Adia slipped quietly through the door as the instructor was going over expectations for the course. She slid into a seat in the back, hoping no one would notice her tardiness on the first day of class. Hip-Hop and The New Testament. It wasn’t your typical course for a college in Nairobi, Kenya, but Adia was intrigued.
Her love for music stemmed back to when she was a little girl and would listen to her mother singing hymns in Swahili as she did house work. Over the years, she learned to play a number of instruments, and she knew she wanted to use her musical talent somehow.
But as soon as she began to dream of her future, her mind would immediately fill with doubt. Doubt that a young Kenyan woman could ever write music that anyone would want to hear. And after the doubt came the memories of looking in the mirror and despising what she saw.
She was content to learn about others’ music. But Adia was about to receive a lesson that couldn’t be found in a textbook.
The instructor was an African-American missionary from Missions Door named Curtis Reed. He spoke eloquently about the Bible and its surprising, yet undeniable connection to hip-hop music.
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Curtis was immersed in the world of hip-hop music at a very young age. He was also all too familiar with the realities faced by the fellow black families in his neighborhood. And after committing his life to Christ at age 18, he began studying the Bible and started making connections to the lyrics and themes of hip-hop.
“Because I love hip-hop, when I look at the scriptures, I look at it from those eyes and from that perspective, and I see these amazing connections between the two,“ said Curtis. “When we look at both the New and Old Testaments, we see a prophetic tradition that really emphasizes the idea of justice and the idea of taking care of people who are marginalized and disenfranchised. That’s really the origin of hip-hop.”
Those connections began to permeate Adia’s heart. She arrived to class eager to learn more from Curtis. As she read her Bible each day, the words of Jesus and stories that once seemed ancient and irrelevant to her came to life, and it was as if they were written directly to her. Those pages suddenly held her worth and her value as an African woman, and her musical gifts became a platform from which she could share that worth with others.
Uniting the Body of Christ
Along with teaching college courses in Nairobi, Kenya, Curtis also leads Sankofa Student Ministries in the United States. The ministries focus on discipling African-American students and helping them understand how their African identity can uniquely shape their relationship with Christ.
Curtis also helps his African-American students understand the importance of unity with their African brothers and sisters. Each year he takes students to Nairobi for what he calls a Unity Conference.
“It’s a chance for them to dialog about who we are, and what keeps us from being united,” said Curtis. “It’s a huge issue for us. When Africans come to America, they are told not to hang around African American people. And then African Americans have the impression that Africans think they are better than them. It creates a lot of divisiveness. We are trying to actively address that.”
And in a time when the world is fractured by racial tension, Curtis believes the Church has an opportunity and a responsibility to be a source of mercy and hope.
“We’ve been to many places like Haiti, Europe and Africa, and in each of those places we’ve found the commonality of oppression. I think that perspective brings an understanding of the unique nature of Jesus’ ministry on Earth and the integration of justice in the gospel. It enables us as the Church to be the voice that says there are issues that have been overlooked. I believe African people can uniquely serve the body of Christ in that way.”