Time to Turn and Face The Change
When we last left Jay, he was in a car with his friends, on their way to a meeting about a missing £500,000. Having been told some people wouldn’t leave the meeting alive, the air hung heavy and silent, stale with panic.
“In the end, we got to the meeting and it was sorted out somehow. All I know is me and my boys didn’t get into any trouble because it had nothing to do with us. But afterwards I thought, ‘This is it. I NEED to get out of this.’
I had hit a real low point. I was doing loads of cocaine. I lost a ton of money. We’d had two kids and Julie was furious at me all the time. It just wasn’t working.
What’s more, Julie had started going to a small evangelical church. She came back one evening and shared about this person called Jesus Christ. I went absolutely mad because, to me, Jesus Christ represented a white man’s religion. It perpetuated oppression against black people and I felt like it wanted to enslave me! I didn’t want to know about some dead man coming into my house. I smashed the kitchen up and acted like a monster as I was coming down off a coke high.
Julie completely ignored me.
A few days later there was a knock on my door. Turns out Julie had invited the pastor to come around and see me. I opened the door, Julie invited him in. He starts sharing with me about Jesus Christ. After about ten minutes of this I stopped him. I said, ‘Listen fella, either you’re gonna leave or I’m gonna roll you up and shove you out through my letterbox.’ I just thought it was my house and even the police couldn’t stitch me up if I said I was defending myself.
He wouldn’t leave. So I started feeling stupid thinking that either there’s something to his message. That it’s so important he believes it in spite of my threats or this pastor has like a black belt in karate. How could I tell my boys that I’d gotten beat up by a pastor?!?
A week later Julie got a bible study going in my house. I opened the door and these Christians started pouring in and filling up my living room. Julie coerced me into the front room. Even though I was hardcore in the street, I was quite polite at home when I wasn’t on drugs so I just let it happen.
I remember they were looking at Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ And it was like the Bible was absolutely speaking to me. Like the words on that page were alive! And then Romans 6:23, ‘For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.’ I got that and I got the gospel.
The next day I called my friend and told him that I’d been reading the bible and had never heard anything like it. It spoke to me! And the person I was speaking to, just to let you know what kind of change this was, we’d been speaking the week before about sorting someone out to get a bit of money. When I say sorting someone out I mean, like, losing them. For good. And yet here I was, having encountered this profound truth and I was different.
A few days later I fell on my knees and prayed to God, I said, ‘God, if you’re out there and you’re real. Reveal yourself to me. You make all these claims in your bible and I just want you to reveal yourself.’ I jumped back up and waited expectantly…but nothing happened.
So days come and go, I’m still doing drugs, still drinking too much. Julie’s become a Christian by then. One night she comes back from church and says to me, ‘Just so you know, I love Jesus more than you so I won’t be having sex with you anymore.’ And I just thought what a nightmare!
I was going to church sometimes but it was often after going out to the club the night before. Drinking, drugged up, no sleep, and I’d just sit there and fall asleep in church. I remember coming home one morning, after a night out like that, and though Julie was so kind to me, I could see the disappointment in her eyes. And I asked her, ‘What do you expect of me? I’m not like all these Christians. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home or anything. This is all I am.’
And it wasn’t an audible thing but I felt like God clearly told me then and there, ‘You can’t do it you muppet. But that’s okay, you’re not supposed to. Jesus Christ has already done it for you!’
SNAP! I finally got it!
I’d been writing things on my calendar like, ‘January – stop doing coke. February – stop swearing.’ and so on. I felt like I had to change before I could come to Jesus but I had it so wrong!
And so I became a Christian then and there. When I spoke to my pastor about it later, he told me that new Christians often either flake out or get fired up. So I figured if I was hardcore in the streets then now I’d be hardcore for Jesus.
So I started doing a youth work project. I did that for a while and then partnered with London City Mission on that project as well. After 2 years, I left LCM because, even though they were doing good work, their approach was too old school for me. I was a Christian, yes, but I couldn’t shake the influences that had shaped me.
I was still the man who had listened to all that hip hop, who had been so deep in the rave scene, who loved graffiti, and was into urban culture. In fact, during this time I was working with a designer exploring the seeds of an idea that would eventually become Soliquidas. I was searching for a way to marry the best parts of myself from before I was a christian and after I became a Christian. I wanted to use that as a way to do urban ministry in a more authentic way than what I’d seen.
But, you know, God has his own timing and he humbled me. I needed to learn that God doesn’t need me to save the whole world. He just needs me to say yes to each next thing he puts in front of me. So my grand plans got put on hold and he had me working at a building site for years.
I never stopped asking questions about how to combine entrepreneurship, urban culture, and ministry though. I even went through a few different businesses exploring that concept. Eventually I felt called to use my passion for entrepreneurship and my passion for Jesus to plant a church.
It might sound odd to some but starting a business and planting a church felt equivalent to me. Like they were the same thing really. And as I considered this the natural place to do it was Brixton. Throughout my whole life, so much of my time was spent in Brixton. Whether we were at gigs, after-parties, etc, there was something vibrant and exciting about it that felt like home.
On top of that there was also the historical connection I had to it as part of the Windrush generation. To this day it pains me to know that I had a Nan who lived in Jamaica, almost certainly dead by now, but I never got to know her. There was a cultural connection there too. I felt like Brixton represented the history and heritage I never had growing up as an orphan.
It was also an area where I saw such an obvious need.
There were so many black boys from Brixton, very much like myself, ending up in jail or prison. Largely because they didn’t have dads in the picture. Though there are also a lot of systemic issues that plague the global black community. Sort of scars that carry over from the slave trade. So these Brixton boys turn to things they shouldn’t and make a lot of bad mistakes. I wanted to be there to help in whatever ways I could.
Before I was a Christian, I had one rule in life, ‘Nobody tells me what to do.’ That applied to my friends, my teachers, my adopted parents, to everyone. And then I had this amazing transformation! I was so happy to believe in a God who gave me direction and did tell me what to do. I knew that sort of change would only come to Brixton through faithfully proclaiming the gospel.
Fortunately I had some amazing pastors and teachers pour into me after I became a christian. Their music and style might not have been what I’d have liked to interact with but they taught me the bible. They faithfully and clearly taught it well. And I remember one of them said to me, ‘How you win them is how you keep them.’ I became a Christian through good bible teaching. And I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to bring to Brixton.
So we founded Brixton Local Church, aka BLoC, as a church seeking to reach people with the gospel, yes. But also to do it in a way that feels honest and authentic to who God has made me to be. And to reach out to people, like myself, that might feel overlooked or out of place in a more traditional church. This was a significant sacrifice for Julie as it meant leaving her existing church support, her family, and her friends. But she was onboard with me and got stuck in!
So we planted the church and, over the years, we drew in a lot of creative people working in various fields. And, together, God used us to carve out a place where locals can come and hear brilliant bible teaching but also enjoy the culture.
A culture that recognises that even though we’re made new in the gospel, we don’t need to let go of our backgrounds. In essence, a lot of the community we seek to foster is what I learned in the rave scene where everyone was always looking out for each other. And that spills out into all the various work we do in the community.
Which brings us to now. To be honest, I see Soliquidas as the culmination of my whole life. Growing up in care. Searching for my identity in so many things. All the scrapes I got myself in and out of. My time in prison. My experiences as a drug dealer. The radical transformation I went through after encountering the gospel. The endless questions around entrepreneurship and ministry. All of it has been building to this.
Now I’ve got a lot of ideas but I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next. But I know why I’m in this, I know that I’m following a God who is more powerful than I can imagine, and I cannot wait to see where he takes us!”
Jay’s story has been told in three parts.