Christian hip-hop artist Joshua "Upwordz" Huihui is well aware that not everyone accepts his genre of worship music – even when he is invited to be part of a church's Sunday service.
The 33-year-old rapper from Torrance, Calif., told The Christian Post that it could be very easy to get discouraged when some ministries are focused on warning Christians about allowing hip-hop into their lives. Much of the secular hip-hop culture doesn't hide its promotion of immoral behavior in words and actions.
However, Upwordz, who often raps the word of God on open-mic (or improvisation) nights inside clubs in Los Angeles, will be releasing his second album early next year and continues to perform what he feels God has called him to do.
Last summer, he was invited by a church in Riverside County, Calif., to perform just one song during each of the three Sunday services. After finishing his song during the first two services, and unable to get much of a response from the congregation, Upwordz admits that he was discouraged.
Then, he said that in between the second and third service a woman came up to him at the table he was selling his "The Upward Call" CDs from and began getting excited about something he wasn't quite sure about at first.
"She began pointing to my CD and said she had been looking for it for a year," Upwordz said. "She was very encouraging and saying that she appreciated my obedience to the Lord."
He said the woman then began to cry and he asked her why. She explained that her son died from a lethal mixture of medication just several months ago.
"I said I was sorry and she said, 'no, that's okay, he's in heaven, he went to be with the Lord," Upwordz explained. " Then she said, 'I just want to let you know that 10 months before he died, he got a hold of your CD and I want to tell you that after he heard your CD he completely dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and become a strong follower.'"
Upwordz began to cry as well, only it was because of joy.
"I was just so encouraged that this made an impact and I know that I will be seeing one soul in heaven that was impacted by my rap. Even if it has been just one soul I will be faithful to this ministry," he said.
For some pastors, like youth director Aaron Fonseca of the Christian Worship Center in Manteca, Calif., having someone like Upwordz perform hip-hop is critical even if the music genre is not his own personal favorite.
Most of the youth in the community close to Fonseca's church come from the local hip-hop culture. Spontaneous graffiti art, street dancing, and rap are all part of a typical Sunday service for the youth attending.
"We do hip-hop all the time here including hip-hop expos and hip-hop conferences. We embrace the culture of hip hop, but we mesh it with the character of Christ and the prophetic," Fonseca told CP.
"I'm not really a fan of hip-hop personally, but I know it is an effective tool, and I continue to have events at my church or for my youth. I'm not looking for entertainment or [hip] beats as much as I am looking for someone that has a message that will have change the lives of a generation of kids," he explained.
When asked about whether he would encourage other pastors to include hip-hop in their church's worship offering, Fonseca said, "Yes, because they are missing out on a whole generation of people to minister to and it's not really about their preference or what they would like to hear best, but if they are a pastor, then they are called to minister to people."
"The message [style] changes, but the message of God should stay the same," he said.
Upwordz, who says he writes his lyrics while keeping in mind that he should try and lead people to Jesus, believes hip-hop is just one tool of many that God uses today.
"Who are we to say what God can or cannot do? We can't put God in a box and decide where God can or cannot be moving. Hip-hop music is a very influential form of music," Upwordz said. "As Christian rap artists we use this form of music to bring the biblical worldview to the listeners, ultimately that they would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ."
"Today's mainstream hip-hop music is saturated with un-godliness and unholy desires, which lead today's youth away from the word of God. We bring in the truth of God's word with the tool of hip-hop music," he explained.