Discipling to an Urban Beat

 Shana Murphy

Osaze Murray has led The Navigators campus ministry at Bowie State University for two years, but he didn’t always know that God was leading him there. “There was a time when I wasn’t sure I should go to Bowie,” Osaze says, “but one day I heard Eric Mason, the pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in North Philly, say that when he was a student at Bowie someone knocked on his door and told him about Jesus, and how that changed his life. I knew then that I was supposed to go to Bowie and knock on someone’s door.”

When Osaze accepted the call to go impact students at Bowie State, he applied his gift as a lyricist to connect with students who are part of a generation heavily influenced by the cultural and musical movement called hip-hop. A spoken rhyme that is raw like blues, deep like soul, and improvisational like jazz, hip-hop is one of the most powerful influences in America. Those that grew up in this culture are often misunderstood or ignored. People don’t spend time investing in them if those outside the hip-hop culture are disconnected from the issues that matter to young adults.

Investing in the lives of people ages 18 to 35 brings serious issues to the forefront. “Building trust is the biggest obstacle,” Osaze says. “There are so many things that matter to young adults that have been inconsistent. If love was inconsistent, they’re going to have problems believing that you love them. If faithfulness was inconsistent, they’re going to have problems believing you’ll be faithful. If protection was inconsistent, they may have issues with being vulnerable. Keeping your word is key.”

As Osaze invests in young college students and friends his own age, the Lord reveals just how much He is in control and just how dependant we are on Him. “You can be in the middle of discipling someone and it can all fall apart. Sometimes it happens because a vision is cast for them too early. They don’t see the vision God has for them. Doing what doesn’t please God is often more attractive, or they may have a different expectation of what discipleship should be. Other relationships can take precedence. For some people, joining a fraternity is more important. But you have to recognize that maybe God’s plan for that person was to only go that far at that time in his life.”

But you can’t give up, Osaze says. “You don’t know what God is doing behind the scenes.” Osaze encourages people to continue investing in people’s lives, until they get to the place where God can really transform them. “Even though there were times discipleship didn’t take place with certain people, you still have times when God uses you to get a hold of someone.”

Getting hold of someone who was raised under the influence of the hip-hop culture requires that you get down to their level and find out what’s really important to them. “When you approach people, you have to come with very few judgments,” Osaze says. “Be a trustworthy person that they can relate to. Ask them who their favorite rappers are. Let them tell you who they like. It really opens up great dialogue.”

Osaze, who also goes by the rap name Oppose, is one of many Christians that use rap as a tool to communicate the Gospel. It’s a growing genre that reaches many urban and suburban segments of young adults. “It’s more effective now than it was in the past,” Osaze says. “In the ’90s and early 2000s you had trailblazers like artists on the Grapetree label, as well as Gospel Gangstaz and Cross Movement Ministries. They did a lot of groundwork. But today, because it’s more accepted, there are more rap artists, more Christian rap videos being produced, more channels on cable that play these videos, hip-hop churches like Crossover Church in Tampa, and sold-out concerts. It’s more of a machine now. It’s a brand now.”

Christian rap as an evangelistic tool has met people where they are. A lot of hip-hop songs express a rawness you can trace back to a painful struggle, while other songs focus more on social triumphs. All of it, though, communicates a reality that is often more explicit and shallow than deep and hopeful. Although rap provides Osaze with a platform that gets people’s attention, he focuses more on discipleship than rap. “I love to rap, but I’m more passionate about discipleship; it’s my heartbeat.”

When discipling is the heartbeat of someone’s life, it can make a difference in so many lives, no matter who they are or what culture they were raised in. Discipleship is God’s heartbeat, and it tells the world of His love.

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