Un.orthodox: Church. Hip-Hop. Culture.by Tommy Kyllonen
From its roots in the South Bronx over thirty years ago, hip-hop has swept across continents and oceans, shaping the music and mores of urban culture. It is more than just music. Hip-hop is a lifestyle that encompasses attitude, fashion, and a largely counter-Christian worldview. Transcending ethnic, geographic, generational, and economic barriers, hip-hop places one of the church’s biggest mission opportunities right outside our windows. Un.orthodox equips church leaders and parents alike to understand and engage a culture that is as near as our schools, our communities, and even our homes. Author Tommy Kyllonen has seen hip-hop from the inside as a recording artist, as well as through the eyes of a pastor whose congregation has set the model for a groundswell of young urban churches focusing on hip-hop culture. Offering unique perspectives on the history, current state, and future of the hip-hop movement, Kyllonen shows what a hip-hop targeted ministry can look like in worship, outreach, evangelism, service, and discipleship. Using his own story as an example, Tommy shows how you can combine the hip-hop culture with faith.
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Un.orthodoxChurch, Hip-Hop, Culture
By Tommy Kyllonen
ZondervanCopyright © 2007 Tommy Kyllonen
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePK (Philly Kid)
Being unorthodox is in my blood, passed down through generations of men and women who lived out-of-the-ordinary lives. My own life as a rebellious preacher's kid hooked on hip-hop is itself unorthodox. Yet in my heritage and in my life, being unorthodox was clearly part of the plan.
My unorthodox roots begin in Greece with my grandfather on my mother's side. Efthimios Demetios Givas was from a small struggling village in Greece. He didn't come to America in 1921 for democracy or religious freedom. He came because he was hungry. He heard there was lots of food in America, and he was tired of wondering where his next meal was coming from. After many years of barely getting by, my grandfather became a cook on a shipping vessel that made trips across the Atlantic. When the ship was anchored in Boston Harbor, my grandfather and two other Greek guys jumped into the frigid waters in the middle of the night and swam for shore. Even though he was a strong swimmer, having grown up on the Mediterranean, he nearly drowned that night as the cold water cramped his muscles. After wandering around the city for days, they finally connected with the Greek community. Some Greeks helped my grandfather get to New Jersey, where he hadsome family. He landed a job at a restaurant and eventually became an incredible assistant chef at the Essex House in Newark - the largest and classiest hotel in New Jersey. In 1933, a special law was passed to allow illegal immigrants to get citizenship if they had arrived in America before 1925. He waited in line for two days to become a legal citizen.
Even though my grandfather experienced culinary success and obtained U.S. citizenship, gambling took hold of his life for several years as a young man. Seeing his destructive ways, his cousin, who was a Christian, urgently dragged him to a church service on West 36th Street in Manhattan. It was different from anything my grandfather had ever experienced. He soon built an authentic relationship with Christ and did the unthinkable: he left the Greek Orthodox Church, which he had grown up in, and became a faithful member of this Christian Greek community. Church soon became his favorite place to be. Because he had left the Greek Orthodox Church, he was ostracized from Greek society. But my grandfather didn't care. He became unorthodox. Suddenly, everything was new, everything was fresh. His decision would forever determine the direction of my family and the direction of my life.
Unorthodox roots took hold on the other side of my family too. Anti (Andrew) Kyllonen was my grandfather on my father's side. His parents arrived in America from Finland a few years before he was born and settled in the Pittsburgh area, where his father worked at a tin mill. s immigrants, my great-grandparents held strong to the language and traditions of the old country. They sometimes attended the Finnish Lutheran Church in their community. For many, the church represented a culture and community rather than a place for spiritual experiences. Even though my grandfather went through confirmation at age fifteen, it really wasn't personal or real to him.
As Anti got older, he searched for meaning and purpose in his life. On June 20, 1930, he sat on the Finnish Club Bench and heard about a church service that night. He decided to go. When he walked into the church, there were only three people there, including him. But the man preaching spoke as passionately as if the room were packed with people. That night, my grandfather accepted Christ. Soon after, he got baptized, even though several Finnish people told him he didn't need to do that since he had been baptized as a child. But he knew God was doing something in him. Everything became new, exciting, and real. He broke away from tradition and religion and built a true relationship with his creator. Just like my other grandfather, Anti became unorthodox.
As a result of both of my grandfathers' conversions to Christianity, my parents were the first generations of their families to grow up in true Christian homes. They learned about Christ from young ages, which impacted my life and created an environment that otherwise would have been much different. While in his early twenties, my father chased dead-end jobs and gambling. But God reminded my father that he had called him to the ministry many years before. So he started the journey. One summer at a Christian campground in eastern Pennsylvania, he met a fast-talking girl from New Jersey. My mother was barely five feet tall, and my father, 6' 4 1/2", towered over her. With the difference in height, they were definitely an unorthodox couple. Yet they began a long-distance relationship while he attended Bible college in Rhode Island.
A NEW FAMILIA (BIRTH OF A PK)
Three years later, Paul and Elizabeth Kyllonen married and soon moved to western Pennsylvania to pastor their first church. Three years after that, I came along. Thomas, the firstborn preacher's kid that everyone called Tommy.
At the time, my father pastored a tiny church in a small town called Bessemer. This booming metropolis had just over a thousand residents, and everything was centered on the cement plant, which was known to have mafia ties. It was an interesting time for my twentysomething parents, pastoring a church mostly of older attendees and many crazy smalltown characters. Back in those days, most pastors didn't usually stay in one church for an extended period of time.
When I was three years old, my family moved to the Allentown area in eastern Pennsylvania. A year later, my sister, Tammy, was born. Some of my childhood memories kick in here. I went to kindergarten. I learned to ride my bike. I learned how to get the church board really upset.
Excerpted from Un.orthodox by Tommy Kyllonen Copyright © 2007 by Tommy Kyllonen. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Tommy Kyllonen (aka Urban D.) founded the youth ministry at Crossover Community Church in 1996 with just four teens. Over the next six years he and his wife developed a first of its kind Hip-Hop Youth Ministry which grew to 200. The adult ministry on Sunday remained much smaller as the different pastors were always bivocational. In January of 2002 Tommy became the lead pastor at Crossover and a new vision was birthed to specifically reach the hip-hop culture. The church became Purpose Driven in their structure and began to truly engage the culture in their community. Without compromise they carefully incorporated many elements into their worship context and campus with music, dance, visual arts, media, and relevant messages. The ministry has seen incredible growth as their weekend attendance has jumped from 40 to over 400 in less than four years. Their youth services reach hundreds more.
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