Photo: Baamuchili Settler prepares to lead worship. His congregation plays a major role in the prison ministry in Botswana. (This photo was not taken in the prison where photography is illegal.) Photographer: Nathan Dirks.
Nathan Dirks and his wife, Taryn, serve with Mennonite Mission Network in Botswana. This blog originally ran on Mennonite Mission Network’s Beyond blog.
Step 1: Go!
In 2012, Taryn and I found ourselves heading to Botswana for a three-year term. Our local church partners in Botswana informed us of the needs they felt were most pressing in their community. These partners have been in relationship with Mennonite volunteers for more than 40 years; they know what they’re talking about, and we know that from experience! One of the consistent themes they expressed was the need for young people in the churches to be empowered and motivated as servants of Jesus. Being young and inexperienced ourselves, we thought, hey, that’s right up our alley.
Step 2: Get creative.
We asked God how to proceed (God strikes us as more creative than we are). A number of different opportunities came our way to help empower local Christian youth. One of these was serving in local prisons. A number of barriers stood in the way, but as we tentatively pushed, every obstacle melted away. We followed God’s leading into the prisons, and for the past three years, God has blessed us and our youth with the opportunity to serve there. It wasn’t what we expected, but it was the right thing at the right time, and we’ve been blessed to be a part of it and to see it become sustainable through our local partners.
Step 3: Make the most of the opportunities presented.
Due to decreasing funding, we realized that we couldn’t do some of the same things that we’ve done in the past, such as giving Christmas gift bags to everyone serving time in First Offenders Prison. However, this created an opportunity to figure out a way to bless the inmates without a reliance on outside financial support.
Step 4: Become a hip-hop promoter.
So, obviously, we planned a hip-hop concert! A few of our friends here in Gaborone perform in rap groups. And they’re good. Award-winning, local-radio-dominatingly good. Taryn and I, along with our friends, Ame, Nabo, Ransley, Slim, and Kabo, worked out the details with the prison officers, who loved the initiative.
On Jan. 1, to celebrate the fresh new year, Kabo (who is known for his work with his group, Xcalibur) freestyle-rapped in front of a full house, under the shade of a massive tree in the middle of the prison yard. He loves Jesus, and his music honored God and inspired the whole audience, 400 strong. Then, two different inmates followed up with their own rap performances, to the delight of everyone involved.
MMP Family closed out the show. They chose to play their song, ‘Problem Child,’ feeling that it would resonate with the guys in prison. It deals with young people growing up in the shanty neighborhoods and struggling to make the right choices. That’s the story of many of the inmates. Fresh off of winning a number of honors the previous week for their latest album, MMP Family entertained the crowd with a full set, as the audience moved to the music.
As the work in prison and among our youth continues, we’re blessed to have an incredible community of friends around us and such great support from our congregations back in North America. Both of these communities enable us to creatively honor God.
That’s the classic route to becoming a hip-hop promoter, and we highly recommend it.
Listen to music by MMP Family and Xcalibur online: