyle,” Ruddy explains. “A simple thing as opening doors to a generation allowed them to leave their old lifestyles and walk in a new. Now they are in Christ, praising Him with all they’ve got.”
This praise has taken many expressions, such as the ministry releasing a hip hop album—titled The Street Compilation CD—to spread Christian rap and the message of Christ’s love to the surrounding community.
The church, which averages around 40 in weekly attendance, conducts many outreaches as well, including rapping and speaking in parades and local festivals; hosting block parties; holding special musical events; speaking and singing in local churches to minister to youth; and walking the streets to minister on a personal level to anyone they may encounter who needs Christ.
Ministries like The Street Hip Hop Church are not something you see every day; but Ruddy insists that, in some ways, ministry to the hip hop culture is no different than ministry to anyone else.
“It is a task you have to be called to do, just like any other ministry,” he says. “The hip hop culture is not lost to the point of no salvation. They are just like you and me before we meet Christ. All they need is a loving God and people to support them in that walk.”
Cross N Dagger: Reaching Bikers
That same desire to share a loving God with people who typically would never walk through the doors of a church building is what prompted Bill Campbell, several states away in Indiana, to reach out to what some might consider the toughest crowd out there—bikers. And not the Lance Armstrong kind. We’re talking the big boys with tattoos, leathers and boots who ride custom choppers and wear patches with sayings like, “Bad to the Bone.”
“I have believed for a long time that we must reach beyond our walls to the people Jesus would have cared about,” says Bill, who alongside his wife, Sherri, pastors Life Bridge (Fort Wayne Life Bridge Foursquare Church) in Fort Wayne, Ind. “We have people in our church who are part of the Christian Motorcycle Association (CMA), and we had talked about ways to reach bikers. As we talked, the idea of a Biker Sunday began to surface. Someone suggested we call it Cross N Dagger.”
And so, with a combination of church funds, a grant from The Foursquare Foundation and a whole lot of heart, a ministry to bikers was born. The first Cross N Dagger outreach, which is now an annual event, took place in 2008 and resulted in 900 attendees, 175 bikes and, most important, 10 salvations and 5 rededications to Christ.
The word of mouth—and accompanying numbers—increased exponentially by Cross N Dagger 2009. More than 1,300 people and 400 bikes rolled in to that event, with more than 60 individuals giving their lives to Christ and 10 coming back to Him after having gone astray. The next Cross N Dagger is August 1, 2010. It’s the kind of thing Bill lives for.
“We are becoming known as the church that accepts people where they are, how they are dressed, without judgment, and welcomes bikers with open arms,” Bill explains. “We are reaching people who will never come to a church that is just doing business as usual.”
Which is why, when you visit Life Bridge, you’re just as likely to be greeted at the front door by a biker wearing his regalia as a white collar worker in a suit. And the usher handing you the offering plate may be wearing leathers as his Sunday best instead of a tie. And that, believes Bill, is as it should be.
Life Bridge also holds a weekly community group that is biker friendly; conducts street ministry in various cities on certain weekends; promotes CMA (the president of the local chapter is a church member); sponsors events to honor members of the military and first responders, many of whom are bikers; and dedicates a designated area in their parking lot for motorcycles.
And because bikers respect the ministry of Life Bridge, Bill was even asked to do a funeral for a man who had been a member of a pagan church and the Satan’s Escorts Motorcycle Club. He was able to share the gospel to 75 attendees who never would have darkened a church door.
Another man, who had spent time in prison and not been to church in more than 20 years, came to Cross N Dagger 2008. He and his wife began attending Life Bridge, soon giving their lives to Christ. Together, they were part of the leadership team for Cross N Dagger 2009 and are faithful members of the church. Some of their family members have now given their lives to Christ and attend Life Bridge as well.
Bill sums up what ministry to bikers is really all about, and, in doing so, encapsulates what ministry to anyone, for anyone, for all of us, is really all about.
“Underneath the tattoos and leathers are people who are hurting,” he shares, “people without Jesus, not looking for us to become a biker or get a tattoo, but rather for us to love them without judging, to make them welcome in our churches without expecting them to clean up first. We must remember that Jesus called us to be fishers of men—to catch them, and let Him clean them up.”
This is Part 4 of a 4-part feature:
- “Whatever It Takes” Part 1: Skate Church
- “Whatever It Takes” Part 2: God at the Truck Stop
- “Whatever It Takes” Part 3: Caring for Native Americans and Mormons
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles