Kenny “KP” Petty has been there and done that, so what he says rings true to others who are as he was. Too busy with his gang life to finish high school, he was shot for the first time at 17, and then again at 18. He went to jail at 19, facing (later acquitted of) an attempted murder rap.
Today, not quite 20 years later, Petty and co-pastor/rapper Kyle Hubbard are in the fourth year of planting The Gate church in University City, an older, poverty-pockmarked neighborhood in southern St. Louis. The Gate recently voted to sponsor a similar-style church in Baden, north St. Louis, as “the first of many” sponsored works, the pastors said.
The Gate and its offspring are churches designed to reach those who have grown up in the hip-hop culture where “rap music, gangs, urban clothing, art, poetry, hardship and violence have molded our people,” explained Petty, who now also serves as the urban strategist for St. Louis Metro Baptist Association.
“Our environments are so raw and produce such a distinct lifestyle that you can almost sense inauthenticity,” Petty said. “To reach people here you gotta have a real sense of understanding to earn credibility. But the reality is, when out on these streets we need to have full confidence in the power of the Gospel to change people’s lives.
“The Gospel does save,” Petty said from personal experience. “I think that’s really the key.”
Petty was in solitary confinement, facing serious time for attempted murder, when a jail chaplain challenged him to read Psalm 51 three times a day, the planter/strategist recalled. It wasn’t long before the words sunk in. “Against You and You only have I sinned … It caused me to cry out for mercy,” Petty said.
“I didn’t know much about Christianity, but after study and growth, I began to understand that the church is God’s plan for the world,” Petty said. “I wanted to be part of a church that was biblically sound and culturally relevant.” Hip-hop is a culture that has “produced men who are absent from the home, young pregnancies, women who are raising children alone, drugs, violence, and a sense of hopelessness.”
A rap by Hubbard captures the essence of the urban life attitude:
“Thinkin’ ’bout my city some of y’all never heard of it, ’til Fox showed the shot Mike Brown took in Ferguson. Murder ’round here is an everyday occurrence, that’s why we are up all night, look at the place we are workin’ in” (from the rap “So We Don’t Sleep” by Hubbard under his rap name Tory Sparks).
Most churches provide a good fit for middle-class and upper-class Americans, Petty said. He and Hubbard saw the potential of the Gospel reaching people who don’t fit in an upwardly mobile culture.
“Growing up with people disenfranchised, impoverished, in the hip-hop culture that has hoisted a generation of people living in hopelessness,” Hubbard said. “We saw an opportunity to bring the hope of the Gospel to those who have been cast away.”
Hopelessness has led to a breakdown of society, including prison for a disproportionate number of black men, Hubbard noted. “We believe God uses men even with broken lives.
“…We understand the only way we can see change in the lives of the people we grew up with, is through the power of the Gospel.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Karen L. Willoughby